Sunday, November 12, 2023


Written by Helen Machalias

Directed by Beng Oh

A Street Theatre production

The Street Theatre to 19 November


Reviewed by Len Power 11 November 2023


Following a storm resulting in a disastrous shipwreck in which many die, some surviving Iranian refugees are washed ashore on Christmas Island and the long process of seeking asylum in Australia begins.

Those refugees, Prospero, Miranda and Ariel, in “This Rough Magic”, also happen to be the main characters in Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest”. On the island they encounter Caliban, a Chinese Malay young man with a machete, now a guard at the detention centre.

“The Tempest” is a play that has long been the subject of various interpretations and debates about its meaning and “This Rough Magic” is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s play to discuss Australia’s refugee asylum question.

Given a major staging with an atmospheric set design by Imogen Keen, a complex lighting design by Gerry Corcoran and a dramatic sound design by Kyle Sheedy, the play is presented as a series of scenes where reality, rhetoric and fantasy collide to tell the story of the cost of pursuing the promise of a better life.

Swinging between incidents on the island, political speeches from Australia and elements of Shakespeare’s work, it’s hard to get a handle on the play’s true intentions or feel much empathy for the characters. It feels like the link to “The Tempest” actually constrains the play.

Director, Beng Oh, keeps the show moving at a fast pace, but has not resolved issues with many of the short scenes that remain obscure in their nature.

From left: Andre Le, George Kanaan, Kaitlin Nihill and Reza Momenzada

The cast of five are mostly unmiked, making a lot of the dialogue hard to hear clearly. All of the characters lack background detail to make them come alive but Reza Momenzada, Andre Le and Kaitlin Nihill give good performances. George Kanaan as Prospero is a commanding presence but one of Canberra’s finest actors, Lainie Hart, is wasted in her small multiple roles.

George Kanaan

The refugee asylum issue is a good subject for a drama, but “This Rough Magic” might have been clearer and more satisfying without its ties to Shakespeare’s play.


Photos by Novel Photographic

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at