The Tempest at the Royal & Derngate Northampton Review

TheTempestThe Tempest
Royal & Derngate, Northampton

23 June to 2 July 2016


Reviewed by Jayne Wiggins

This gutsy adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy opened with Prospero – now Prosper, sketching up a storm as her sister watched on in horror. As the elder sister of Miranda, her revenge knows few bounds. A love story not of the traditional sense, it had elements of the contemporary “Maleficent”, with the main love story being that between the banished sisters.

Prosper was played to perfection by Sophie Walter, who brought to life this tortured character. Her torture over the years is evident in her portrayal of a sister drawn almost to insanity through the need for revenge and desire to protect her sister. Her physical torture and captivity of the monstrous Caliban felt justified after her expulsion from her home land and the daily toil of trying to protect her sister from the eventual amorous advances of the dead witch’s monster child.

Background – Sophie Walter as Prosper, foreground Gabriel Akamo as Caliban and Beth Markey as Miranda
Photo credit: Richard Davenport

This adaptation saw the set in an almost post-apocalyptic island, with nuclear bunkers and gas masks bringing this story into a modern audience. As characters were seen trying to get a mobile phone signal, the audience was invited into this crazy ‘Alice in Wonderland’ island, full of sorcery and asylum like madness!

That Caliban might have ‘peopled the isle with Caliban’s’ is my lasting memory of this play from my studies many moons ago at school. The fact that the National Youth Theatre could have brought this to life for me is testament to a script only a master could have kept going for 400 years!

The set design was superb with the audience drawn to the edges of our seats to get a better glimpse of something just beyond our view. The opening shipwreck scene was set behind a clear screen and gave a feel of watching on a large screen rather than a small theatre. The island was a distant show at the back of the stage which both allowed the audience in whilst simultaneously excluding us from this crazy, insanity fuelled land (this play was perfect for the small auditorium and traditional theatre of the Royal).

The use of 6 actors to split Ariel worked well due mostly to the superb acting of these National Youth Theatre members. The 6 actors portrayed well the characteristics of Ariel, from slightly resentful slave to protective sprite. Their eventual release shown as a splitting of the spirits worked particularly well – yet almost made me sad that Ariel had found freedom!

Centre – Sophie-Rose Darby as Simona, surrounded by the Ariels played by (l-r) Connor McCreedy, Chanel Williams, Mischa Jones, Joe Bence and Zoe Davey
Photo credit: Richard Davenport

Certain scenes are owed particular mention; the foiled attempt at Prosper’s life and the ultimate capture of Stephanie, Trinculo and Caliban. This saw the Ariel characters – male and female alike – dressed in dinner dresses in a tableau, the sound effects giving a horror movie feel to the scene. I felt insane watching this scene! The other of particular significance saw Ariel torturing Anton, Simona and Alonso with vicious visions and haunting tunes. As the lights went down and came up, each time with the actors having moved/been blinded/been at the end of a knife – I wanted to close my own eyes as if watching a horror! I was afraid of what I would see on the stage as the lights came up each time.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz has adapted this great piece for a modern audience, without losing the authenticity of Shakespeare. It is a fitting tribute for the 400th celebrations and is testament to a script which has survived the tests of time. For lovers of Shakespeare, for students and for those who need a better explanation of what this play is about, this adaptation is the one to see!

Rating: 5/5 thumbs_up

Tickets cost £16 (booking fees may apply).

The Tempest is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton until 2 July 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 01604 624811.

Royal & Derngate, Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP | 01604 624811


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