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Review of The Tempest (2nd preview) at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I am going to be honest here and state that I had a touch of a Shakespeare relapse while watching The Tempest and was back at my, not fully understanding much of this, position. This however didn't detract from my absolute enjoyment of this brilliant piece of theatre. Channeling everything that I have loved over the years from the University performances, this National Youth Theatre production (part of the Made In Northampton season) brings vibrancy, energy and invention to Shakespeare's tale.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's adaption and Caroline Steinbeis help make this as much a gem as the strong cast. While I have never seen The Tempest before, it is clear that at just two hours ten minutes with the interval, this is an abbreviated version of the play. While some purists might bulk at this, it makes it much more accessible for the passing audience, while retaining the story.

Those purists might also take some offence at some of the changes made to the characters and situations as well, we open not on the shore of an island but in a bedroom, where the original Prospero has become the female Prosper and also is no longer father to Miranda, but sister. This is reinvention of Shakespeare, a fresh bright new version in keeping with its young and enthusiastic cast.

The Tempest itself is expertly brought to us as the bedroom curtains are pulled back to reveal the quite brilliant and ravishing storm scene, with wind and water very real as the quality production levels come forth. It is visually and atmospherically magnificent in effects, but not in dialogue. It is unclear whether we should hear the exchanges between those behind the window, but mostly we do not. This remains the only troubling point of the production for me and maybe this will be resolved with better audio balance beyond the previews, or it is an intended idea from the adaption and direction to just create a chaotic scene of destruction?

Beyond the storm, two early and stunningly staged scenes are enacted setting the dynamism of the entire show to come. The arrival of Ariel, in this production in six forms, from beneath the bed is perfectly choreographed, with a creepy, animalistic style they appear. This coupled with what I heralded on Twitter as the best ever use of a trapdoor ever in a play, sets the benchmark for the entire production.

Of the cast, both Sophie Walter's Prosper and Beth Markey's Miranda spark off one another superbly. Walter is a tall and powerful presence throughout the entire production and has I am sure great things ahead, as she owns the stage whether she is verbally present or just sitting brooding and contemplating to one side. Markey likewise is brilliant, and as I happily heralded in my review of the R&D Youth Theatre's Ophelia's Garden earlier in the year, another star very much for the future.

Beth Markey was far from the only actor in this play that I have seen before. Having been a follower of the University of Northampton BA Actors for over two years now, this was a feast, as six actors representing four different year groups took to the stage. It's true that sadly David Johns as Master of the Ship and Lee Hancock as Boatswain had little to do, but it was wonderful to see both on the stage with the others all the same.

Representing the others was the brilliant and treat that is Zoe Davey as one sixth of Ariel, full of the spark that is always present when she performs. Charlie Clee was back at his very best as the smartly dressed (and then less so) King of Naples, Alonso, once again portraying great expression into every word he uttered. Sophie Guiver as Stephanie for me offered even greater comedy value than I have seen from her in the past, without doubt for me, her most confident performance that I have seen and an impressive drunk. Finally the brilliant Sophie-Rose Darby as Simona, was all demure and apparently innocent, yet secretly devilishly plotting, she like all of the BA Actors were superb and a treat to see so many on stage together. (Edit: Also Connor Mccreedy who plays one of the sparky Ariel's is also currently studying at the University of Northampton, so make that seven representatives.)

Of the other new actors, I really enjoyed Gabriel Akamo's hulking presence as Caliban, a powerful performance and an impressively strong voice to boot. Finally I must mention Joe Law;s brilliantly comical Trinculo, carrying off the jester quite easily and adding some stunningly funny moments to the production.

Direction from Steinbeis is brisk and fluid, moving each seen into one another smoothly. Much of this is accomplished due to the brilliant work of movement director Aline David, which the cast perform effortlessly. Also of huge note is the brilliant use of music from Simon Slater, bringing much to the transition scenes and with lighting during the swift blackout scenes as Ariel deals with Alonso and company in creepy fashion quite a highlight.

Full of drive, ambition and invention, The Tempest is every bit the production that should represent Shakespeare as performed in the year 2016 by a cast of of 18-25 year olds. It's a thing of brilliance to take you away from these turbulent tempestuous times.

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Performance reviewed: Friday 24th June (2nd Preview), 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.


The Tempest runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 2nd July, 2016.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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