Writer: William Shakespeare, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director: Caroline Steinbeis
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
The Tempest is, like a few of Shakespeare’s later efforts, a difficult one to get right. It hovers uneasily between knockabout comedy, fairy-tale love story, revenge thriller and socio-political satire. And, when you chuck in the meta-theatricality – Prospero’s parting soliloquy is supposedly the Bard’s farewell to the stage as well – there are an awful lot of balls to keep in the air. Caroline Steinbeis’ attempt to juggle them, which uses an adapted text by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and is co-produced by the National Youth Theatre and Northampton’s Royal and Derngate Theatre, is as good as any this reviewer has seen.
Lenkiewicz’s adaptation switches the gender of certain characters and makes fathers into brothers and daughters into sisters, presumably to ensure the story makes sense when played out by a group of young actors. Thus, Prospero becomes Prosper, elder sister to Miranda instead of father, and Alonso and Ferdinand are no longer father and son, but two brothers. It works – for the most part – and Steinbeis’ production is a streamlined, sexy and stylish take on what can be a dreary play.
This is Prospero’s Island, but not as we know it. Instead of windswept beaches and rocky caves, Lucy Sierra’s design resembles something out of a dystopian episode of Doctor Who. After a thrillingly realised storm scene, the action largely takes place in a concrete bunker, with thrumming air vents in the floor and a series of identical corridors leading enigmatically offstage. The sounds and sweet airs of this island are blaring techno beats and loud Inception-style bwaahs.
Sophie Walter acquits herself well as Prosper. Clad in clumpy boots and a heavy trenchcoat, with wild hair and a scribbling pencil for a staff, she is a dangerous, changeable presence throughout, at times fiercely protective of her little sister – Beth Markey’s bright white Miranda – and at times ponderingly introspective. Elsewhere, Edi Cardoso and Sophie-Rose Darby are entertainingly dark as Anton and Simona (formerly Antonio and Sebastian), two self-serving plotters who can’t keep their hands off each other, and Jay Mailer provides comedy as an incredulous, slightly duplicitous – and unapologetically Mancunian – Ferdinand. These notable performances are well-supported by the rest of the cast, with Joe Law’s Trinculo and Sophie Guiver’s Stephanie – formerly Stephano – also deserving mention.
Steinbeis’ production is inventive and innovative throughout. It makes terrific, vibrant use of Johanna Town’s lighting and Tom Mills’ and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s sound, and just about toes the line with its rhythmic dance movements as well. Ariel is reimagined as six different personalities, a common device that leaves the stage slightly cluttered at times, and some scene changes lack fluidity, but for the most part, this is polished, powerful stuff.
This all adds up to an exhilarating adaptation of a tricky text. There’s still a paucity of coherence to it, but this is largely Shakespeare’s fault, not Steinbeis’, Lenkiewicz’s or the young cast’s. Oh, brave new world…
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image:Richard Davenport