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The Tempest review at Royal and Derngate, Northampton – ‘vivid and risk-taking’

Sophie Rose Darby and company in The Tempest at Royal and Derngate, Northampton. Photo: Richard Davenport
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In the opening moments of this bold, brave adaptation of The Tempest, a wild-eyed Miranda whips open her bedroom curtains to reveal a spectacular shipwreck taking place inches away.

Caroline Steinbeis’ vivid, risk-taking production marks two anniversaries – the nationwide Shakespeare 400 celebrations, and the National Youth Theatre’s 60th year. Simultaneously a reverential tribute and a daring deconstruction, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s condensed text creates plenty of unexpected dynamics for its talented young ensemble to explore.

There are shades of Lord of the Flies, or Peter Pan’s lost boys, in the invocation of a mysterious island populated entirely by teenagers. Here, Prospero has become Prosper – an exultant Sophie Walter – the overbearing older sister to Beth Markey’s delicate yet ferocious Miranda. Stephano is now Stephanie, played with swaggering, scene-stealing charisma by Sophie Guiver.

Lucy Sierra’s design transports the action to a gorgeous post-nuclear island, full of irradiated trees, toxic mists and concrete bunkers, all daubed in luminous yellows and poisonous pinks. At times, it feels hyperactive, visibly stretching to find newness in a text which has already survived four centuries. Dressing Ariel exactly like Natalie Portman in Black Swan is an odd choice, while having multiple performers depict the spirit itself is a tired trick.  However, with each actor exhibiting a distinct, consistent trait – keen, cruel, frustrated – they create a cumulative personality greater than the sum of its parts.

This attention to detail suffuses the production, balancing its wild energy, so the show feels grounded even as it charts unexplored territory.

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Verdict
Stylish and substantive adaptation and a celebration of youth theatre
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