reviewed by Chris Eldon Lee
It’s intriguing how many theatre directors choose The Tempest for their swan song. It was the last play Shakespeare wrote and it ends with his final hero, Prospero, drowning his books of spells and snapping his powerful staff in twain. The magician retires to his previous life. “T’is time”, he says.
Andrew Bannerman and Maggie Love have been guiding Shropshire Youth Theatre for 17 years and are now handing down the reins … but not before they go out on an absolute high … rivalling their 2008 award-winning production.
The central role is entrusted to Niall Heaton, who is Prospero personified. Lean and statuesque, with a sprinkling of glitter in his hair, he and his wand conjure an audio-visual storm any professional theatre company would be proud of.
He is strong and steady; calm and reflective. When he speaks, his Shakespearian verse has a correct and measured 1950s Old Vic feel to it … and there is an air of an Archbishop about him. He is the pillar of the production.
His mutual love for Miranda is crystal clear. Lara Humphreys is pig-tailed and twinkle toed. She is very much a modern miss with 21st century gestures to clarify her beautifully spoken Elizabethan dialogue. When she sees her first man, she can’t wait.
Ferdinand is washed up on the shores of the magic isle in a state of wonder; a Prince Charming in city-slicker stripes. Elliott Auxantplays the instantly besotted youth very well indeed (perhaps he is one!) and their tenderness together is lovely to witness.
All the courtiers and their servants are clad in Beverley Baker’s very modern dress … but her Ariels are a different creation. There are four of them, elven- eared elementals with flowing gowns and gorgeous makeup. Carys Macmillan, Florence Sallin, Tanith Wilkinson and Rudy Allen move balletically, and speak ethereally, as one – choreographed to ‘T’. There are secrets in their movement. When Prospero ensnares them, they circle him in a clockwise direction. When they are finally released, they unravel anticlockwise. I suspect Shakespeare himself would approve of that notion and, like me, be mesmerised by Ruby’s cathedral-like singing.
Dividing Ariel into four is a very imaginative and effective way of engaging as many young actors as possible. There are always more girls than boys in a Youth Theatre company, so wise-old Gonzalo becomes the learned Gonzala, played by Phoebe Pryce Boutwood as if she has all the experience in the world. Sebastian, in the hands of Tess Mead, becomes a tweedy Sebastia… a country pursuits girl, up for a kill. Her ‘baddie’ partnerAntonio is played by an equally suave and scheming Leo Needham. The male/female pairing likens their murder plot to that of Lord and Lady Macbeth – and there is a just a touch of sexual chemistry about them. Gregory Howe as Alonso is the picture of a grieving king, believing his son has drowned.
Bannerman gives full rein to the drunken comedy. Charlie Findlay is a joke on wobbly legs as Trinculo, in his slightly-too-short kitchen whites. He is perfectly paired with Dan Martindales’ upstart butler. Caleb Richards’ Caliban is a creature of pity early in the play, stripped of his native land by the Milanese conquistador. He has wild hair, hairy feet and a frog-like stance. But when he is introduced to Stephano’s enormous whisky flask, the three of them are a real hoot together.
Caleb also plays Sitar … and his music is the backdrop to a beautiful Indian-themed handfasting between Miranda and Alonso, complete with pom-pom flower garlands and a very cleverly revealed wedding banquet.
This Tempest really is a team effort and the rather more journeyman parts are played with great conviction by Sam Bruton, Oliver Hall and Valerie Egerton who look and act like winners on The Apprentice, making the most of their big chance.
The final word must go to Fyfe Irwin who has composed a musical score of themes, stings and moody undertones that Vangelis would be proud of. His music not only lifts the whole show but subtly binds it together and applies a layer of polish to the production.
I have often said how watching SYT reassures me that our theatres will be safe in the hands of the next generation. This production proves the point.