The Movement Theatre Company
New Diorama Theatre
Firstly, an aside: this is how Shakespeare should be done.
The plot, in a nutshell: Prospero (Duke of Milan, questionable wizard) is put to sea with baby Miranda by usurping younger brother; fortuitous intervention places father and daughter in island-safety where time passes with Caliban (human-fish-monster-conundrum) and spirit Ariel, slaves to Prospero's command. Years later, Prospero engineers a storm that allows brother and royal troop to converge on the island where lessons are learnt and hearts are lost in love.
A well-known tale, so how to make it new? The answer, from director Ben Blyth and his talented young actors from The Movement, lies in what is retained - a pleasing fidelity to Shakespeare's words - and what is added, not what is taken away, although it is true that some judicious cutting brings the running time in line with the two hour's traffic of Romeo and Juliet fame.
The additions - what makes this so special - of human voices, masks, mime, puppetry and music (Joe Rubini, Rory Attwood) allow an exuberance and excitement that revive The Tempest and make it sparkle. So much so that the opening provides the truest audible evocation of a storm that I can remember, and the rather tedious story of Ariel's imprisonment in a tree becomes a visual treat.
The few changes to the script work well. Queen Alonsa (rather than Alonso) sees the possible loss of a child from a mother's viewpoint; and a female Caliban (Kaysha Woollery) embellishes the beauty of the most beautiful lines in the drama, as the isle becomes a living dream. The production proves that when handled well, Shakespeare can transcend gender and age - we simply don't notice that the actors playing Prospero and Miranda are contemporaries.
Nice touches include the continuous presence of Ariel on stage (all credit to Ami Jones, maintaining her position on a tall ladder - even throughout the interval) so that the question of what is material and what is spiritual pervades the evening.
The cast is uniformly excellent and I hate leaving out anyone but particularly enjoyed Adam Drew's dissembling Prospero, James Parris as a smirking usurping Duke, and Claudia Blunt's grave and dignified Queen. Brothers Toby and Leo Parker-Rees managed to inject real knockabout humour into Trinculo and Stephano respectively.
A pleasant surprise too is the New Diorama, an 80-seater auditorium with a studio feel (tucked behind Euston Tower) although this gifted company deserve West End exposure.
If you think you have seen one Tempest too many, go and be proved wrong and look out for a team of most auspicious future theatre stars. I have a feeling Shakespeare would like this one.
Playing until 26th March
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler