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The Tempest (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Tempest (First Encounters with Shakespeare for Younger Audiences)
By William Shakespeare. Edited and directed by Aileen Gonsalves
performance date: 16 Feb 2017
venue: Springhead Primary School, Talke Pitts, Stoke-on-Trent (part of a national tour)

The latest RSC show in its First Encounters series is clear, immersive and entertaining. The performance I saw was mostly attended by Year 6 groups from two schools but we were also joined by some Year 4 children and the Nursery class which included a boy with autism. It is huge testimony to Aileen Gonsalves and her talented cast of eight that everyone present was engaged by this 90 minute version of Shakespeare’s island play.

This show has developed from the RSC’s recent main house production of The Tempest on which Gonsalves assisted director Gregory Doran – and Doran was present in person to support the launch of this show at Talke Pitts primary school.

Darren Raymond as a charismatic and authoritative Prospero literally conducts the storm having showed the children in a short introduction how to contribute the right noises. Matthew MacPherson contributes a very vulnerable, dispossessed Caliban covered in mud and cuts and hopping about on crutches. Then briefly empowered by Trincula (Laura Cairns) and Stephana (Alison Arnopp) he springs into life only to be dashed down again in a suitably sour, sad and manipulative moment at the end. It’s a thoughtful emphasis.

Sarah Kameela Impey’s Ariel is exotic, otherworldly, almost serpentine in her movements and it is no effort at all to accept that she is invisible to many characters. Caleb Frederick brings a lot of presence and a chocolatey voice to Antonio and Elly Condron’s Miranda has all the right elements of adolescent naivet, knowingness and freshness.

This is an ensemble piece with a great deal of versatile and talented doubling. It also plays with reverse genders (the second Tempest I’ve seen this month to do so) so that most of the shipwrecked party are female and successfully so. Of course the text is abridged but there is no dumbing down in this show. Almost all the characters and episodes are in – including a brief reference to the masques in Act 4.

It really is quite an experience – and a privilege – to see RSC production values in a primary school hall where actors and a couple of stage managers operate without full entrances and exits. There are no stage lights either – just the curtains drawn, the standard strip lights in the ceiling and the power of the plot and language.

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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