Review: The Tempest @ Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

When you think of Shakespeare, people tend to think of The Globe, or Stratford-upon-Avon, not York. But Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York is now in its second summer, and offers a great opportunity to see Shakespeare plays performed in an intimate, authentic setting. The pop-up theatre is constructed at the base of Clifford’s Tower, which provides a great historic setting for a replica Globe Theatre. This year, the theatre is showing The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Hamlet and Henry V, with one of the two companies also performing children’s play Billy Shakes: Wonderboy!

We decided to go to the Rose this year before we decided which play we were going to see, having tried and failed to organise a trip last summer. The Tempest seemed like the best pick to me: lighthearted and comedic enough that it didn’t feel too heavy, and also interesting from a literature standpoint as one of Shakespeare’s last plays. We went one Saturday evening, and we were glad it was a pleasant evening, even though we were seated, and therefore under-cover. As in the real Globe Theatre, the Rose features a groundling area for people willing to stand to watch the play without cover, in return for proximity to the stage and opportunities for audience interaction. 

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Our seats offered us a great view, though looking round the theatre, it seemed like anywhere you sat would offer a great, if sometimes unique, view of the stage. Some of the seats are almost built into the set, giving a very different angle of the stage. Outside the theatre, a small but busy area sells drinks and snacks to theatregoers and passersby alike. After buying a drink, we find our way to the seats and settle in. 

The performance itself was fantastic to watch, with some great performances from the cast, and the costumes particularly impressive as well. In places it was difficult to hear exactly what was being said, but as I already had an idea of the storyline, I found it fairly easy to follow, though I can see it being a bit of a struggle to keep up if someone wasn’t already familiar with the story. Most of the speech, however, was audible: it was the singing of Ariel (Leander Deeny) that I found the hardest to understand. The acting throughout was strong, with convincing performances all round, especially from lead actor Sam Callis, who was playing the role of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan and sorcerer. 

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The stand-out performance, however, for me, was Leander Deeny’s portrayal of Ariel. His performance was captivating from start to finish, thanks to some very impressive and entertaining choreography. His constant interaction with the set, climbing, jumping, twirling and swinging, meant he captured the audience’s attention whenever he was on stage. The spirits as well (Ali Azhar, Richie Daysh, Jessica Dennis, Charlyne Francis, Johanne Murdock and Marilyn Nnadebe) put on fascinating visual performances, giving the play an ethereal, playful, and somewhat chaotic atmosphere. 

The play also made use of the different levels of the theatre, using various entrances for actors to make an appearance, and also entering the groundling area to interact with the audience, using the groundling zone as part of the stage in its own right. The set itself mostly stayed static during the performance, with the main exception of a large log which was used by Ariel and the spirits to wreak havoc on the human characters. 

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I feel like it would be extremely presumptuous to make any comment on the quality of the script itself, seeing as it was written by William Shakespeare, but suffice to say the story was engaging, humorous, innovative and touching, especially the closing monologue. The monologue at the end of The Tempest may be the last section of play Shakespeare wrote, and acts as not just a closing to the play, but as a closing to Shakespeare’s career as a playwright, making it especially poignant. 

Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience, thanks to the amazing set and brilliant cast, whose energy and enthusiasm really brought the characters to life and made the play enjoyable and accessible even to those not overly familiar with Shakespeare’s work, or The Tempest specifically. If I had the chance to go again, I think I’d even opt for a groundling ticket, to feel almost a part of the performance when the actors make use of the groundling space. 

Ellie Foulds 

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