Review: The Tempest

I am not suggesting James Cundall, the man behind Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, has a hotline to God, but it’s worth noting that just as the doors reopened on the York venue, summer belatedly arrived.

Leander Deeny as Ariel in The Tempest at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre. Picture by Charlotte Graham.
Leander Deeny as Ariel in The Tempest at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre. Picture by Charlotte Graham.

The sun has barely stopped shining since, a welcome bonus for this pop-up theatre which is in part open to the elements. However, regardless of the vagaries of the weather, the challenges of this space remain the same.

With four different plays sharing the stage there can be no fancy sets; to keep true to the original Elizabethan theatre experience there are no elaborate special effects; actors have to rely on their own vocal projection and with a large section of the audience sat on the floor, this has to be the Bard done at pace.

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However, as director Philip Franks and the rest of the team behind The Tempest shows these limitations can also be liberating.

The Tempest is one of four productions on stage this summer at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York. Picture by Charlotte Graham.

For the opening storm scene it’s left to the island spirits - here reimagined as sprightly steampunks - to conjure the violent, gathering clouds. Hissing and screeching their way through the groundling section at the front of the stage it sets the bar high for the rest of the production.

Prospero, the castaway who creates his own mini, magical kingdom on what others see as a bleak desert island, is the heart of the play, and Sam Callis is a towering presence as the usurped Duke of Milan.

Award for scene stealing though goes to Leander Deeny, a deliciously camp but also heartbreakingly vulnerable Ariel, torn between wanting to be set free from Prospero’s grip and a desire to be needed.

There are occasions when the dialogue is a little muffled and I would have liked my Caliban - the deformed son of a witch enslaved by the island newcomers - to be a little more savage, but those are minor gripes about a first class production which fizzes with energy.

Last year, when the Rose Theatre first arrived in York is sometimes felt it was playing a little safe. If The Tempest is anything to go by, this feels like the year when the venue will really come into its own.

Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York, is open until September 1. For the full programme go to