Any production that claims it 'rivals the RSC' is immediately setting up some high expectations, and despite the awards and high praise which seem to follow The Movement Theatre Company wherever they go, I have to admit to feeling a little doubtful that such a bold claim could really be met – but I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.

Benjamin Blyth’s production exploited the range of emotions in The Tempest to the full, taking advantage of its combination of tragedy and comedy. Leo and Toby Parker-Rees in particular relished the comic potential of their respective roles as the butler Stephano and jester Trinculo, showing obvious enjoyment in their inebriated singing, stamping and stumbling. Yet it was the fluidity of movement between these comic scenes and the moments of fear and poignancy that really impressed. The exuberance and trivial frustrations of the more humorous characters was perfectly balanced by the subtlety of Ami Jones’ Ariel - a role that can easily be reduced to a whimsical fairy or one-dimensional sidekick. Jones’ performance beautifully expressed the suffering of her position as a slave; her impressive vocal skills ranging from almost demonic fury to pitiful anguish.

This intense emotion would have been far less effective without the superb production elements. With all music and sound performed live by the cast, the atmosphere was intense and had a vibrancy which drew the audience in. The staging too demonstrated some astute directorial decisions, as the almost constant presence of Miranda (Abi Bennett) reinforced the metatextuality which is so vital to The Tempest. Placing Prospero’s final speech after the other characters’ curtain call was a stroke of brilliance, breaking the fourth wall that left the audience to reflect on the nature of performance and theatricality.

The Tempest has a greatly-varied performance history in terms of character conception: Blyth's production coincides with the release of the film version starring Helen Mirren as Prospero, and this concept was echoed last night in the female castings of Alonso (or rather, Alonsa) and Caliban. While the presence of a Queen of Naples rather than a King did not have a great impact on the shape of the play, Kaysha Woolery’s performance as Caliban certainly did. Her status as not only female but also as the only black cast member was a thoughtful and successful decision, which added extra impact to the role, without forcing a political point that might have distracted from Woolery’s acting. Her performance was superb, demonstrating the vulnerability of this slave so frequently labelled a 'monster'.

A few stumbles over lines betrayed some first night nerves, and it took a couple of scenes to warm to Adam Drew’s Prospero – I did initially wonder how long his frustrated sighs could continue before they began to irritate. However, once the cast got firmly into their stride, it became a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking performance: a definite must-see.

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