REVIEW: The Tempest Re-Imagined for Everyone Aged Six and Over (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)

We love a good trip to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and are always up for a Unicorn Theatre production, so it was especially exciting to learn that the two venues had teamed up to put on a play (with a little help from William Shakespeare). Running at Regent’s Park this summer before heading to the Unicorn in September, The Tempest Re-imagined for everyone aged six and over does exactly what it says on the tin, offering a 75 minute romp through The Tempest for young audiences. The spirits of Regent’s Park also conveniently conspired to conjure up a press performance on the afternoon of the latest school strike, perfectly planning an afternoon out for Mummy and the munchkins.

Shakespeare might sound a bit daunting for families but be not afeard, as this is very much a production that knows, and plays to, its young audience. Mixing together chunks of the Shakespearean text with pop culture references and original songs (with music and lyrics by Harry Blake), it’s a whirlwind of fun with an undercurrent of important messages about the world and its inhabitants.

Mark Theodore as Prospero. Set design: Chiara Stephenson. Costume design: E M Parry. Image credit: Marc Brenner

In this brave new world, Prospero (Mark Theodore) is not the former Duke of Milan, but the ousted director of a company named Milan. Somehow he still manages to find himself castaway on an island with his daughter Miranda (Daisy Prosper), where he harnesses modern technology (a tablet rather than a book) to control the island’s only inhabitant, Caliban (Ashley D Gayle) and the spirits of the island, including Ariel (Juliet Agnes).

Twelve years on, he summons the storm that shipwrecks his treacherous brother, Antonio (also Ashley D Gayle) and assorted others, including Alonsa (Alice Keedwell) (who in this version is not the King of Naples but the big boss of nAples; a technology company with a familiar fruity logo). Hellbent on revenge, it takes a brisk canter through various subplots for Prospero to choose forgiveness, free his prisoners, narrowly avoid being murdered, bless the union of Miranda to Ferdinand (Finlay McGuigan) and reunite the latter with his mother, Alonsa.

The love scenes between Miranda and Ferdinand are especially entertaining, with McGuigan also amusing in his separate role as Trinculo. There is also an inexplicable interlude featuring a pair of Deliveroo drivers, which adds little to the narrative but goes down a storm with the kids. Another inspired moment features Stephano (Alice Keedwell) encouraging Caliban to drink Prime, instead of the traditional wine. Gimmicks, perhaps, but very much appreciated by their target audience.

Daisy Prosper as Miranda, Mark Theodore as Prospero and Finlay McGuigan as Ferdinand. Set design: Chiara Stephenson. Costume design: E M Parry. Image credit: Marc Brenner

Mummy always thinks that a good test of a family-friendly Shakespeare adaptation is to take an adult who doesn’t know the original play and see how well they follow it. On this occasion, that adult was Mummy herself. While she found the broad plot easy enough to understand, she did find herself a little at sea when it came to the intricacies. Quizzing the munchkins afterwards indicated that they hadn’t followed much of the story itself, although both were quite clear that there was a moral about forgiveness and not controlling people.

The more subtle environmental messaging (hinted at strongly in the set design) required a bit more of a conversation to tease out ideas about the dangers of trying to control or claim the natural world, and the environmental impact of modern technology. With a static bike on stage (seemingly used by Caliban to power Prospero’s computer equipment), it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to incorporate pedal power into the production. More use could also be made of John Bulleid’s illusions; there is less magic than you might expect, especially from a family friendly version of The Tempest.

A clear highlight of this adaptation is Chiara Stephenson’s fantastic set, which allows the action to unfold on two different levels. It is particularly impressive during the shipwreck scene, complemented by light design by Azusa Ono. It’s a shame that the production is only playing during the daytime at Regent’s Park, as anyone who has ever been to an evening performance at the venue can imagine just how atmospheric the scene would be in the dark. Even so, it still managed to transport the audience to a raging sea on a day that was anything but stormy*.

Juliet Agnes as Ariel and Mark Theodore as Prospero. Set design: Chiara Stephenson. Costume design: E M Parry. Image credit: Marc Brenner

Jennifer Tang’s direction makes full use of this impressive structure, which is set on a revolve, to create a visually stimulating production. The actors are also regularly brought into the audience, adding to the spectacle and helping to keep the youngsters engaged throughout. Audience participation is used effectively from the beginning, with everyone becoming spirits of the island who are regularly called on to help Ariel. This includes joining in with some of the songs, which are another highlight. Not only are they entertaining in their own right, but they really help to fill in the gaps for those who might struggle with the Shakespearean language; just be prepared that you may need the help of the spirits to banish “Ban, ban, Caliban” from your brain.

Overall, The Tempest is a fun introduction to Shakespeare full of silliness and songs, performed in a spectacular setting.

*Be prepared that it can get hot at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Take sun protection and plenty of water, and ideally get tickets at the on the left hand side of the auditorium (the higher numbered seats, accessed via Gangway 4). The venue is completely uncovered, leaving the central block and right hand side completely exposed to the sun in the afternoon. (Also take wet weather supplies for the same reason!)

The Tempest plays at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 30 June to 22 July 2023. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on Friday 7 July.