The Tempest, Gearbox Theatre Company at Broadway Theatre, Peterborough, May 10 & 11, 2018.

A Performance with Integrity by Joe Conway for the Peterborough Telegraph, May 17, 2018.

It looked good. It was well produced and directed. It included many worthwhile performances, and even some star turns. Okay, there may have been one or two features that didn’t work so well. But beyond all this, the Gearbox production of The Tempest had one quality of even greater value.

I mean its seriousness and integrity. For this thought-provoking production of one of the great Shakespeare plays was delivered with no dumbing down, no gimmicks, and no concessions to easy popularity. And if you thought that Peterborough was devoid of intellectual life, then you’d have to think again after watching this heady show.

That’s not to suggest that The Tempest is another Hamlet. Yes, it has a serious side, but there’s also magic, showmanship, young love, and humour. And as the zany pair Stephano and Trinculo, Joni Hilton and James Venters pushed the boat out in over-the-top slapstick that worked every time.

However, it’s when they interact with Caliban that the fun really begins. In the role of the monster the play’s hugely talented director Emma Sheppard came close to stealing the show. Wearing a troglodyte costume, Emma squatted and tumbled around in a performance of unrelenting physicality. This was not so much a female Caliban as an androgynous creature with barely a semblance of humanity. Yet a creature all eyes were glued to every time he-she-or-it appeared on stage. 

In a courageous performance by Tom Dexter the supreme part of Prospero was delivered with lonely dignity and unhurried poise. And as his captive spirit there wasn’t one Ariel but three! As the play unfolded I began to see why this unique experiment had been tried in this production. The three Ariels were able to cover infinitely more space on the enormous stage than one, and they matched up neatly to the trio of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo.

In Rosie Fisher’s interpretation Prospero’s daughter Miranda was feisty and tomboyish, in contrast to the sweet and submissive portrayal the role usually receives. On the other hand her lover Ferdinand was played in a more traditional and heroic way by George Young.

Most of the remaining characters are the ship-wrecked nobles from the courts of Milan and Naples. Dean Boyall put in an effective performance as Alonso, devastated at the apparent loss of his son. While Peter Crerar was always sympathetic, particularly when expressing Gonzalo’s glorious vision of an Arcadian world. I also liked Helen McCay and Roxie Strife as Antonia and Sebastiana, sophisticated sisters of Prospero and Alonso, in their glam 1930s outfits.