North Marine Park, South Shields (Customs House production)

With so many interpretations of The Tempest being performed every year, would it possible for this production to stand out amongst them? The answer is yes.

Staged in the North Marine Park close to the mouth of the River Tyne in South Shields, the setting couldn’t have been more appropriate for Shakespeare’s tale of the sea. The children’s shipwreck play area is made to good use as the figurehead of the catwalk stage. With the audience clustered around it, the intimate setting allows you to feel part of the action, not least when the cast use your area as part of their stage arena.

David Napthine has a commanding presence as the magical Prospero, self proclaimed ruler of the remote island he and his daughter, Miranda (Helen Embleton) were stranded on some years ago. He conjures a tempest, stranding his brother, the Duke of Milan (Tony Neilson), on his island and has his spirit, Ariel (Therase Neve), watch over and control them in this tale of power and rightful heirship.

Peter Lathan’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy allows the cast’s natural accents to flourish which makes for an interesting and welcomed change. Iain Cunningham and Dylan Mortimer as Stephano and Triculo respectively provide the comic relief with Dale Meeks providing a threatening yet humorous Caliban.

Embleton plays Miranda sensitively, displaying the emotions well of a young woman in the embraces of her first love. Therase Neve’s portrayal as the ethereal Ariel, who glides around the stage in wisp-like movements, captures Ariel as a delicate spirit eager to be released from Prospero’s control and to be free to dance all day.

This visually stripped-down version of The Tempest needs no elaborate sets to support it; the brushing of the trees in the wind and the rustling of the sails of the ship provide enough atmosphere to make anything else unnecessary. Accompanying the actors were a small orchestra of local musicians and three dancers as Ariel’s supporting spirits to add to the simplicity of the event.

The intermission felt a little late and the performance thereafter short and weighty, but all-in-all, a solid performance from an ensemble cast makes for an entertaining summer’s evening of Shakespeare in the park.