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Debra is hoping her role in The Tempest will go down a storm

By Allan Preston

Published 18/03/2016

Debra gets up to speed with William Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Victoria Park
Debra gets up to speed with William Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Victoria Park
Debra with Andrea Montgommery

A Belfast staging of Shakespeare's The Tempest, to be performed in the city's docklands with a cast of 230 this April, will be the role of a lifetime for newly discovered actress Debra Hill.

The 22-year-old, from west Belfast, is a final year drama student at Queen's University and won the prize role of Miranda after directors launched a major social media campaign, called #iammiranda, looking for a new star of the stage.

The island story, thought to be The Bard's final play, will be updated and set in the 19th century Belfast docklands with a diverse cast bringing the production to life.

Ahead of the opening night on April 20, Debra and artistic director Andrea Montgomery spoke about the challenges of performing Shakespeare in a Belfast brogue.

"It was actually brilliant," said Debra. "Doing Shakespeare before, there's this kind of standard accent that comes with Shakespeare and a lot of actors and actresses struggle with it.

"I think that there's more emotion and more feeling that comes out of doing your own accent. It's coming from you and it's not put on."

It was a hastily filmed monologue of Lady Macbeth, recorded at 2am in the morning from her bedroom, that secured Debra her first audition.

"After that I went for a final recall with two other girls at T13, which is now a skatepark," she said. "I was freezing and thought it was massive. It was very challenging, I'd never played in that kind of capacity before. It's about your voice and how you can move your body around in that space. As soon as I got home, Andrea called and said 'I'd like to offer you the role of Miranda'. It was very exciting. Miranda was sort of a hero of her time, so I was over the Moon."

Of her character, Debra added: "My recognition of Miranda was kind of this young, naive girl, but we were told to play her a bit feisty, like she can stand up for herself and be a bit flirty."

After finishing her degree, Debra plans to study for a Master's in acting. But she knows that with the Belfast Tempest, she is "learning from the best".

Quebec-born artistic director Andrea is heading the production.

On choosing her lead actress, she told this newspaper: "When I met Debra I thought: 'She can do this, she has enough self-confidence to own that language and make it her own'."

After moving to Northern Ireland and meeting her husband, Andrea explained why she chose the Belfast docks as the setting.

"Northern Ireland is a perfect place to host The Tempest - it has its roots in the sea. As I got to know the city, I was taken with the romance of the docks.

"It was a really nice coming together with the themes of the play and that area.

"My idea was to make Prospero, the central powerful magician figure, a 19th century Belfast shipyard boss.

"There are themes about power and forgiveness that are still relevant for Belfast today."

Belfast Tempest, which is staged by Terra Nova productions, will run from April 20-23 at the T13 Warehouse on Queen's Island.

Tickets are available from the box office on 028 9024 2338 and online at www.terranovaproductions.net/belfast-tempest-box.

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