Ariel, in what is literally a strait-jacketed performance by Rachel Sanders, is very much Prospero's reluctant prisoner, quite as unhappy -if in a more restrained way - as Caliban (a noble savage, played by Richard Willis). Meanwhile, Michael Cashman's scheming Prospero is more the revenging hero of a Jacobean tragedy than a benign patriarch from a late romance.
With only modest humour from Stephano and Trinculo, it sounds a gloomy Tempest. It's not. Director Nancy Meckler gives us a clear and valid reading of the text, set on a seawhitened isle where sails and heaps of sand provide the scenery while ethereal music by Peter Salem creates the magic.
This simplicity allows us to focus on the issues raised by the play: colonialism, power struggles, expediency and innocence. The best laugh comes when Miranda (Rebecca Jackson) greets the conspirators as part of her "brave new world"; the most intriguing moment is in a pre-storm flashback which suggests that Miranda's reported encounter with Caliban was not so much attempted rape as innocent enjoyment.
No wonder then that Prospero must test the bond between his daughter and Prince Ferdinand to ensure that their love is more than mere infatuation. But perhaps it was their triumph over adult-induced trials that prompted one young punter to accord the play the ultimate contemporary accolade: "Well wicked." DAVID SELF
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