Set play

9th February 2001 at 00:00
THE TEMPEST. Royal Shakespeare Company on tour

When the RSC tours, it doesn't just set up a makeshift theatre or visit established playhouses, it takes its own theatre. The Macclesfield Leisure Centre was transformed in January into a venue suitable for The Tempest, the most masque-like of Shakespeare's plays, a procedure that represents a considerable financial commitment on the part of the community as well as support from the Arts Council and commercial sponsors of the event.

The basic set for James Macdonald's production is simple enough: a white, undulating floor, which is continuous with the backdrop. Magical effects are achieved by playing light and projections of the sea on to the plain background and, notably, by the eerie singing - or, rather, montage of sounds - by black-clad figures around the edges of the stage. This isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs which give delight and are easily transported around the country.

Philip Voss's Prospero is an upright authority-figure, whose telling of the back-story of what occurred in Milan before his exile (always a challenge for any actor) is clearly delivered in patrician tones. He hasn't the anger or complexity of Ian McDiarmid's reading at the Almeida, but his would be a good first Prospero or a student to encounter nevertheless. Miranda (Nikki Amuko-Bird) is a touching mixture of innocence and youthful earnestness as she listens and later falls headlong for Ferdinand, for whom she clearly feels a physical attraction.

Gilz Teresa's Ariel looks somewhat earth-bound to begin with, in his neat dark servant's suit, but he has a mercurial quality which serves the magic well. He even gets away with wearing a silvery dress, such as might have been abandoned by some starlet at the Oscars, when he is transformed into a sea-nymph. Caliban (Zubin Varla) presents a sad and rebellious figure reminiscent of a homeless drug addict, emaciated and covered in sores. During the comedy sequence Stephano (James Saxon) "grooms" his hair for lice in the manner of an off-duty baboon.

The knock-about works pretty well, helped here by Julian Kerridge as Trinculo having a fairly local accent. And the mainly VictorianEdwardian feel of the costumes sits well with the entrepreneurial theme with regard to the saleability of strange creatures from foreign parts.

The production's influences are more classical, though, and there are some useful notes in the programme about Virgil, Ovid and Montaigne.

Heather Neill

Touring until May. Details: 01789 403440

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