The third in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy is by far the best, using the new RST thrust to its full, with ghostly sprites emerging from traps and designer Jon Bausor providing a large plastic cube for Prospero’s cell.
Soloman Israel (Ferdinand) and Sandy Grierson (Ariel) in The Tempest at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (previous pictures shows Bruce MacKinnon as Stephano) Photo: Tristram Kenton
Prospero himself, in a vocally fascinating performance by Jonathan Slinger, occupies this hinterland like Robert Shaw’s Man in a Glass Booth, breaking out (with his doppelganger Ariel, Sandy Grierson) into the rage and melancholic tantrums of a slapdash magician.
When he’s cornered by his daughter’s unexpected emotional maturity - Emily Taaffe’s impetuous charm is far more suited to Miranda than to Viola in Twelfth Night - he finds out more about himself, and is by no means happier.
The cube hosts an over-microphoned but still inaudible storm scene, the magical effusion of the wrecked wedding party, and the colourful cabaret of Juno (Cecilia Noble) and her goddesses of fruit and favour in see-through blouses.
Ariel and his silent fellows have been suited like their master. The metaphor of costume as a means of control is ever-present - in the dissenting garb of an unusually strong Caliban (the Palestinian actor Amer Hlehel), the cerise party frock of a wilfully mis-gendered Sebastian (Kirsty Bushell) and the soiled dinner jacket and checked trousers of Stephano and Trinculo.
These last two are wonderfully well played by the Dromios and Aguecheek and Fabian of the other two plays, Bruce Mackinnon and Felix Hayes, who should be installed immediately as RSC perennials.
Slinger brings the show to a heart-stopping conclusion with his brilliant delivery of the great last act speeches and his silent invocation of our applause and his liberty.