Adrian Noble, the third distinguished director to be parachuted in for the summer season at Bath, has form over Shakespeare’s magical final play. It was the hit of the 2011 season at the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, where former RSC boss Noble is artistic director. Indeed, the puppets representing the finale’s three goddesses have been imported direct from California.
Iris Roberts (Miranda), Matt Ryan (Caliban) and Tim Pigott-Smith (Prospero) in The Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Bath Photo: Tristram Kenton
Noble’s colourful and imaginative production rightly sees this complex work as Shakespeare’s last great parable on the power of love overcoming the desire for revenge. Prospero’s fantasy world is created by the spectacular use of a series of gigantic blue sheets, set against a haunting musical background that led Danny Boyle to embrace Caliban’s ‘the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs’ speech in the Olympic opening ceremony.
Tim Pigott-Smith takes a suitably magisterial approach as Prospero (the role taken by Miles Anderson in San Diego) - especially over the discovery of tender first love by Iris Roberts’ Miranda and Mark Quartley’s youthful Ferdinand. His rough magic is also mirrored in Mark Meadows’ phoenix-like Ariel and a Caliban from Matt Ryan all too prone to human weakness, in contrast to the upright and loyal Gonzalo of Philip Voss.
There is a delightful music hall double act from Geoffrey Freshwater’s drunken butler Stephano and Mark Hadfield’s north country Trinculo (which in some productions can be a bit of a bore). This may be a fairly cluttered production, but Noble avoids the pitfall of too much inventiveness crowding out the stunning beauty of both music and verse.