First published in The Times, Monday November 1 2021
It is fitting that this new production of Shakespeare’s swansong should be opening on Halloween weekend when ghosts and monsters are out in force wandering the dark streets.
The show, adapted and directed by Andy Arnold, has a strongly Gothic flavour, with Prospero’s cell a forbidding library topped with lancet windows and characters moving in and out of the shadows.
While Jenny Booth’s set design is minimalist, the production makes interesting use of the stripped-back space, deploying rolling ladders to create multiple levels to the staging. Prospero – portrayed with smouldering anger and a politician’s cunning by Nicole Cooper – surveys the action with cold omniscience from a ledge high above the stage. The world of the island is uncomfortably claustrophobic with a sense of the inhabitants being locked in together.
In a play concerned with patriarchal power but featuring only one significant woman character, the engagement of an all-female ensemble is a witty touch that gives the dialogue a deliciously ironic edge.
More interesting, though, is Arnold’s focus on the symbiotic relationship between Prospero, the spirit Ariel (Itxaso Moreno) and Caliban (Liz Kettle), the latter pair repressed and manipulated, either yearning for release or out for vengeance, both trapped and institutionalised, with strong hints given here that the cycle of degradation will continue after the colonial power has moved on.
It is a shame, however, that in cutting the play to a fleet 85 minutes, Arnold reduces subplots and supporting characters almost to the margins. The comic support of Stephano (Ariana Ferris McLean) and Trinculo (Taylor Goodwin) barely registers, while the lovers, Miranda (Titana Muthui) and Ferdinand (Elle Watson), are similarly downgraded, so that there is very little in the way of levity to contrast with the play’s darker goings-on. The relationships between Prospero and his political rivals and allies are also sparsely developed.
All of this is frustrating because of the production’s otherwise bold flourishes and intermittent flashes of how powerful this adaptation could be were the cast of 11 given a little more room for dramatic manoeuvre.
Box office: 0141 552 4267, to Nov 13. Tron.co.uk