Tempest was the word indeed, and really it should have been the groundlings who received the applause for sticking out the three hours of the Globe s first production of the season in the most appalling weather. Still, the opening night s weather gave the cast an opportunity to make the most of phrases such as 'this wet isle' and 'here s the storm again' and all of the meteorological references were milked for all they were worth.
The unplanned weather aside, however, the gimmick of this production (following last year s male Cleopatra) is a female Prospero. Vanessa Redgrave adds the role to her extensive Shakespearean repertoire, but sadly the casting can t be claimed as a fantastic success.
True, she brings a touch of tenderness to the part there s a real love between her and Miranda - and Redgrave s is a most humane Prospero, eagerly embracing human contact and anticipating his/her return to Milan with some relish. But there s no sense of Prospero s harshness or anger. 'Why do you speak so ungently?' asks Miranda plaintively when Prospero ill-treats Ferdinand, the only trouble is that Redgrave speaks with as much menace as a girl-guide leader.
This leads to a real difficulty with the interpretation of Caliban. Jasper Britton brings rare nobility to the part and gets some real sympathy from the audience. He ends the first half with a sort of haka that calls for freedom for Caliban (with which the groundlings joyously join in). But what is Caliban revolting against - surely not the kindly old stick with the soft voice?
There are some other strange discrepancies. Caliban s primitive chanting doesn t really match the rest of Nigel Osborne s evocative Balkan score. And why do the King of Naples s retinue dress like Turkish pashas (except for Robert McBain s Gonzalo, that is, who looks like a refugee from a touring production of Salad Days)?
But there are some nice touches. Geraldine Alexander makes for a touching and most balletic Ariel. Kananu Kirimi is a wide-eyed innocent Miranda. And Paul Chahidi and Steffan Rhodri are an amusing double act as Billy Bunter lookalike Trinculo and a very Welsh Stefano.
But Lenka Udovicki s direction doesn t really gel. It might have seemed like a bright idea to have a Serbian director to bring out the concepts of colonialism and oppression that lie at the heart of this play, but this is a production that fails to catch fire. Although in fairness to the cast, it would be harsh to be too critical. The weather certainly wasn t conducive to the enjoyment of the play.