The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe

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.

Maxwell Cooter