At its core it boasts an excellent central performance from Jonathan Slinger as a tender-hearted Prospero. He is full of care towards his daughter Miranda, choked up with emotion when recalling his wife and outwardly tender towards Ariel.
Indeed, the most striking aspect of the production is the way that Prospero and Sandy Grierson’s Ariel have an identical appearance in both looks and clothing. This provides a sense of Ariel and Prospero learning from each other as they assume aspects of each others' characters. It also means that the audience is never quite sure which of the two is watching on as events unfold. We get the impression that they’re omnipresent – it’s an intriguing device.
The army of spirits doing Prospero/Ariel’s bidding all wear similar clothing too, so we have the effect of livery-clad servants, almost as if anticipating Prospero’s return to his ducal palace.
Towards the end, the duke and his sprite reverse roles: Ariel dresses Prospero in his formal suit as he prepares to assume his dukedom, while, a few minutes later, Prospero unbuttons Ariel’s jacket as the spirit finally achieves his long-sought freedom. It’s a touching moment but this is a production with a heavy emphasis on such bonding: Emily Taaffe’s Miranda and Solomon Israel’s Ferdinand make for a touching pair of lovers. Among the rest of the cast, Bruce Mackinnon’s Stephano and Felix Hayes’s Trinculo stand out – their double-act is genuinely funny.
Jon Bausor’s plank-strewn set resembles more the deck of a ship than a tropical island but the transparent box that serves as both Prospero’s cell and the stricken ship is a neat idea.
The Tempest is the third play to open of the RSC's Shipwreck Trilogy, which also features The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (the latter also directed by Farr). Slinger’s beautifully-spoken and touching Prospero will be my abiding memory of the play but there’s plenty more to commend this sensitive production.