The Tempest, Playhouse, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

Franks has made Prospero's kingdom the faded interior of a pier-end ballroom, and Gideon Davey has trawled the flotsam and jetsam of a deserted beach for his designs. The dizziness of Miranda and Ferdinand's marriage scene is accompanied by carousel ponies bobbing in the air, the carnivalesque element supported by a detailed masquerade of exotic personalities. It's as pretty as a picture, but is it a play?

It has some such qualities, especially in Christopher Ravenscroft's beautifully spoken Prospero, a left-over from some academic institution, perhaps. Miranda, a compassionate and compliant child of the earth, is presented as more than just another prop in Leah Muller's white-clad innocence. Ben Porter's dark and complex slave, Caliban, crawls like a different sort of creature of the earth, and the enigmatic Richard Glaves, as Ariel, makes enough swift transformations for the rest of the islanders put together.

The shipwrecked royal party could be a group of Saga holidaymakers, while the drunken Stephano makes an energetic fist of his acts with Trinculo and Caliban. The cast nearly sinks beneath the weight of Franks' imaginative, but rigid, concept and there are times when the text could have been made clearer. The omission of such basic material as a synopsis in the printed programme is inexplicable for this company, which tries so very hard to be accessible. But that grouse apart, his production is endlessly inventive, its subtly choreographed movement and illusionary effects set against a haunting soundscape.

To 22 October (0151-709 4776)

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