The Tempest, Playhouse, Nottingham

4.00

For all its magic happenings and philosophic cravings,
The Tempest is about brute seizure of power, its chastising and forgiveness. That Shakespeare pitches black comedy into the plotting - "For the rest, they'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk" - merely heightens its Iago-like nastiness.

For all its magic happenings and philosophic cravings, The Tempest is about brute seizure of power, its chastising and forgiveness. That Shakespeare pitches black comedy into the plotting - "For the rest, they'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk" - merely heightens its Iago-like nastiness.

This late play is all purple passages; if there's a criticism of Richard Baron's engaging staging, it's that he perversely infiltrates comedy into passages where Shakespeare least intended it. The worst distortions (eg, at "for several virtues have I lik'd several women") seriously infect flow and meaning.

But this is a fine Tempest, though at the cost, nearly, of a hole at its heart. Clive Francis's frenetic, twittering Prospero gads about with a staff twice his height, with a nervous chuckle like Roy Dotrice in Brief Lives. His antics undo his clarity; when he settles, he's superb. Eilidh MacDonald's beautifully spoken, demure Miranda sounds destined for the National, he for the village panto.

Ken Harrison's set and Mark Pritchard's lighting (though not the chess game) work a treat. The Masque is clever, much of the music is dreadful, and the storm needs further honing.

Matthew Bugg's golden Ariel - as riveting as Peter Brook's trapeze-borne Midsummer Night's Dream - is visual rapture, with every sliding and wheeling move conveying magic and meaning. The final exchange ("I would sir, were I human") was perfect; so was the final flight to freedom.

Kern Falconer makes a seriously good job of the impossible Alonso; Matthew Chambers, a slightly more leaden one of Ferdinand (though when he carries in Ariel as an impish log, the comedy is glorious). "When this burns, 'twill weep for having wearied you," yelps Miranda, whose every word is uplifting. Michael Mackenzie's Antonio is a vocal treat. "All women, virtuous," prates David Terence's truly wearisome, Polonius-like Gonzalo. "Aargh," harrumphs Antonio, the disappointment tangible. When "O brave new world" is intoned, with charmed naivety, to wicked uncle Antonio, he's a glorious, Gambonesque mixture of the seriously lustful and the guiltily indifferent.

The other naughty person is Caliban's friend Stefano, the butler who - like Prospero, Antonio, Sebastian, Caliban, even Ariel - would rule, or enjoy the freedom of kings. Michael Melia's super "debosh'd fish" Caliban - shambling, poignant, utterly believable - is a lesson in sophisticated delivery.

The Jock duo hit the jackpot from Graham Crammond's first cloud-lined laments. The gabardine gag (a twitching beached pantomime elephant) is slick to a point; "O Stefano! Two Neapolitans escaped," in broad Glaswegian, is killing. Rod Matthew - doubling Stefano with Sebastian - is a pissed treat ("His daughter and I shall be Queer and Kink!"). With style, subtlety and brilliant moves, they bring the house down.

To Saturday (0115-941 9419)

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