The Tempest review – stirring all-female Shakespeare on the cusp of Cop26

Tron, Glasgow
The climate-change summit inspires a production emphasising the land-grab aspects of Shakespeare’s late play in an imaginative staging

The short-term forecast is for a storm – or maybe a squally shower – of Cop26-inspired Tempests. On 7 November, BBC Radio 3 is fielding a soft-spoken Ian McDiarmid as Prospero in Shakespeare’s island reverie and here in Glasgow, as the climate delegates assemble, director Andy Arnold has put together an 11-strong, all-female Tempest, led by Nicole Cooper.

Neither production overstates the eco connections, each preferring the story does its own work. This is a play about a man-made weather event leading to a bunch of Europeans taking over a foreign territory, exploiting it, then getting out again. The latter idea is picked up by Arnold, who leaves Itxaso Moreno’s athletic Ariel and Liz Kettle’s proud Caliban forlorn and abandoned at the end of the 90-minute show. They have been used and discarded, the dream-like visions of their visitors a lingering nightmare for them.

The set by Jenny Booth, which gets an environmental tick for recycling prop-store furniture, places Cooper, dramatically, on the sill beneath one of the exposed stained-glass windows on the theatre’s back wall. This is Prospero’s high-level library, a vantage point to cast his spells over the supernatural inhabitants, the shipwrecked sailors and Titana Muthui’s Miranda, a surly, eye-rolling teenager rather than the sweet-natured ingenue of tradition.

There is something of the sociopath in Cooper’s portrayal. This is a Prospero who is all charm and charisma when things are going his way, but step out of line and he turns vicious. Blaming Ariel for the sprite’s own misfortunes feels like gaslighting. Abusing Caliban is the colonial mindset at its most arrogant. There are more reasons than adolescent hormones to make Miranda sceptical about her dad, a man who combines suave assurance and callous control.

With Benny Goodman’s lighting splashing fiery reds and stark whites from the wings, it is a dreamy, fluid production, but one that skates over some of the key moments. Where is the wonder when Miranda sets eyes on her first eligible man, or the shock when the sailors encounter Caliban? But if such transitions are underplayed, a show that boldly questions the means of production is also thoughtful and imaginative.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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