There’s a world-weary naturalism to Roger Allam’s likeable Prospero. Other actors lay on thick the other-worldly wisdom which the deposed Duke of Milan has adopted ever since he was cast adrift in a sieve-like boat with his baby daughter, Miranda. But not Allam. The Thick of It star brings a shrugging, almost Tony Hancock-style comic fatalism to his Prospero. The glances of exasperation directed towards the groundlings are returned with a groundswell of sympathy.
As with all productions of Shakespeare’s magical play, Jeremy Herrin’s ebbs in the over-long scenes of laboured high comedy. But it flows, too, especially whenever Allam’s Prospero reconciles himself to releasing those within his power — Colin Morgan’s bird-like Ariel, James Garnon’s earthy (in fact rocky) Caliban, but most of all Miranda, played by Jessie Buckley, the runner-up in the Lloyd Webber TV talent show I’d Do Anything. This is Buckley’s Shakespeare debut and on this evidence it will certainly not be the last. Her Miranda transmits a deep loneliness from being the only child of a single parent on an island with no friends.
But it’s innate star wattage that prevents Buckley from being overshadowed by Allam’s stage presence. Both get terrific support from Garnon and Morgan as the base and lofty opposites on Prospero’s island. Garnon’s Caliban moves like an ape but his baritone voice is curiously infected with the indignant tone of a man with aspirations. Morgan’s feathered Ariel, meanwhile, is a rare, exotic species who sits as watchful, still and alert as a heron.
In the marriage scene, Herrin’s playful production fills the air with fluttering petals. But the real beauty of the evening lies in that daughter-father relationship and in the tender negotiation to set free the thing that is most loved.