Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Tower Street, York, in rep until September 1. Box office: 01904 623568 or 0844 847 2483 or

DIRECTOR Phillip Franks knows The Tempest well. He has even directed Shakespeare’s swansong play previously, but this production needs more tuning than the collapsed piano on stage if it is yet to kick up a storm.

Unlike the company doubling up for Hamlet and Twelfth Night, Franks’s cast for The Tempest – and Gemma Fairley’s Henry V – is predominantly new to the nine-sided pop-up Shakespearean theatre. Wood and scaffolding frame the stage; the actors’ voices are cast to the elements – the drone of an aeroplane overhead, the wind’s sudden rushes – without the ballast of a microphone.

Regular voice-coaching sessions have played their vital part in rehearsals in the impromptu tented village set up at York Designer Outlet , aiding the 75 actors for this summer’s York and Blenheim Palace sites alike. For all that conditioning, however, it still takes time to adjust to the performance space, and Wednesday’s press show was only the fourth run.

Your reviewer was sitting to the left -hand side of the audience that night on the first tier of seats, whereupon the problem quickly emerged of Sam Callis’s voice being lost in the air, whenever his Prospero addressed anyone side on, facing to the audience’s right, as he was prone to do, especially when conversing with daughter Miranda (Alexandra Guelff).

Callis is a tall, wild-haired, broad faced, physically imposing man with a luxuriant beard, who could not more look the part of Prospero, should you conjure one from your imagination, and as soon as he faced the audience, spoke outwards to the groundlings crowd assembled below, he assumed the command the role demands, both vocally and physically. The inner fire needs stoking up too.

It must be hoped Callis can work in haste with Franks to re-block his positioning, a considerable task but in truth one vital to this play, given that it stands or falls on his central performance, and you cannot afford to lose the sense of so much dialogue. Given how much better his voice subsequently fares as Charles VI, dapper-suited King Of France in Henry V, clarity will surely follow in The Tempest.

This can be a strange play already, one that feels rather like trying to explain the rules of cricket to the uninitiated when encountering its island world for the first time.

You expect not to make out every word in the rage of the opening storm – wind machine and all – conjured by Prospero, the wronged Right Duke of Milan, usurped by his brother and now living on an island with daughter Miranda, his spirit Ariel (Leander Deeny), a chorus of more spirits (unseen by those washed up in the storm) and his savage, deformed slave Caliban (Raphael Bushay).

Caliban, with a leather-strapped blade arm, like something out of Mad Max or a Marvel movie, first emerges from his makeshift home of the crumpled piano: a stand-out in Adrian Linford's design that also draws heavily on Steampunk Victoriana fashion for the spirits and Prospero's staff.

You might crave more of a sense of an island too, more sound effects, more feeling of the magical, the feral. Instead, it falls on the characterisation to drive The Tempest, and Guelff's Miranda, Alexander Knox's love-struck Ferdinand and Bushay's freedom-craving Caliban more than play their part. Better still is Peter Moreton's drunken butler, Stephano, and best of all is Deeny's Ariel, as nimble and capricious as the Emcee in Cabaret.

There is work to be done, however.

Charles Hutchinson