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The current Stratford season is a showcase for rising directors. ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

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Britain doesn't lack for Prosperos at the moment (two in London alone), but John Wood's post-Freudian bundle of nerves is getting most of the attention. And that is precisely the strength - and weakness - of Nick Hytner's daring new production. At first glance, it seems a lost-in-space ``Tempest,'' what with David Fielding's abstract futuristic set - white raked stage, a scooped hollow of a cave, a boulder and Prospero's staff - making for a rather Daliesque island getaway.

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But this concept, spectacularly unsuitable for the masque scenes, is from beginning to end a visual one. Despite Wood's equally spare frame, his Prospero is intensely human rather than hi-tech, a richly nuanced rendering of a complex ruler who uses his magic to keep other humans at bay. Wood is in fine form, letting his voice - supple and show-offy as a prize feline - do most of the work. His is such a singular performance that the rest of the cast seems perpetually out of step. Hytner has yet to hitch his star to the production. The marooned courtiers are a particularly toneless lot, and the evening noticeably sags during their scenes. Only Duncan Bell's Ariel, a handsome sprite who is very much his own man, gives Wood any competition. Oh yes, and Desmond Barrit's Wildesque Trinculo, a porcine Queen in lurid clown suit, milks fresh guffaws from the role.

Restoration comedies at the Swan

Over in the Swan Theatre, built by a mystery donor in 1986 to stage the work of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Restoration comedy is in the ascendancy. The two productions seen by this reviewer - ``The Man of Mode'' and ``The Plain Dealer'' - are dazzlingly stylish, with several meaty women's roles (Restoration drama being the first to permit female actors). But neither approaches the indigenous humor and humanity unearthed by Barry Kyle in last season's Swan hit, ``Hyde Park.''

Ms. Hynes has attempted to give Etherege's malicious comedy of sex and style (the ``mode'' of the title) a particularly cutting edge - echoed by Ultz's black and white design scheme. But the production suffers from a marked decline in the dramatic tension of the second act and, on the evening seen by this reviewer, an oddly distant performance by Miles Anderson as Dorimant, Etherege's salacious anti-hero. As for Wycherly's ``The Plain Dealer,'' Ron Daniels seems to have settled for making this revenge comedy as brisk and busy as possible. Cheap laughs are gotten at the expense of some extravagant costumes and hairdos. Real laughs are earned by Daniels's sagacious staging of the seduction scenes, mismatched mates feeling their way around a brightly lit stage which is meant to be in utter darkness.

A competent `Macbeth'

As for Adrian Noble's ``Macbeth,'' it is competent - with occasional flashes of inspiration - without ever being exceptional. Miles Anderson is a forceful, believable Macbeth, although his characterization lacks point of view. The production feels unformed thematically, a failing that may be remedied with time. Amanda Root, on the other hand, is decidedly yuppielike as Lady M., an ambitious youngster on her way up the corporate ladder. What seems inspired? The three witches, a Brechtian trio of feminists rather than netherworldly spirits; Macbeth's visions of the future, which come in the form of Macduff's nightgown-clad children; Mark Henderson's and Chris Parry's lighting, a masterful interplay of light and shadow appropriate to this most claustrophobic of Shakespeare's tragedies.