The atmosphere before most performances at the Globe is usually electric, but there was a particularly intense sense of anticipation when I went to see Jeremy Herrin’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. This may have been due to Merlin’s Colin Morgan playing Ariel, Prospero’s loyal servant, or I may have just stumbled into a theatre full of people who were overly excited to see this version of the final play penned solely by the Bard.
Trevor Fox got the audience going much like a circus ringmaster. Making jokes in a broad Northern accent, we were all excited to see how they’d re-worked the classic play despite the overcast sky above the open-top theatre threatening to soak us all.
And ‘The Tempest’ certainly didn’t disappoint! Every effort was made to highlight the comedy of the play, whether this was through comic precision in the delivery of one-liners, or through the over-emphasis of the already-comic scenes; although sometimes this felt like it was a bit too overdone.
A brief summary of the plot: Prospero is a magician, who is also the former Duke of Milan, who is marooned on an island with nothing but his magic books and staff, and his baby daughter, Miranda. This follows his brother’s plot with the King of Naples to overthrow him and gain his Dukedom. About seventeen years later, the King, Prospero’s brother, a co-conspirator, the King’s aide, and the King’s son, Ferdinand, are caught up in a “mysterious” tempest which conveniently leaves them divided on Prospero’s island, where he can manipulate events. Which I kind of think explains why it can be difficult to view ‘The Tempest’ as a comedy.
Although it’s pretty dark stuff, it is brought to life spectacularly by this cast. For the most part, Roger Allam‘s Prospero was incredibly captivating, switching from dark and brooding, to caring boss, to typical overprotective father with ease. In one particular scene, Allam enacts the ultimate third-wheel scenario with Joshua James‘s Ferdinand and Jessie Buckley‘s Miranda, leaving the audience cringing in their places. While his final monologue was magnificent, the atmospheric music underpinning it almost makes it seem a little ridiculous.
This does seem to be the order of the day, however, with many of the cast adopting caricature-like personas. Miranda is a highly emotional and angsty teen, flustered by her father’s actions and her love for Ferdinand, which borders on irritating. Her love, Ferdinand, is weedy, inexperienced, and fantastic as a result of not being your typical Prince Charming in his refreshing take on the role.
Court jesters Stephano (Sam Cox) and Trinculo (Trevor Fox) provide the majority of the comedy alongside Prospero’s slave, Caliban. Trinculo’s questionable choice of outfit and a scene where they admirably attempt to save their drinks in an effort comparable only to Monday nights on Jesters’ dancefloor help to rescue any flagging moments in the production.
Unfortunately, the play is brought down by some underwhelming scenes involving King Alonso of Naples and his fellow traitors, played by Peter Hamilton Dyer, Jason Baughan, and Pip Donaghy. Luckily, these don’t last for very long, and are redeemed by James Garnon‘s Caliban. With a suspiciously Nigerian accent, and some serious hygiene issues, Garnon creates a modern vision of the Colonial subject within a Shakespearian setting. Easily the most believable character in his desperation and anxiety at losing his island, Caliban scolds Prospero for teaching him language, as his ‘profit on’t is [that he knows]how to curse’. Although at times it seems a little dragged out, Garnon never fails to captivate the audience, and is definitely not afraid to interact with them!
It would be impossible not to mention Colin Morgan’s turn as Ariel. Morgan portrays the sprite in a way which is as creepy as it is mesmerising, choosing to highlight the homoerotic undertones of the relationship, sometimes to comic effect. With his fluffy costume, and Blue Steel looks, hard-core Shakespeare fans may find it difficult to take him seriously; but he convinces with his agility, leaping effortlessly around the staging, and in later scenes where he makes fantastic use of props and pyrotechnics, and is terrifying as a mythical harpy. It is brilliant to see him in an environment where he can feed off of the audience’s reaction, and he does truly seem to be in his element here.
Overall, this performance of ‘The Tempest’ was fantastic, with a delicate balance between comedy and drama, and several stand-out performances. Definitely one to watch, even if it’s only to check out Colin Morgan doing his best Zoolander impression!
‘The Tempest’ is running at the Globe Theatre until 18/8/2013. For more details visit: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre/the-tempest-2013