Reviewed – 29th July 2022
“we’re perfectly happy to sit a little longer, marvelling at the all-sorts gathered on stage”
The Tempest is so easily, and so often, staged as a play of a single lead character, the mighty Prospero, with a generous sprinkling of small parts dallying around him. But in Sean Holmes’ production, there are no small parts. Each character finds their allies and enemies on stage, and each is the centre of their own story. Perhaps this is due to artistic director Michelle Terry’s idea of a Globe Ensemble: these actors have been working together for what should be a year, but owing to the pandemic is likely closer to two. And the confidences and friendships which have developed give this production a glorious esprit de corps: Whilst Ferdy Roberts has the most lines, he’s just one in a big family.
That being said, Roberts is fabulous as self-important Prospero. De-robing in the first thirty seconds to reveal a very small pair of yellow swimming briefs, he manifests both Prospero’s wild amount of self-confidence and his innate ridiculousness; perhaps he’s unable to laugh at himself, but we have plenty to laugh at.
Having been betrayed by his brother years ago and sent out to sea with his young daughter to near-certain death, Prospero discovers that his brother is now sailing in a wedding party past the desert island he now inhabits. He sends his servant-spirit Ariel to cause a storm and shipwreck the party, scattering them across the island, ripe for vengeful antics.
Whilst Prospero is often described as a sorcerer, under Holmes’ direction, the only magic he appears to have performed is making Ariel feel indebted to him. So, any time he requires magic to be done, there she appears, with a flick of the wrist. Rachel Hannah Clarke is cheeky but resolute as Ariel, enjoying her tasks of playful manipulation, whilst also holding a solemn gaze with Prospero in talks of her freedom.
It’s this balance of playfulness and gravity that dictates the play’s atmosphere. Yes, the stage is filled with swimming inflatables- a lobster, a flamingo- and it feels completely apt that characters should be bewitched to behave like dogs and think they’re Harry Potter, but there is also much loss and betrayal which is somehow still strikingly felt amidst all the hijinks.
Whilst planes overhead often feature ad-libitum at the Globe, Ralph Davis’ perfectly timed screech for help as a plane passes by, is brilliant. In fact, he has quite a few bold moments of ad-libbing (“O, touch me not; I am not Stephano…I’m the boy who lived.”) which feels especially transgressive in a Shakespeare play but works wonderfully.
Ciarán O’Brien’s Caliban, traditionally played as grotesque and feral, is here a stroppy, sheltered teenager, which feels much less problematic and leaves plenty of space for us to think he might very well earn his freedom after the play is done.
By far my favourite moment is the celebratory dance performed by gods and spirits on Prospero’s request as a gift to his daughter Miranda and her betrothed Ferdinand. Maybe ten or fifteen appear, wearing floral-patchworked white jumpsuits, flower crowns and rose-tinted glasses, clutching palm fronds. At first the dance is flat-out bizarre, and soon it becomes overtly sexual as the ‘gods’ hump the air, moving closer and closer to the couple, eventually resulting in what appears to be a group orgasm, much to Prospero’s horror.
Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, it takes a little too long to wrap up, insisting on accounting for every single character, one after the other. But so much good will has been won by then that we’re perfectly happy to sit a little longer, marvelling at the all-sorts gathered on stage, or gazing up past the Globe’s thatched roof to the clear summer sky.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Marc Brenner
Shakespeare’s Globe until 22nd October
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