The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite play, period. So I was very excited to see the Globe’s production of it. I’d seen The Tempest on stage once before, but since the first production I saw was a non-traditional re-interpretation by a South African company I was looking forward to seeing a more traditional approach.
And in that regard, I wasn’t disappointed! As a straightforward production of Shakespeare’s place, this is a really good show. It hits all the right notes. It’s nicely staged – the opening scenes on the ship, in particular, are beautifully executed – the music is fantastic, and the comedy is spot on.
If you’ve not seen or read The Tempest before, this would be a really good production to start with – which is kind of my problem with it. It’s very much entry-level Shakespeare. It’s broad, but shallow; all of the threads of the play are there, but none are developed fully. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not possible to fully develop all the threads, so more depth means less breadth. The Tempest is full of interesting social and ethical issues that I like to see explored further, but that’s just not what this production is setting out to do.
The comedy, as I said, is spot-on, and probably the show’s real strength. It manages to draw comedy out of lines that are normally played straight, which really helps some of the play’s duller scenes – though really, nothing is going to keep the stretch of exposition between the opening shipwreck and Ariel’s first entrance from dragging. The truly comic thread, with Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban, is excellently done, with just enough of a modern flavour to the delivery to keep it funny without sacrificing the original intent of the jokes.
I do feel, though, that the extra comedy hurt the dignity of Roger Allam’s Prospero. Prospero is a difficult character to play, and one that must have dignity to work. Allam does a decent enough job – but given that he’s supposed to be one of the big draws of the play, I was disappointed.
Colin Morgan is a solid enough Ariel. It’s another difficult part and he manages the traditional ‘ethereal dainty spirit’ without descending into the awkward campiness of many productions. Though I’m still not sold on the costuming, his performance has an otherworldly, birdlike air that I loved. Unfortunately, the reading of Ariel’s character is one of the elements I found shallow – though really, the chances of ever finding a production that gets my personal reading down are next to nil, so I shouldn’t complain.
James Garnon is one of the best Caliban’s I’ve seen to date – perfect blending of savage wild-man and tragically wronged soul, plus some brilliant drunken comedy.
I saw the play from the yard as a Groundling – and I’m really glad I did, not just because it was cheaper! Standing all through the show wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected, and it turns the show from ‘just’ a play to an all-round immersive experience. All in all, a really enjoyable production in a great setting.