This visit to the Globe came in Mark Rylance’s last season as artistic director and was to a rather experimental production of The Tempest. Exiled from his rightful place as Duke of Milan, Prospero is set adrift at sea with his young daughter Miranda. They eventually reach a remote island where they create a new life for themselves with the magical creatures that populate it. But fate strikes 12 years later as his enemies are shipwrecked on the same island, old scores are settled and new love is found.
Did I enjoy it? I honestly don’t know how I felt about it. Even now, a couple of days later, it still bemuses me more than anything. It was just so confusing. I know the play fairly well but got frequently lost as to what was going on, even my Aunty Jean who’s an English teacher and has taught the play for many years found it most difficult to keep track of who was talking to who and at this point one has to wonder for whom is this production being put on? It felt a bit too much like a vanity project than an essential piece of drama-telling.
It was a herculean feat by the three actors to be sure, and there were moments of beauty: Rylance’s mastery of Shakespeare’s verse means he was a highly affecting Prospero, Edward Hogg brings more humour to Miranda than I’ve seen before which was a nice touch and Alex Hassell’s sheer physicality as Caliban was just excellent. And they each covered their other ‘main’ character well: Rylance’s Stephano gave hilarious drunken comedy, Hogg’s ethereal Ariel had a wonderful connection to his Miranda, really helping to make sense of where the production was coming from in terms of everything being inside Prospero’s head, and Hassell’s Ferdinand is a masculine delight. But drilling down further led to brains hurting with the minor roles with Rylance having a conversation with himself at one point as two characters and Hogg having to shift completely to play drunken as Trinculo.
The staging didn’t really help matters either with the few props being used so effectively once or twice and then overused, seemingly simply because they were there. The chess pieces and the hanging rope did both have their moments but became tiresome by the end. The dancers in modern dress (well 80s inspired tbh) didn’t work for me, only really making sense when explicitly referenced as the spirits being called forth. As ‘invisible’ Fates, they were much less successfully integrated into the feel of the piece. And the six singers from on high, although sounding wonderful, even exquisite in places, added another layer of confusion, both visually with their costuming (Ancient Greek) and in terms of their role within the production. Ultimately, they are just distractions, intermittently entertaining, but distractions nonetheless in an already confusing experience.
And so ultimately it come across as something as a disappointment in the final analysis. No matter how well versed you are in this play or well-spoken this production is, it is too concept-driven and too experimental to come off as a truly successful adaptation and sadly for us, it didn’t really deliver as a piece of entertainment either.