“The isle is full of noises”
It’s always nice to be surprised by a night at the theatre, especially with a play with which one is rather familiar. And more importantly in the case of The Tempest is the feeling that I have already seen a production of the play that will rank as one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen in Cheek By Jowl’s extraordinary Russian interpretation back in 2011 – Caliban and Miranda’s parting is forever seared on my mind. But The Globe is nothing if not reliable and in casting Roger Allam as Prospero, director Jeremy Herrin knew exactly how to get me along in hope of a genuinely brave new world.
And in some ways it does it. Allam brings a studious humanity to the exiled sorcerer – less anguished magician and more concerned father, making his reading of some of Shakespeare’s most evocative writing almost unbearably moving. His control of the language is just superb, imbuing even the most innocuous of lines with worlds of meaning, so often restrained but flaring magnificently like a bearded Brunnhilde when provoked. He’s wryly amusing too, his insistence on protecting his daughter’s virtue particularly well-observed as a running gag.
And for what I think is a first for me, the broad comic strokes so beloved of this venue actually made me laugh with the antics of Trinculo and Stefano. It helped that performers of the calibre of Trevor Fox and Sam Cox (a double act in the making with those surnames surely) have been engaged but with James Garnon’s almost Aboriginal Caliban, their funny business really did the job for me, interacting with the yardlings wonderfully and at one point, acknowledging the planes above in a hilarious interlude.
It’s not all perfect though as whilst the production doesn’t drag per se, it does dawdle occasionally – lacking a sense of pace at several moments making it feel every minute of its running time. The scenes with the Neapolitan courtiers are really quite flat; the masque, as attractive as it is, comes close to outstaying its welcome; even the final scenes as they wind to their conclusion have a stateliness about them. And I don’t know if it was just me but every time the sound effects kicked in for the various magical spells, I found them overwhelming the speech onstage.
And for all the quality of the acting, there isn’t always a depth to the relationships between the key characters. There’s little sense of how Prospero exerts such feared control over Caliban, Colin Morgan’s Ariel is admirably agile but underplays the searching questions that precede the granting of his independence. And I just wasn’t a fan of Jessie Buckley’s Miranda, coming across as less naïve than plain simple-minded though the youthful exuberance that comes from her coupling with Joshua James’ Ferdinand, a truly excellent comic reading of what can be a dull part, is most sweet indeed.
So all in all, a Tempest well worth getting swept up into, especially whilst the weather still holds.