So unbelievably silly is The Globe’s latest staging of The Tempest that in addition to the phenomenal performances, it’s incredible that the cast only just manage not to corpse at its ridiculousness.
Not long into Sean Holmes’ production does our sorcerer Prospero (the booming Ferdy Roberts) undress down to a pair of bright yellow underwear and nothing more. In Shakespeare’s classic comedy, so clouded is his judgement in pursuit of vengeance that he calls on his spirit Ariel (Rachel Hannah Clarke) to conjure up a storm to wreck a ship containing his usurping brother Antonio (Patrick Osborne). In conjunction with the play’s programme, this adaptation makes a clear and compelling case that perhaps the biggest tempest of all is Prospero’s desire for revenge.
We see it in the unrelenting pace of Roberts’ gasp-a-second delivery, slowing down only when talking about the innocence and naïvety of his daughter, Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Safi) – whose memory of life before arriving on the island is hazy, to say the least. The decision to strip down Prospero to his pants instead of having him wear a wizard’s cloak – alongside being rather hilarious – feels like a commentary on the extent to which anger reduces the self and all which makes us, us. Love, it would soon emerge in the play, is the antidote to such resentment. Who knew?
It may well seem a basic idea to convey, but this production excels in its simplicity and, quite frankly, not taking things seriously. George Fouracres’ bemused Brummie drunkard Stefano, Ciarán O’Brien’s Calaban – who seems monstrous only in his decision to wear socks and crocs – and Ralph Davis’ confuddled Trinculo carry most of the comedy as a hysterical triple act. Such outrageously absurd antics between them include Caliban being trapped under an inflatable lobster, farting about in yellow crates and Stefano dressing up as Harry Potter. Their relishing in the slapstick – especially Fouracres – is superb. Equally clever is Caliban wearing a ‘staff’ label, like a ‘staff’ to aid a sorcerer – only further suggesting Prospero has lost his sense of self.
And in Clarke’s Ariel, who obeys her master with a pained smile as she longs for freedom, the creature serves as a lesson for Prospero at how hatred clouds and restrains the self. His wandering off-stage in the play’s conclusion reads as a committal to self-care now that he has “lost” his daughter to her love interest, the otherwise unenthused Ferdinand (Olivier Huband), he has given up his magic (the only way in which he would enact revenge – never by his own hand) and family feuds are forgiven.
The cynical might argue that the magical resolution to The Tempest’s central conflict seems rather rushed for someone as esteemed as the Bard, but others will know that underneath the farcical lies ideas most profound, and Holmes’ balancing of the two makes for the most magical theatre.
The Tempest is now playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 22 October.
Audio described, British Sign Language-interpreted (BSL), relaxed and captioned performances are scheduled to take place on 13 August, 3 September, 10 September and 22 September respectively.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Tempest’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.