Even if there’s still a chill in the air, for theatre-lovers the summer starts with a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe. The Theatre’s ‘Season of Plenty’ begins with The Tempest, a difficult play that director Jeremy Herrin, confident in the venue’s unusual power and his excellent cast, tackles with a light touch. It has been the fashion to subject the story of Prospero and his elaborate revenge on those who exiled him to a great deal of analysis. Herrin’s focus is on the theme of reconciliation and the magic in the play comes to the fore.
There is little threat on this island – the machinations that landed Prospero there aren’t given much attention. Instead, there’s a lot of laughs, led by the drunkards Stephano and Trunculo (played by exuberant double act Sam Cox and Trevor Fox) – and even Caliban gets to join in the singing. Indeed, the island seems too homely, almost drab – its attraction is the detailed depiction of the relationship between Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Jessie Buckley is a revelation in the role, captivating and able enough to bring on her suitor Ferdinand (Joshua James) to some charming scenes of romance.
The pace of the production is skilfully developed, with Colin Morgan’s Ariel pivotal, injecting a spellbinding touch (in scenes of startlingly confident theatricality) and bringing home the play’s concerns with freedom. Morgan is athletic and otherworldly, mellow rather than mischievous and played with an intelligent depth that builds up the fascinating relationship with his master Prospero: it is here that the understated quality of Herrin’s production finds its power.
Only an actor as fine as Roger Allam, who takes on the central role, could make such a domesticated Prospero work. A model of clarity, Allam was born to play the Globe – he’s worth the price of the ticket and then some. His nuanced performance as a former Duke can be commanding and his dour touches delight, but it is as a father, the man behind the magic, that he becomes magnificent. He enjoys his power to enchant with such glee that abandoning it has added pathos, but renounce it he does – in order to become more human and experience the freedom that entails.
Until 18 August 2013
Photos by Marc Brenner
Written 3 May 2013 for The London Magazine