The Tempest in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, named after the Shakespeare’s Globe founder, is a re-creation of the earliest indoor playhouses built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The recent addition to the famous venue is designed as a more intimate companion to the main stage at the Globe. A beautiful wooden structure evocative of Shakespeare’s time, the space is lit exclusively by candles. The seating, made up of narrow benches, makes the set-up extremely cosy, catapulting the audience into the sort of atmosphere that would have surrounded the early representations of the Bard’s plays. At the time of writing his later works, the playwright would have been aware of the requirements, advantages and dynamics of an indoor theatre, and The Tempest may have been written with such a space in mind.
The story of the conspiracy that sees Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda shipwrecked on an island for over a decade, has inspired so many dramaturges with its magical elements that the play has seen many surprising transformations and exciting interpretations. This adaptation can be described as a sober rendering of the story, as it maintains a strong focus on the words without over embellishing the action. Shakespeare’s language is undoubtedly powerful enough to take centre stage, and it is given full expression here. However, as the defining feature of the story is the enchanted, and since the play’s components lend themselves so well to a spectacular execution of its magical elements, the adaptation does appear tame if one keeps in mind the potential for visual engagement.
The Tempest, which is thought to be Shakespeare’s last solo play, also marks the end of artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s ten-year collaboration with the Globe. Dromgoole’s approach has earned him the respect of critics and audiences alike, and his last contribution stays true to his elegant style. Perhaps more focussed on the darker side of the story, the action is nevertheless dynamic, and not limited to the stage: the actors make use of the entire playhouse and occasionally meander through the audience, descend from above with ropes, or peep through hidden openings. There is a fair amount of humour and a sensuality in the way the characters interact. Tim McMullan adds a wonderful human touch to Prospero: he is fatherly, contemplative and absorbed in his inner dilemmas. Subtle yet solid, Dromgoole’s rendition is above all faithful to the verse. It is a great opportunity to experience The Tempest as close as possible to its original form.
The Tempest is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe from 17th February until 22nd April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.