The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe
There are few stormy moments in director Sean Holmes’s new production of The Tempest for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Turning up the comedy in William Shakespeare’s most redemptive play, this is a fun, frolicking staging that feels very appropriate for a hot summer’s evening out.
Trouble begins when the titular tempest overwhelms the ship bearing the royal court of Naples and tosses them up on a remote island. Prospero (Ferdy Roberts), usurped Duke of Milan and now the island’s sorcerer-lord, uses his manipulative hold over the powerful sprite Ariel (Rachel Hannah Clark) to subject his former countrymen to his vengeful whims. Meanwhile, Prospero’s downtrodden slave Caliban (Ciarán O’Brien) spies the shipwrecked souls as an opportunity to overthrow his master and reclaim his birthright to the island.
The latter storyline involving Caliban’s attempts at decolonial resistance is noticeably downplayed in Holmes’s adaptation of the text. This is also indicative in O’Brien’s mostly whiney, unsympathetic performance, save for when he runs down designer Paul Wills’s jutting wooden stage extension and raises up a Freddie Mercury Band Aid chant. Instead, Holmes keeps this production summery, irreverent and even bawdy at times. Wills’s stage design is noticeably relaxed, vivid and somewhat tacky, with a barbeque, fake potted palms, inflatable animals, junk food containers and large yellow crates bedecking the stage. Paul Wills’ costumes for the island spirits – all 70s-style white-floral design onesies and tinted specs – also evoke the illusory and hedonistic. It all powerfully asserts that this is Prospero’s private island; his personal fiefdom to do whatever he wants.
Roberts, with biblical greybeard, chest puffed-out and scantily clad in yellow speedos, struts the stage with magnificent presence. He asserts the character’s vanity and arrogance right up to the final, exhausted exhalation of Prospero’s self-aggrandising anger. Clarke also brings a sweet, child-like mischief to Ariel, gaining real compassion from the audience as they watch her “master” prevaricate on her freedom. The whole Globe ensemble charm and amuse throughout, even if Katy Stephens’s playing grief-stricken King Alonso intently jars slightly with the heightened comedy of the other courtiers.
Only a few pop-culture references inserted as deliberate crowd-pleasers seem unnecessary when the audience is already enjoying the wit in Shakespeare’s text. Regardless, Holmes’s production is a surprising delight, able to retain some of the play’s insidious undercurrents about toxic masculinity while really revelling in its humour.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Tempest is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 31st July until 22nd October 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.