Sunday, April 03, 2016

THE TEMPEST at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: it's going to be a bumpy night...

So here we are, the final production in the Globe's staging of the last four plays of William Shakespeare which have laid bare the hidden and not-so-hidden links within them.  Fathers lose daughters, mothers vanish or are never present, love is discovered by chance, physical journeys are bound upon and safe havens sought while coincidence exists alongside magic...

Oddly enough I have only seen THE TEMPEST once before on stage, I seem to have seen filmed or tv versions more often.  The only stage version seen was Sam Mendes' dreary production at the Old Vic in 2010 with an under-whelming Stephen Dillaine as Prospero and the mixed UK and US cast turning the text into a right fugue for tinhorns.

No such problems for Dominic Dromgoole's production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which despite it's spartan, fixed-design stage, still managed to be infused with the right amount of mystery and imagination to suggest the more magical moments of the play.

If I have a criticism of the production it would be that it seemed a little too benign at times - moments such as the two murder plots to kill both Alonso and Prospero seemed to come and go without causing too many ripples of alarm.

Tim McMullan is not usually an actor I warm to - his sonorous voice can be too distracting - but I enjoyed his performance as Prospero, the Duke of Milan who, 12 years before the start of the play, was overthrown by his jealous brother and bundled aboard an unsafe boat with his three year-old daughter Miranda and set loose on the sea.  McMullan had the right commanding presence and was a believable magus, capable of bending the elements to shipwreck his brother and retinue of lords onto the strange island where he himself was washed up with his daughter.  He also spoke Prospero's last two famous speeches - "Our revels now are ended..." and "Now my charms are all o'erthrown..." with great simplicity.

Phoebe Pryce - daughter of Jonathan who we saw as Jessica in the Globe's MERCHANT OF VENICE last year - was good as Miranda, a dutiful daughter but eager to fall in love with the King of Naples' son Ferdinand when he is separated from the others during the shipwreck and there was also an interesting performance from Pippa Nixon as Ariel, Prospero's spirit servant who also is aching to be free.

Fisayo Akinade was a bit too obvious and one-note as Prospero's subjugated native slave Caliban but there was better fun to be found in the low comedy antics of Trevor Fox as the permanently soused Stephano and the flamboyant Trinculo of Dominic Rowan, his comedy 'business' at times threatened to capsize his scenes but he is such an engaging actor that they were great fun.

Another reason for the success of the production was the sympathetic performance of Joseph Marcell as Gonzalo, Prospero's friend who came to his aid when he was deposed by filling his boat into exile with provisions and, more importantly, with books on magic which Prospero has used to his advantage.

Jonathan Fensom, although constrained by the afore-mentioned playing space, made good use of the stage and made necessity a virtue by having a large flat rock in the middle of the stage which was turned around for each scene giving the actors something to clamber over and around, simple but effective.  Stephen Warbeck's music was ever-present and engaging throughout.  Needless to say, Prospero's lovely parting words asking for the audience's applause to free him from the island were undercut by the usual end-of-play meaningless jig about.

The Globe is to be applauded - and I did! - for staging these last four plays so one can make connections with their recurring themes of love and reconciliation, now bring on the events to honour the 400 years since Shakespeare's "little life was rounded with a sleep".

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