Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe ★★★☆☆

by Jim Keaveney

Having been usurped from his Dukedom of Milan, Prospero (Ferdy Roberts) has been exiled, stranded on a remote island for 16 years with his daughter Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) keeping the island’s only inhabitant Caliban (Ciarán O’Brien) as a slave and controlling the spirit Aerial (Rachel Hannah Clarke) with his magic powers. When his brother’s ship passes by the island he uses his powers to create the titular tempest that causes the ship to wreck upon the island, setting in motion his attempt to redeem his status and his dukedom.

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Sean Holmes, The Tempest sees the return of the Globe’s Ensemble and the performances match those of  Much Ado About Nothing, which plays in rep at the theatre alongside The Tempest and Julius Caesar. Again, upon his arrival as the drunken Stefano, George Fouracres threatens to steal the show with his understated comedy.

Holmes, who recently directed the ensemble in Hamlet in the theatre’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, firmly casts away any doubt over the play’s genre, solving the play’s ‘problem’ by firmly rooting his approach in comedy. It’s an approach that works because the production never wavers from Holmes’s vision. And it ‘works’ in that it provides for an entertaining production. But it feels like Holmes has directed his production with the Globe’s tourist patrons firmly in mind, with consequences to the dedication to farce-style comedy and subversion.

Ralph Davies, George Fouracres and Ciaran O’Brien. Photo: Marc Brenner

Following their romp around the stage dressed as Harry Potter, Hagrid, and Dobby the House-elf, Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban find themselves back amongst the group and embarrassed at their escapades. Fouracres quietly declares; ‘I am not Stephano, I’m the Boy Who Lived’. It garners a laugh but the entire premise feels like an extremely long build-up to a cheap joke.

The approach also proves to undermine potentially the greatest performance of the evening. Roberts’s Prospero spends the evening dressed in nothing but a pair of very tight yellow budgie-smugglers. While they could have acted to diminish the character, making the sorcerer look silly, to this Prospero clothing is inconsequential.

Roberts’s Prospero feels huge; a man with the capacity for unimaginable power. His final speech cuts through the comedy with a sharpness that catches the heart off guard and makes you long to see his Prospero deserted in another environment.

The Tempest is at Shakespeare’s Globe until 22 October

Jim Keaveney is the lead critic at The Understudy. He tweets occasionally from @understudyjim