Digital theatre review: The Tempest (2013)
Ivan Radford | On 25, Jun 2020Reading time: 3 mins
The Tempest has never been this writer’s most loved Shakespeare play. With its complicated themes of colonialism underlying a a story of revenge and redemption, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs a minute. It’s rich, intriguing and full of commanding drama, given the right Prospero, but fun? Well, it isn’t always that.
The Globe’s 2013 production makes a flawless first step by casting the inimitable Roger Allam as the old sorceror, who was ousted as Duke of Milan by his brother, Antonio, and sent off into the ocean with his toddler daughter, Miranda. Fast forward more than a decade and Prospero has established himself as the dominating force on the magical island where they ended up – aided by Ariel and Caliban, a spirit and a creature who are now his indentured servants.
When Antonio passes by in a boat with his conspirator, King Alonso, Prospero conjures a storm to wreck his estranged brother, leaving the crew stranded ashore. He spies Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, among the group and decides to make him a suitor for the now-teenaged Miranda – better him, he reasons, than the resentful malcontent Caliban.
And so the stage is set for a play that explores exploitation, payback and the dubious use of power, but James Merrin’s interpretation of the text draws out the lighter side of the play, emphasising Prospero’s paternal concerns – and, yes, affection – while also lingering on the young love that sprouts up between Miranda and Ferdinand.
The cast, crucially, are more than up to the task, with Jessie Buckley – who has gone on to impress in Wild Rose and Beast – bringing energy and optimism to Miranda, who is genuinely amazed and excited by encountering new people and creatures. Joshua James’ Ferdinand, too, captures a sincere sense of not believing his luck when he seems to win her attention.
They’re balanced nicely by the double-act of Stephano and Trinculo, who, as expected, are a primary source of comic stunts and japes. And yet it’s surprisingly Roger Allam who emerges with the lion’s share of the humour, bringing a warmth to Prospero that is rarely seen. His interactions with Miranda and with Ariel are often funny, as Allam’s knack for delivering Shakespeare’s dialogue with the most natural, casual air opens up repeated opportunities for comic flourishes and genuine moments of tenderness.
That means the themes of enslavement and absolution are underplayed slightly, but they’re still given weight by James Garnon’s Caliban, who plays the creature with an angry grievance that’s matched by the superb costume and make-up, which aligns him with the boulders and dust-red stage scenery. While he’s very earthy, Colin Morgan’s Ariel is gracefully light as air, spinning, wheeling and tip-toeing through the stage with an ethereality that’s echoed by Stephen Warbeck’s atmospheric music – and backed up by some impressive puppetry during the more dramatic moments.
But this is Allam’s show, and his magnetic presence dangles the Globe from his fingertips, helping the play glide through its deceptively difficult blend of tones. The result is compelling and complex, yes, but also amusing and moving; emerging as a tale of fatherly love and forgiveness, this take on The Tempest is wonderfully performed, simply staged and – whisper it – fun.
The Tempest is available on BBC iPlayer until August 2020.