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The Tempest

by on 1 August 2022

Desert Island Disclosures

The Tempest

by William Shakespeare

Globe Ensemble at The Globe Theatre, Southwark until 22nd October

Review by Gill Martin

The striking theatre programme offers a clue.  An upside down image of a sun-bathing brunette wearing nothing but a scarlet sweetheart costume, matching lipstick, designer shades and a worried expression.  Introducing The Tempest  … but not as you’ve known it.  This is heavy on comedy, lighter on drama.

Shakespeare’s tumultuous tale of vengeance, retribution and redemption is set on an enchanted island, in this new production directed by Sean Holmes.  Marooned there are the banished Prospero, Duke of Milan (Ferdy Roberts), his teenage daughter Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) and his sorely abused slave Caliban (Ciarán O’Brien), the son of a witch.

If enchanted means spellbinding this inventive production has the audience in its thrall.  It is energetic, playful and at times confusing.  But always engaging.

For starters you can’t take your eyes off the mercurial Prospero who, with a grand flourish, whips off his robe to reveal – cue audience gasp – his muscular frame in a pair of itsy-bitsy yellow budgie-smugglers.  You can never un-see that image of his eye-achingly hi-vis Speedos.   It’s impossible to imagine the late great actor John Gielgud, who played Prospero over six decades from 1930 to 1990, or other notable Prosperos from Michael Hordern and Derek Jacobi to John Wood, in such pared down costume.  Ferdy Roberts wears it well.  His body is tanned and toned, his greying beard and nattily tied top-knot straight out of Shoreditch.  But it’s his voice that demands even more attention.   Every line delivered in his strong, stentorian voice declares Shakespeare.

While a cast drawn from the Globe Ensemble injects vigour into this tale of reckoning Prospero is THE commanding presence on a busy stage of plastic palms, pink inflatable flamingo and Daliesque lobster, yellow plastic ducks and shipping crates.  The use of plastic is a very visual reminder of the pollution of our planet, the damage of consumerism and even the evils of colonisation.

The new colonial baddies are boozed up tourists despoiling resorts with throw-away detritus.

Shakespeare was penning this play at the birth of the British Empire, colonial enterprises in the Americas and trading across the Indian Ocean in the beginning of the 17th century.   He was inspired by accounts of the 1609 shipwreck of a vessel carrying British colonists to Virginia.   The ship was dashed against the coast of Bermuda, all hands presumed lost until most passengers and crew turned up a year later at Jamestown.

Shipwrecked Prospero and the child Miranda also survive on their fantasy island.   Prospero, like a guest on Desert Island Discs, has his luxury item: his beloved books of alchemy to conjure magic and control the air sprit Ariel (Rachel Hannah Clarke).

At Prospero’s behest Ariel orchestrates a storm to shipwreck his enemies, plus his faithful servant Gonzalo (Peter Bourke), as they sail close to the enchanted isle.  On board is Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, and only the third man Miranda has ever set eyes on.   Love is inevitable.

Miranda makes her move on Ferdinand, declaring: ‘I am your wife, if you will marry me.  If not I’ll die your maid.’

Plots and plans, romance and royalty, drunken wedding guests in party hats, lords a-leaping and a-sleeping under Ariel’s spells, magic, marriage and merriment are the ingredients of this intoxicating mix. Movement director Rachael Nanyonjo provided a feast for the eyes in the vivacious physicality of the production.   

Mesmeric music too, composed by Cassie Kinoshia, was realised by Musical Director Rio Kai on double bass, Midori Jaeger on cello, Magnus Mehta on percussion, Olivia Petryszak on recorder and Shirley Tetteh on guitar. 

The stage zinged with colour and styles thanks to Paul Wills who designed the hot holiday set and costumes to present a razzmatazz of Stetsons and cowboy boots, bling jewellery, Hawaiian shirt, brightly embroidered white dungarees, a vision that made for a busy time for costume supervisor Jackie Orton.

The predominately young audience of groundlings, those with the stamina to stand for two and a half hours, lapped up the knock-about comedy, balloon stomping, litter louts lying amid discarded pizza boxes.  They applauded the exuberant dancing where the hip-grinding guests at a magical fast food feast would have impressed Strictly Come Dancing judges.

The groundlings and almost full house happily joined in a prophetic chorus of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ only two days before England’s soccer lionesses won Euro 2022.  Never has ‘Three Lions’ enjoyed such a raucous reception at the Globe where tattoos, vests and facial hair were the order of the day on and off stage.

This is a very special summer for the open-air theatre on Bankside – air conditioning at the whim of Nature, noises off from passing helicopters and jetliners – as it celebrates its 25th anniversary with its first full summer season since Covid.   Chief Executive Neil Constable can only trust that The Tempest spells fair weather recovery from the pandemic storm.

The Tempest presents a comedy that’s fresh and frothy, cheeky and contemporary.

Gill Martin, July 2022

Photography by Marc Brenner

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