The Tempest – BBC Culture in Quarantine, iPlayer

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Jeremy Herrin

The Tempest as a hearty comedy? The Tempest as a tear-jerking love story? Shakespeare’s final play is both these things in Jeremy Herrin’s Globe production from 2013 now being streamed on the iPlayer as part of the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine series. This could be the definitive Tempest of our age.

The comedy usually belongs to Stephano and Trinculo, respectively King Alonso’s butler and jester, but in this production the humour extends to all the characters, and refreshingly even to Prospero himself. As the usurped Duke of Milan, Roger Allam is excellent as the man who seeks to avenge his brother who stole his dukedom. Antonio sent Prospero and his daughter Miranda out to sea in a boat, which eventually took them to the island where Prospero is now the undisputed king.

Twelve years later Antonio is passing the island in a ship, and Prospero, now imbued with magic powers, conjures up a tempest that brings the ship’s occupants to the shore of his kingdom. The play begins with this storm, and it’s a lucky coincidence that when this was filmed it was raining too, not that this seemed to deter the audience in the uncovered yard.

Allam’s Prospero is an angry one, and even when he is on the point of forgiveness he still snarls and simmers making him seem more human than ever. His love for his daughter is well-played too, eager to set her up with Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, but comically concerned about the moment that their union would be consummated. As much as Prospero pushes Miranda into the arms of Ferdinand, he pulls her, quite literally, away.

Jessie Buckley is a magnificent Miranda, full of life and awe at the new creatures on her island. She, too, gets the laughs, especially when she sees for the first time the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, exclaiming full of lust ‘Oh wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here’. But despite her flightiness, the scenes between her and Ferdinand, slightly dim and nerdy in the hands of Joshua James, are beautifully executed, and their flourishing love brings tears to the eyes.

While this Tempest foregrounds the love story, the usual themes of slavery and colonialism are still very much intact. Prospero’s two indentured servants, Ariel and Caliban, could not be more different. Colin Morgan is a calm and graceful Ariel, full of high regard for his master and while the Neanderthal Caliban is a grotesque creature, James Garnon still manages to bring some passion to the ‘Isle is full of noises’ speech.

With Sam Cox as nasty Stephano and Trevor Fox as the Geordie jester Trinculo, this Tempest does not put a foot wrong, and Ian Russell’s film manages to capture all the mayhem, even when the characters go down into the audience. The rain may abate for the groundlings, but on the stage the drama never wanes.

Prospero refers to his sorcery as his ‘potent art’, and like his magic this production of The Tempest is intoxicating. It will be hard to imagine another Prospero and Miranda after Allam and Buckley’s performances. It will be a brave new world, indeed.

Streams here until July 2020

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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