Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Sean Holmes
The Tempest is hardly recognisable in Sean Holmes’s sharp and funny production opening at The Globe. Here, Prospero’s island is rendered into a Spanish-style resort complete with inflatables and plastic palm trees. Prospero spends most of the play clad in only a pair of yellow speedos while Caliban’s Hawaiian shirt sports a corporate ‘Staff’ badge. Sidestepping the tragic element in Shakespeare’s late play, Holmes’s Tempest is eventually a laugh-a-minute riot.
But to begin, there’s the exposition to get through. The start of The Tempest is especially exposition-heavy, and Holmes does make heavy work of it. Prospero has to explain to Miranda why they are stranded on the island in the first place, and then has to describe how Ariel and Caliban have become his slaves. In an effort to get through these histories as quickly as possible Ferdy Roberts rushes through his lines, always clear but the content is hard to keep up with.
But once the ground has been laid, Roberts’ Prospero is a likeable one, a little scatty, but always in control of events. Usually productions of The Tempest put focus oh his relationship with his daughter but in this version Nadi Kemp-Sayfi’s Miranda is a muted figure. Neither innocent nor knowing enough, Miranda is flat, a little air-headed and under-developed. However, her ‘brave new world’ lines are a minor triumph.
Instead, the night belongs to Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban and their drunken exploits. Their broad comedy, with the occasional ad-libs about how football’s coming home, has the Globe audience clamouring for more. As Trinculo, Ralph Davis (who plays Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, also part of the Globe’s summer season) is a delight, especially when he waves to a passing aircraft as if it is a rescue plane come to search for survivors of the shipwreck. When he stumbles across Ciarán O’Brien’s Caliban hidden under an inflatable lobster, the results are hilarious. O’Brien’s sideways glances to the audience ensure that his monster is not too repulsive in his obsequiousness, and it’s hard not to feel a smidgeon of pity for him as he swaps one unscrupulous master for another.
His new master is, of course, Stefano, and George Fouracres proves one again what a great comic Shakespearian actor he is. The way that he points his shoe in Caliban’s direction, awaiting the monster’s kiss upon it, brings roars from the audience. With brilliant comic timing, Fouracres is a riveting and arrogant drunk. As self-appointed king of the island, with Trinculo and Caliban as his subjects, Stefano mirrors Prospero’s role.
As comedy is at the heart of this production, there is little space left to examine ideas of colonialism and Rachel Hannah Clarke’s Ariel is a patient and obedient servant. We never see the sprite bite. That marriage can be seen as another form of indenture is nicely played in the battle of handshakes between Miranda and Ferdinand as they arrange the terms of their relationship.
Only the idealism of goodhearted Gonzalo (an excellent Peter Bourke in an excellent wig designed by Pam Humpage), when he sets out his manifesto for a utopia suited for men, comes close to interrogating the machinations of Elizabethan expansion. But those expecting a more ‘woke’ Tempest may be disappointed. This Tempest is a beach party.
Runs until 22 October 2022