This Wooden O: The Tempest (2022)

Ciaran O'Brien and George Fouracres in The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe (credit Marc Brenner)
The Tempest
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

For me, despite its poetical brilliance, The Tempest is a difficult play to get right. Its central figure is a man who has become more and more reliant on magic, claiming ownership over an island when he was deposed from his dukedom – and the tone of the comic relief side plot doesn’t always blend in with the rest of the play in a natural way. It’s why I often find myself rolling my eyes when production after production is announced, but fortunately for me, Sean Holmes has hit on something with this version that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Though there are moments of sincerity, and occasions where things have to be taken more seriously, the comedy that’s usually confined to scenes with Stefano, Trinculo & Caliban bleeds out and douses the whole play in humour; the stall is set right from the beginning, with Ferdy Roberts’ Prospero spending a good chunk of the running time wearing nothing but budgie smugglers and the set dressed with palm leaves and an array of inflatables. The entire production embraces a summery vibe that isn’t indicated by the title, but that does feel entirely right. Paul Wills’ design ties in perfectly with Holmes’ vibrant direction.

The Tempest can be seen through a colonial lens, given that Prospero has seen fit to take over the island, as well as attempt to (in his eyes) ‘civilise’ Caliban and keep Ariel in his service. The promise of freedom is dangled in front of Ariel for nearly the entire play, and at times it really doesn’t feel as if Prospero is going to follow through on his word; some of the credit for this has to go to the government, for completely eroding trust in authority figures (even fictional ones), though it is mostly thanks to a superb performance from Rachel Hannah Clarke – you really feel Ariel’s hope draining away as Prospero keeps giving her one more thing to do, and another, and another…

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi and Oliver Huband give a really refreshing portrayal of Miranda and Ferdinand, a couple that can come across as a bit earnest and sickeningly sweet – instead the curiosity that Kemp-Sayfi’s Miranda feels is infectiously fun, and Huband’s bafflement at the situation in which he finds himself is hilarious (and completely understandable!).

The highlight of the entire production, however, is the interplay between George Fouracres, Ralph Davis & Ciarán O’Brien as Stefano, Trinculo & Caliban. Individually they are hilarious, but together they are worth more than the sum of their parts – and I don’t just mean the scene where Stefano thinks he’s found a creature with four legs and two heads… It’s interesting to see Caliban played as a scruffy Irishman, rather than having O’Brien don some sort of monster outfit, as this gives the audience another insight into Prospero’s mindset and what he might consider to be monstrous. The contrast between Davis’ constantly overwraught Trinculo and Fouracres’ deadpan & laidback Stefano makes their performances even funnier; it’s nice to finally understand what these scenes are there for, and not want to cut them out of the play completely.

This is a complete joy of a production, making the Globe the place to be on a balmy summer’s evening.

Joanne Howarth in The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe (credit Marc Brenner)
The Tempest
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

My verdict? An unexpectedly hilarious production of a potentially tricky play, with vibrant direction from Sean Holmes – George Fouracres, Ralph Davis & Ciarán O’Brien shine as a comedy trio.

Rating: 5*

The Tempest runs at Shakespeare’s Globe until 22 October 2022. Tickets are available online.

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