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THE TEMPEST – Shakespeare’s Globe

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★★★★
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 22 April 2016

A FAREWELL TEMPEST, RICH AND STRANGE

For a departing artistic director, especially here, Shakespeare’s last plays are a natural choice: great poetic anthems of reconciliation and renunciation.  Hence this winter Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and now The Tempest, with the poet’s strange final moment of burying the book, abjuring rough magic, abdicating. Dominic Dromgoole, after eleven adventurous, globe-circling years here, is the first to stage a farewell in winter, in the little candlelit Wanamaker playhouse completed so beautifully on his watch.

So it’s an event, and bears all the marks of a classic Globeish night.  The storm sees staggering, shouting, Ariel on a swinging lantern overhead and particularly poignant added cries of “Farewell!” from every direction as men, we think, drown. Ashore, the two drunkard clowns play it for all it’s worth if not slightly more – Dominic Rowan a larky Trinculo baiting the pit, and Trevor Fox a preeningly posh Stefano: both are prone to chuck in lines about fish fingers, the Jubilee line, etc in order to serve the spirit rathe than the letter of Shakespeare. Some of  their physical gags with Caliban and the blanket are sublimely, daftly timeless, especially a moment when three of them appear to be playing Twister underneath it, random feet everywhere.

The nobles – especially in their first politicking and dissenting scene after the shipwreck – are admirably vivid, especially the nastily camp Sebastian (Christopher Logan) playing against the flatfooted earnestness of Joseph Marcell’s Gonzalo and a quiet intense Alonso – Paul Rider – whose grief for a lost son quivers in the air around him.  But it must revolve round Prospero, and at first I had qualms about Tim McMullan’s orotundly preachy patriarch: this is not a Prospero whose pain you feel; more of a schoolmasterly figure. Easy to imagine that he formerly retreated to his library and fatally ignored his dukely responsibilities. His authority over Miranda borders on Barrett of Wimpole Street parenting. But it’s all in the text, and by the time the magician forces forgiveness on himself, it works. Phoebe Pryce’s Miranda, in good contrast, is a simple delight: marvelling, obedient but vigorous, curious as a child approaching her Ferdinand at first sight to touch his face uninhibitedly, only gradually falling into modest diffidence. She’s a treat.
Pippa Nixon’s Ariel – and again this slant is in the text – is unusual: not quite human but seeming sometimes to yearn towards that fullness. In early moments she is visibly, agonizedly traumatized by reminders of her old captivity under Sycorax. There is pain and tension under her submission, an odd envious curiosity in her gestures as she drifts among the humans as if she knew something was missing in her. It gives power to that odd “I would, were I human” near the end. In the harpy scene – flying overhead in 20ft ragged batwings – this pained Ariel delivers a sudden harsh rage. Again, I took to her after faint misgivings, and learned new things about the play.  Caliban’s colonial-victim indignations are, in contrast,familiarly human: Fisayo Akenade is a one-man tribe displaced, angry and abased, learning to curse and drink but stilled, movingly, by the “sounds and sweet airs”.

 

So, as it should be, it is a poem, a dream, a myth. Stephen Warbeck’s score and songs wind through with music soulful or raucous, sweet airs and drinking songs. The candles glimmer, ghostly masked figures creep, and even in the always unwieldy masque of Ceres you just about manage to stop worrying that the  bearded bloke flying down as Ceres in an exploding wheat hat will catch his nightie in the  candelabras.  Poetry, mystery, absurdity: its the full Globe-Dromgoole experience distilled and concentrated, lit with many flames.
box office 0207 401 9919 to 22 april
rating four

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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