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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE TEMPEST
at Shakespeare's Globe

A RIGHT PROPER LEAVE TAKING
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Roger Allam and Peter Hamilton Dyer/ Ph: Marc Brenner

With the Royal Shakespeare Company still not announcing plans for a new London home, Shakespeare’s Globe launches its summer season with a new indoor home right next door coming soon. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, lit by candlelight and with seating for 360 customers, will open in January with The Duchess of Malfi.
 
Initially, the Sam Wanamaker will play in the winter months when the Globe is closed. Ironically, of course, The Tempest opens with the mother of all storms, but the audience was soon basking not only in the glorious sunshine at the season’s first matinée but also in the rich sonority of Roger Allam’s touchingly paternalistic Prospero.
 
Returning to the venue where he won an Olivier award two years ago for his rambunctious Falstaff, RSC associate artist Allam – and those, like me, let down by the movie of Les Misérables and Russell Crowe’s lacklustre Javert, need no reminding that Allam was the original, definitive police chief – takes his magic, and his daughter, for granted.
 
But the shipwreck of his enemies, and the ingenuity of his servant Ariel (played with athletic charm and minimal feyness by Colin Morgan), goad him into action. How does he solve a problem like Miranda when she’s never met another man (aside from the bestial and revolting slave Caliban, played by James Garnon as an Indian native in full body paint) and knows nothing of her family history?
 
So Prospero’s long speech of exposition becomes even more important in Jeremy Herrin’s slow but stealthily intelligent and finally enchanting production. Allam picks his way through the speeches with deft and glorious control and coloration, playing his strongest suit, an unrivalled gift for sarcastic exasperation, to maximum effect.
 
As the ship splits in the opening scene – and the scattered lords and sailors depart into the audience with a capsizing model galleon – Allam appears above the stage in his cell, book in hand, a functional figure, almost, in hempen tunic and sturdy boots; no Harry Potter wizardry for him, no flowing robes or shelves of pharmacy jars. Not even a hat.
 
His life in exile has been hard and injurious, but he’s been sustained by the delight he takes in Miranda, whom Jessie Buckley – an impressive runner-up in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s television talent show search for a new Nancy in Oliver! and an adornment in Trevor Nunn’s Menier Chocolate Factory revival of A Little Night Music – rescues from simpering blandness by sheer, innate joie de vivre.
 
The father/daughter axis has rarely been so strong in the play, and while Allam is understandably cautious in the welcome he extends to Joshua James' floppy-haired, log-rolling Ferdinand, he melts winningly in the couple’s young love and even joins in the dancing at his own masque, conjured with Iris and Ceres in parti-coloured ruffs.
 
In fact, he gets so carried away that he can then explode hilariously in rage at forgetting about Caliban and the rest of the islanders – and that rage carries him through a memorably vexatious version of “Our revels now are ended.” With this exasperation goes another Allam speciality, the understated slow burn double-take that makes the overall performance one of the funniest you’ll ever see in this role.
 
The ruder clowning of the jumped-up steward Stephano (Sam Cox) and the drunken Trinculo (Trevor Fox), here fitted out in a jester’s twirly shoes, tusk-like horns and a thrusting cod-piece, reinforces the mayhem that has followed the usurpation in this metaphoric new state.
 
The show suggests that Prospero’s art – his visions of the banquet (which bursts into flames), the flapping harpy with a five-metre wing span and a posse of snarling, skeletal dogs – is an essential catalyst in a process of purgation and renewal. And that makes his life’s work, coming to an end as he drowns his book and breaks his staff – borne across his back like a yoke – all the more moving.

 


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