Dominic Dromgoole ends his reign at the Globe with a touching 'Tempest'
Over the last decade-and-a-bit Dominic Dromgoole has proven one of London’s best artistic directors, and certainly its most colourful. His most visible legacy is the establishment of the Globe’s indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and as he signs off at the iconic Bankside institution, he has absolutely earned the slightly ostentatious flourish of making his last show a Wanamaker production of ‘The Tempest’, Shakespeare’s final play that served as a thinly-veiled goodbye to the theatre world.
Yet much as I found myself getting a little misty-eyed at the final speech ('Let your indulgence set me free') from Tim McMullan's magician Prospero, there’s no sense of indulgence or grandstanding in a production marked out by the typical thoughtfulness, energy and good humour that’s marked out all of Dromgoole’s work.
What he does really well is bring the often knotty relationships between Shakespeare’s characters to vivid, sparkling life, and he animates the tangled ‘Tempest’ – which basically consists of four parallel sub-plots – beautifully.
There’s a tremendous amount to enjoy here, notably Trevor Fox and Dominic Rowan on gloriously funny, fourth wall-breaking, semi-improvised form as shipwrecked pissheads Stephano and Trinculo. But it’s a mark of the many levels this production operates at that while this is ostensibly the light relief plot line, when the duo encounter the island’s native ‘monster’, Caliban (Fisayo Akinade), he proves to be a disarmingly sweet, softy-spoken creature who has been abused by all – a reminder than ‘The Tempest’ can also be read as a colonial parable.
If I had to focus on one strand, I’d say at heart this ‘Tempest’ is a tender, slightly tragic love story about McMullan’s fussy exile Duke and Pippa Nixon as Ariel, the all-powerful sprite Prospero has bound to his will. Far from the usual impish, er, imp, Nixon’s Ariel is mournful and downbeat. She asks for her freedom, but there’s regret in her eyes as she does so. Master and servant have a heartbreaking chemistry together, a sense that there’s a huge amount unsaid here (and perhaps unsayable). It’s not hard to imagine what the final, wistful look between the pair means to Dromgoole, but it’s an electrifyingly beautiful moment regardless of the context.