Here’s a pitch for a sitcom: there’s this middle-aged bachelor – let’s have him played by Roger Allam from ‘The Thick of It’, say – and he’s also a magician, right? And he lives on a desert island with his precocious teenage daughter Miranda – maybe somebody from one of those Andrew Lloyd Webber talent shows to play her – an oddball fairy called Ariel – Colin Morgan from ‘Merlin’ is free now, right? – and a rape-happy goblin called Caliban. Hilarious, yeah? And then, uh-oh! Guess who drops in? Only his evil brother Antonio.
Yup, small-screen star and Globe stalwart Allam plays Shakespeare’s enchanter Prospero as the original put-upon sitcom dad in director Jeremy Herrin’s jolly new version of ‘The Tempest’. And it works brilliantly… Some of the time.
With his arsenal of rolled eyes, awkward silences, exasperated sighs, and helpless looks, Allam finds a novel, funny and very human take on the oft stick-in-the-mud-ish Prospero. And while he’s on stage, everything goes to plan – his slightly stilted repartee with Morgan’s somewhat confused Ariel is a hoot in particular, while ‘I’d Do Anything’ runner up Jessie Buckley charms as half-feral Miranda.
In an explicitly comic production, the comedy subplot – in which James Garnon’s humble Caliban and shipwrecked servants Stephano and Trinculo stumble around the island getting shitfaced on moonshine – is as gloriously OTT a bit of nonsense as you’d hope.
But there is no sense of danger whatsoever in this cuddly ‘The Tempest’ and Herrin seems totally at a loss over what to do with the shipwrecked ‘villains’, headed by Prospero’s dastardly usurping brother Antonio (Jason Baughan). They stand around, saying their lines with all the élan of a bunch of middle managers on an away day, looking barely directed next to the loving comic detail of the other scenes. I suspect as the run goes on these bits will be fixed, but for now this bold comic reinvention of Shakespeare’s final play is only a qualified success.