It’s been a bit of a choppy season over at the good ship Globe this summer. But the iconic theatre’s associate artistic director Sean Holmes was brought in a few years back to steady the boat, and that’s precisely what he does here.
He, his creative team and the in-house Globe Ensemble of actors are like kids in a sweet shop with this amusing, visually inventive, above all fun take on Shakespeare’s final play. It begins with Rachel Hannah Clarke’s Ariel archly hosing down the front rows of the audience – that’s your tempest for the night – and keeps up the pace from there.
Here, exiled magician Prospero’s enchanted island is a sort of gone-to-seed holiday resort, strewn with washed-up oceanic junk. It’s presided over by Ferdy Roberts’s sorcerer, who unselfconsciously swans about the isle in nothing more than a pair of aggressively unflattering yellow budgie smugglers.
Petty and powerful, Prospero casually uses his magic to manipulate everyone around him – even his beloved daughter Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Safyi). He gives Clarke’s Ariel - who switches between a series of delightfully kitsch, spangly costumes - a weaselly politician's answer every time she asks her about her long-promised freedom. By contrast, Ciarán O’Brien’s Caliban is a diminutive guy in a pool boy outfit with a big badge marked ‘staff’: yes, he harbours some pretty psychotic feelings towards Prospero, but Prospero has taken over his island, enslaved him and treated him like shit.
So yup, Holmes’s production is aware of the environmental and post-colonial dimensions of a play that is, very much, about a bunch of Europeans bringing their junk – both literally and figuratively – to a magical, unspoilt shore.
But it’s also a bloody good laugh. The subplot about Caliban falling in with drunken shipwreckees Stefano (George Fouracres) and Trinculo (Ralph David) is particularly good here, with some superb physical business to do with a blow-up lobster sunlounger, and an amusingly bathetic deployment of ‘Three Lions’. When Prospero’s scheming brother Antonio (Patrick Osborne) and his washed-up inner circle discover a feast mysteriously laid out for them, there’s a very funny sequence where spirits stop them from eating – but the good-hearted Gonzalo (Peter Bourke) beatifically munches his meal undisturbed, apparently totally oblivious to the chaos around him. Kemp-Safyi is a wonderfully impetuous, hot-headed Miranda – kept in check only by her father’s rampant abuse of magic – who instantly falls for Oliver Huband’s dull, grey-suited Ferdinand, oblivious to the fact that he’s a total square.
It’s a lighthearted ‘Tempest’ with darker undercurrents and a lovely intimacy provided by the moments performed on the small added thrust stage - O’Brien’s call and response routine with the audience towards the end of the first half is a proper bit of Globe magic. The Globe Ensemble of actors are also really cooking with gas at this stage: some of these people have basically done nothing but perform in Shakespeare plays since the Globe reopened last spring, and the ease with the language and ability to work the crowd is markedly better than the non-Ensemble shows this summer. It won’t go down in history as a revolutionary production, but as a crowd pleaser it’s inventive, compassionate and really just a pure joy.