It was tempting fate to open the new summer season at the Globe Theatre with The Tempest: all too often the weather joins in the special effects. But the storm clouds stayed away on opening night – aptly, for this is remarkably sunny Tempest. Jeremy Herrin, directing, teases every comic moment out of Shakespeare’s text, finding laughs in unexpected places. It makes for a very enjoyable evening, though not one that attempts to fathom the depths of this great and mysterious play.
Central to the reading is Roger Allam’s Prospero. In beard and breeches, he often comes over as an exasperated schoolteacher. Allam is a master of the sceptical pause and he uses it beautifully here – his Prospero seems a kindly, sardonic, bookish presence, keenly aware that his great project might founder any moment. His rich voice, comic timing and touching anxiety over the blossoming relationship between his daughter Miranda and the shipwrecked Ferdinand make him poignantly humane, as does his evident regret as he relinquishes his power. His performance and Herrin’s exuberant staging remind us throughout of the play’s deliberate theatricality and the fact that Prospero’s rough magic mirrors that of a dramatist as he drives events.
What we don’t get is engagement with the deeper, darker waters of the play, with Prospero’s troubling treatment of Caliban and Ariel, for example. There’s the smugness of the colonial who presumes that his control is justified by his assumed superiority, but nothing too disturbing. And James Garnon’s Caliban, though he sets up a great comic rapport with the crowd, doesn’t mine the full bitter pathos of the role. The grubby conniving of the shipwrecked nobles doesn’t hit home either, or the profound psychological movement of the play in which every character undergoes a sea change and each man finds himself, as Gonzalo observes, “when no man was his own”.
It lacks depth and danger then, but this is a beguiling production, full of playful ingenuity and mischievous humour. And it finds the real magic in the lovers, whose union will effect reconciliation and free everyone from the past. Jessie Buckley’s spontaneous, unaffected Miranda and Joshua James’ gawky, eager Ferdinand are very sweet and funny. With Colin Morgan’s enigmatic, sorrowful Ariel climbing athletically round the set and sound effects rolling round the auditorium to ensure that the aisles, as well as the isle, are full of noises, this is a production that revels, like Prospero, in the revels.