The Tempest – May 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Sunday 12th May 2013

An early start on a Sunday, a missed breakfast, no sign of a Sunday lunch(!), a poor selection of food at our destination and weather that started off mild and sunny but got colder and wetter; it just shows you how a tremendously good production can make us forget our worries and cares. We left the Globe with eyes sparkling (and not a little moist) after one of the best Tempests I’ve ever seen. The performances were all excellent and there were some interesting and novel staging choices which I hope I can remember long enough to note them up.

The Globe stage had been reshaped, yet again. I recall that when the RSC was redesigning its main theatre in Stratford, concern was expressed in some quarters that the chosen size was far too big, and comparison was often made with the size of the Globe’s stage. From memory, I can say that I’ve rarely seen a Shakespeare production at the Globe where the stage hasn’t been extended in some way; so much for that argument. Today the stage was a large circle with steps down to the pit at what would have been the corners had the front edge not been curved. A platform projected out a few metres from the balcony, with steps down to the stage on the right hand side (we were in one of the Gentlemen’s rooms on that side). The handrail was a twisted branch but the steps were solid enough. The musicians appeared to be set up in the alcoves on either side of the balcony; we only caught glimpses so I can’t be sure. There were narrow A-line ladders strapped to the rear of each pillar and a large rock formation hugged the base of the pillar on the right. There were two other rock clusters, one located to the left of the central entrance (under the platform) and the other near the front left steps; a short way into Prospero’s story I realised that there was a hole beneath the side facing us which I guessed was Caliban’s front door – it was.

Apart from some rope lying on the stage front and centre, that was it for the set. The costumes were mainly Elizabethan, of course, but in this play there are also the spirits and Caliban to deal with. Caliban wore nothing except for a dog collar and hose. He was also wearing something padded underneath the hose, which may have been part of his outfit or a way of given him a well-endowed rear end, I’m not sure which. His skin was tinted red and covered with sores, and I had the distinct impression they were intentionally referencing Native Americans, whose existence was known about even if their culture wasn’t much understood at the time. (The program notes have since confirmed this.)

Ariel had a slightly whitened face and a fur-effect polo-neck jumper, also in white. His lower half was clad in green/blue breeches over which hung a loose skirt in mottled white. He had cream coloured boots, and his hair was slicked back. The two other main spirits, along with a couple of others who helped out from time to time, wore similar outfits, but their tops didn’t have the fur effect. I’ll describe the goddesses later.

The musicians warmed us up pre-show with some lovely music. Their second tune was very lively and we were soon clapping along, encouraged by one of the actors (Trevor Fox) who came up the right hand steps onto the stage. Just as we really got going, he motioned with his arms for us to stop, shooed the musicians off the stage, and proceeded to give us the usual announcements about photography, mobile phones, etc. in a broad Geordie accent. His parting shot was that they would now proceed with this afternoon’s performance of The Merchant Of Venice, at which we all laughed.

After a long pause, the sailors rushed on stage and began swaying this way and that, according to the tossing of the ship and the beat of the drum. As the storm grew worse, they fell to the ground (sorry, deck), while Prospero watched it all from the platform. It was easy to spot the toffs when they turned up as their outfits were much higher class than the sailors’, and I liked the way the King of Naples was trying to keep his crown steady on his head. With the noise of the storm, I found it hard to hear the dialogue for most of this scene, but it did let up a little for Pip Donaghy as Gonzalo to make his comments about the boatswain’s likely COD.

While all of this uproar and staggering around was happening on stage, I could see a model sailing ship enter diagonally opposite, carried by some spare sailors. It wove its way gradually through the crowd, tossed by the waves, and finally arrived on the stage, where it picked up one or two more sailors (or the existing ones moved around a bit – not sure on that one) and eventually left the stage by the other steps. As it meandered out of the nearest exit, it passed Miranda who was watching all of this with great concern from her position among the audience. While the lords left the stage she moved closer to the steps, and came up them before Gonzalo’s exit, so that they were in close proximity for a few moments.

Prospero’s explanation of events was as good as I’ve seen, and clearly audible as well, a reassuring improvement from the storm scene. Miranda took his “magic garment” off – it was a tatty robe, but what can you expect with no dry cleaners on the island? – and laid it out on the stage towards the front. Prospero then placed his staff carefully on top of the robe, followed by “Lie there, my art”. Miranda sat down on the front left rocks at the appropriate moment, while Prospero, I’m glad to say, paced the stage as he was telling his story, so we were able to see his expressions and reactions to Miranda’s interjections.

Her line “Sir, are not you my father?” was greeted with loud laughter, and shortly afterwards Prospero paused for a long while to reflect on his perfidious brother before continuing his story. He glanced at Miranda regularly, and whenever she wasn’t actually looking at him she got one of his snippy comments about paying attention; personally I thought she was simply trying to take on board the information she was hearing, and reacting emotionally to a situation she had been too young to understand at the time. There were some further laughs during the tale and when Miranda exclaimed “what trouble was I then to you”, Prospero went over and hugged her as he said his lines; I was very aware that it was only having her to look after that kept him going. I was also aware that he had schooled her well during their time on the island, which explained her manners and intelligence.

When Prospero put her to sleep, he helped her to lie down on the stage near his cloak; I did think that it was a bit cold for her to be lying there in a skimpy dress. I can’t comment on Prospero’s chat with Ariel very much, as Colin Morgan stood on the other side of a pillar from us and didn’t move significantly during the scene. His dialogue was very clear, though, so we didn’t miss anything of the story. Later on, I had the impression that Ariel’s lack of movement when in Prospero’s presence reflected his sense of being imprisoned by him in servitude, much as Sycorax had imprisoned him in the pine tree. At one point Ariel howled at the remembrance of things best forgotten, and Miranda shifted slightly in her pose. This may have been because the howling got through even her magic-induced slumber, or perhaps it was a way for the actress to avoid sleepy limbs once the chat with Ariel was over.

Once Prospero woke her up she was very reluctant to see Caliban, and I realised that her revulsion would be understandable given that he’d tried to rape her. She hid behind the right pillar for the early part of this scene, but spoke up for herself quite strongly when she did join in. Caliban took his time to express himself, with a lot of other non-verbal noises added in as well from time to time. When Miranda appeared, he bowed down before her, suggesting that he felt remorse for his actions, but his response to her diatribe – “my profit on’t is I know how to curse” – suggested otherwise.

After dismissing Caliban, Prospero left the stage with Miranda, who reappeared up on the platform.  Caliban meanwhile took his time leaving the stage, wandering around and showing a worrying interest in some members of the audience. Eventually he went over to the steps on the right and as he left, he grabbed a plastic tumbler which had very little left in it. He drank whatever he could from it and then tossed it back over his shoulder as he went out of the theatre; bits of ice and fruit slices landed on the stage and there was much laughter at his actions. From later comic business I would guess the tumbler was a plant held by a member of staff, but I don’t know for certain.

As Ariel led Ferdinand on stage with the help of two other spirits and the music, Prospero joined Miranda on the platform. At first I didn’t realise she was still there, but then I saw him stroking her head, so she must have been having another snooze with her head on his lap. Ferdinand was young, reasonably good-looking and full of himself; in another play he’d have been the gullible fop. He struck a few poses during this scene and the later wood-carrying one which kept the laugh-ometer ticking over nicely. Miranda was understandably curious about this new apparition when Prospero roused her, and the scene between her and Ferdinand was good fun, with some laughs and the beginning of the love story. When Miranda appeared on the stage, Ferdinand knelt to her in the same pose and same place as Caliban had earlier, which struck another chord with me. This time, Miranda was so keen to check out the talent that she got down on her hands and knees to peer at his face, another funny moment.

Prospero had to work hard to get Ferdinand’s attention away from Miranda – “I charge thee that thou attend me” – which led to more laughs. When Ferdinand drew his sword, Prospero used his staff to control Ferdinand’s movements, and Ariel drew closer as well to watch what was going on. Miranda grappled with her father to stop him treating Ferdinand badly, and with the staff swinging around wildly, poor Ferdinand was being yanked in all directions. He ended up with his back to the other two and bent over as he tried to lift his sword off the ground, an unbecoming pose but one which amused the audience, including us, very much.

The arrival of Alonso and his entourage meant the energy dropped a little. There weren’t as many laughs as I’ve known before, and the dialogue seemed unnecessarily long-winded as well as not being so clear. I usually find that Sebastian and Antonio, brothers to the King of Naples and Prospero respectively, are like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; it’s very difficult to tell one from the other. Today the casting helped enormously, with each character looking sufficiently like their sibling to make the relationships clear to us from early on; presumably this would have assisted any newcomers to the play as well.

When sleep came, Gonzalo and Adrian (no Francisco this time) dropped off very quickly, while Alonso took a little longer and was helped by his brother to lie down on the front left rock formation. Sebastian’s reactions to Antonio’s hints were strange; on the one hand he seemed not to understand what Antonio was getting at, yet on the other he reacted angrily as if he did know and wasn’t keen on where Antonio was going. Once decided, he and Antonio began to draw their swords, but with Ariel’s arrival they went into slow motion so that the song finished and the lords awoke just as Sebastian and Antonio had their swords fully drawn.  The attempts at excusing their weapons were pathetic to say the least; primary school children could do better. They glanced at each other, Sebastian wanted Antonio to start but he hadn’t got a clue so Sebastian said the first thing that came into his head. A look from Antonio at the word “bulls” made Sebastian change the animals quickly to “lions”, a more believable threat, although Antonio’s subsequent use of the phrase “herd of lions” rather spoiled the effect.

Caliban was next to arrive, carrying several logs of wood and with a large tan-coloured shapeless blanket wrapped around him. I like James Garnon as an actor, so I was well disposed towards his Caliban and inclined to think him ill-treated by Prospero even before I saw his portrayal. In this production they were emphasising the comedic aspects of his character, which made his usurpation attempt fit much better into the overall structure of the play as the funny version of the main plot. Usually this sub-plot is taken more seriously, and doesn’t stand out in such sharp relief from the rest of the play.

When Caliban hid under the “gabardine”, he lay on his side and his rear end stuck out; this is what Trinculo sniffed, declaring it to be “a very ancient and fish-like smell”. Before I forget, Trinculo’s outfit was very court jester; more colourful than the courtiers who were mostly in black, and as well as a two-pronged jester’s cap, he had a large hump sticking out of his back. He also hid under the blanket, and both he and Caliban found the other’s presence disturbing; I’ve never seen the pair of them move around so much when they’re supposed to be hiding. With each exclamation by Caliban they shifted position, eventually standing up and covering a fair bit of ground during the scene.

Before this activity started, Stephano arrived, and Sam Cox gave us a wonderful drunken butler to enjoy. The songs were good, as well as being scurvy tunes, and it was a little while before Stephano noticed the strange four-legged creature wandering around the stage. By this time, I think the pair of them were over by the left pillar, and both pairs of legs were sticking out quite clearly. By the time Stephano had decided to give the monster something to drink, they had moved to the other side of the stage, and Caliban was standing up with his top half sticking out through a hole in the blanket, while Trinculo was bent over facing the other way and completely covered. During their attempts to get away from each other, Caliban hit Trinculo’s hump with a stick a few times as part of their comic business. Somehow Trinculo ended up on the floor with his legs sticking out so that Stephano could pull him free. The rest of the scene played out pretty briskly, and then they took the interval.

For the second half, a blanket had been placed on the right side of the stage with some logs already on it. Ferdinand came on carrying more logs and pushing another chunk of wood with his foot. He didn’t get far – just in front of the pillars – before he dropped the logs and sucked at a tiny splinter; we laughed at his wimpishness. Miranda crept on stage and hid behind the right pillar again – she’s a sneaky one, that girl – while Prospero kept an eye on both of them from the platform; he was lying flat on it this time.

Miranda was definitely more used to carrying logs than Ferdinand, and we laughed at the easy way she slung several of them in her arms and took them over to the blanket. Ferdinand’s admissions about eyeing the ladies and liking several of them didn’t go down as well as he’d hoped, and he had to work hard to reassure Miranda that he was actually paying her a compliment. The rest of their wooing was nicely done; I couldn’t see all of it but the lines came across well, and I found the moisture coming into my eyes a bit despite this Ferdinand being a less promising husband for Miranda than most I’ve seen.

The comedy trio turned up next. Caliban sat on the rocks at the front, apparently thinking, although the fact that he now had his own bottle of wine could lead one to another interpretation. Despite the general clarity of delivery, Trinculo’s wonderful line “if the other two be brained like us, the state totters” made no impression on the audience. When Caliban did approach Stephano about his proposition to stage a coup, Stephano decided to stand up to hear him, and that took a little while. After several tumbles and rolls, Stephano was finally upright and reasonably steady, but Caliban had no sooner begun his story than Ariel was up to his tricks again. Wherever Trinculo went to avoid trouble, Ariel would hop over to be near him and utter the accusation “thou liest”. Eventually Trinculo went over to the right side of the stage – any further and he would have been in amongst the audience. But that wasn’t enough for Stephano; “stand farther”, and so Trinculo had to put his bottle down and clamber over the side to join the groundlings. He rested his elbows on the stage with his head in his hands to watch the conversation between Stephano and Caliban. This was good fun for the audience, although one member of the crowd may have been a bit concerned when Stephano used him for target practice as he and Caliban worked out how to kill Prospero.

When the time came for Trinculo to rejoin the action, there were four strapping lads right beside him who helped him back onto the stage, and as they disappeared immediately afterwards I assume they were undercover staff. Stephano’s reactions to Caliban’s description of Miranda included a creepy slurping sound, and then they were into the song followed by more of the lovely music and Caliban’s Olympic opening ceremony speech, nicely done. The music was being played around the galleries, so as well as the clunking footsteps we could hear the sound moving away and leading the clowns off the stage.

The lords were next, and as the music played, the two extra spirits danced around and swayed the lords with their movement. After a short while they and two other spirits brought on a table with food, then left the men alone. Prospero was above, and Ariel was presumably backstage getting the harpy gear on. When the lords tried to eat the food, the table spurted flame along the front edge and the top flipped over to show the charred remains of the feast. Then the harpy arrived, and this was an excellent bit of staging, not so effective from our angle, but I suspect it was amazing seen from the front. Ariel was wearing a skull mask, extra fur bits on his legs and mini-stilts with large talons. There were two large wings behind him, manipulated by three of the spirits, and as Ariel spoke the dialogue the wings moved backwards and forwards to create a menacing effect. To exit, the harpy turned and left through the central doorway; the spirits had to skip nimbly to keep the wings in place on the turn. The lords were naturally stunned by this apparition; I don’t remember if Prospero spoke his lines now or after the lords had left.

Either way, Prospero was soon doing the father-of-a-teenage-girl routine, first giving Miranda to Ferdinand, then getting all stroppy about the need for chastity before the wedding day. Roger Allam paused on the line “and thou hast strangely stood the test” before the “strangely”, which got a good laugh. Ferdinand kept protesting the purity of his love, and Prospero kept accepting his assurances only to throw another wobbly later on.

While Miranda and Ferdinand sat on the rocks by the pillar, Prospero gave his instructions to Ariel, and as Ariel turned to go he spotted the young couple billing and cooing. His question to Prospero, “Do you love me, master?” was prompted by this, and Prospero’s response was genuine. Prospero then drew the two lovebirds away from each other and sat them at the front of the stage to watch the masque, after another blast of dire warnings.

Iris was played by one of the spirits, decked out with a huge gold wig, a circle round her waist instead of a full petticoat and a large rainbow-coloured ruff standing up behind her head. The other spirit played Ceres, also with gold wig and circle, but her ruff was studded with the fruits of the earth. Juno turned out to be Ariel, also with a gold wig and a peacock-like ruff but no circle; the golden hairdo was very fetching. There were no extra participants in the dance, and Prospero and the goddesses kept separating Miranda and Ferdinand whenever they came together.

This was all good fun, and when the dance ended, Prospero brought Ferdinand and Miranda together, one on either side, and was about to join their hands from the looks of it when he remembered the plot against him. His sudden outburst – “I had forgot that foul conspiracy” – raised a laugh, and soon he sent the couple off to his cell while he laid his own plans with Ariel.

Some of the clothes were hung up on a line stretched from the left pillar to the wall by the doorway, and there was a hamper with lots more clothes beside it. The three clowns entered on the right, and both Stephano and Trinculo looked dishevelled. Trinculo’s hat was askew, which was funny, and both were very unhappy to have lost their bottles. Caliban had to work hard to keep them focused on the important task ahead, and it was remarkable how well he did it. Once they saw the clothes though, it was no use. Trinculo held up a long green gown which he’d pulled out of the hamper, and Caliban was pleased at first when Stephano strode across the stage saying “Put off that gown, Trinculo”, thinking he was going to put a stop to this nonsense. Unfortunately, Stephano was simply making sure he got the pick of the wardrobe; he soon had the gown on his own body and spent several minutes strutting up and down, striking poses and looking wonderfully ridiculous.

The hounds were as good as the harpy. They were worked by the three spirits, and were skeleton hounds with large skulls, ribcages, front legs and a tail, but no back legs. They set on the three clowns, and one of them even got its teeth on Trinculo’s codpiece – nasty!

With the plotters off the stage, Prospero and Ariel had their discussion, and following Ariel’s claim that he “would become tender” at the sight of the suffering lords, there was a long pause before Prospero’s “And mine shall”, with each word spoken separately and deliberately. Prospero drew the circle while standing in the centre of the stage. He held his staff out towards the front, and then turned in a circle until he was facing forwards again. The lords came on, still caught up in the magic spell, and as they started to awaken, Prospero called for his Duke of Milan gear. While Ariel sang, the other spirits brought out a much smarter robe. They helped him out of his tatty one and placed it at the front of the stage again. Then, when he had his new robe on, he put his staff on top of the magic robe, as he had before, and sent Ariel off to get the mariners from the ship.

There were only four lords for this scene, as Adrian was also the boatswain. The revelations rattled through nicely, and when Prospero turned to his cell, the curtain was drawn back just as Miranda stood up and accused Ferdinand of cheating. The reunions were very touching, and it wasn’t just the pillars blocking my vision at this point. After the boatswain reported on the ship, Caliban and the others were brought on to be dealt with. Caliban was sure he was being sent into his cave under the rock, and was surprised that Prospero sent him to his cell; a hint of better treatment perhaps? Caliban went off to the steps and worked his way up them, going slowly near the top, possibly to avoid distracting the audience from the rest of the action. Ferdinand and Miranda were up on the platform at this point and I noticed she was concerned at Caliban’s approach, moving back to keep away from him.

After the others left the stage, Prospero took up his staff, held it behind his neck and with the drums rolling in the background, snapped it in two. Ariel was sitting quite still on the left-hand rock at this point, and didn’t move at all when Prospero said “to the elements be free”. With his staff broken, Prospero looked round to see if Ariel was still there, and couldn’t see him – the magic was indeed ended. The epilogue was nicely done, and after a lengthy pause we let rip with the applause. They did the usual dance, and we clapped along with that, but there was plenty left over when they took their bows as well.

It was a marvellous performance, and gave me more insights into the play’s structures and the way Shakespeare weaves the themes together in different permutations. The usurping theme was the obvious one, but there were also the echoes of people being imprisoned and set free, the tormenting of the two sets of wrongdoers, etc. I even saw Prospero as the reverse of Faustus, starting from suffering and going on to success, instead of Faustus’ journey from success to damnation.

Roger Allam’s Prospero was magnificent. Not only was the dialogue clear, his interpretation of the part and use of humour was outstanding. The rest of the ensemble was good too, and the production had a very happy feel to it. I almost forgot: when Caliban was on stage he responded to any aeroplane or helicopter noises by looking up and squinting curiously at another strange sight – well, “this isle is full of noises…that give delight and hurt not”, so Caliban’s reaction was very appropriate as well as very funny. When Trinculo and Stephano were with him, they joined in which had the advantage of delaying the dialogue until the superfluous noise was over; nicely done.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

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