Often played as tragedy with revenge at its heart, it is refreshing to see director Jeremy Herrin bring a fresh perspective embracing the spirit of the supernatural in this tale of forgiveness, generosity, and enlightenment set on a remote and mysterious desert island with this production from 2013.
Twelve years earlier, Prospero (Roger Allam), formerly Duke of Milan, was usurped by Alonso, King of Naples (Peter Hamilton Dyer), Alonso’s brother, Sebastian (Will Mannering), and his own brother Antonio (Jason Baughan), and cast adrift with his three-year old daughter, Miranda (Jessie Buckley). Before they were put to sea Gonzalo (Pip Donaghy), his loyal counsellor, ensured he took his magic books, and now living on an island, he has used his magic art to reign over the native Caliban (James Garnon) and the spirit Ariel (Colin Morgan).
Desiring revenge, Prospero uses his powerful magic to cause a great storm and apparently shipwreck his enemies. On the island, the courtiers are separated from Ferdinand (Joshua James), Alonso’s son, who is feared drowned, whilst their ship and boatswain (Matthew Raymond) are magically secured.
Ferdinand may be wet but he hasn’t drowned and believing his father has perished, meets Prospero and Miranda with whom he falls in love, though Prospero uses spirits (Sarah Sweeney; Amanda Wilkin; Tom Durant Pritchard; Peter Rose) to put him to the test.
Revenge is also in the dark heart of Caliban when he meets two of the crew, Trinculo (Trevor Fox) and Stephano (Sam Cox), and begins to put his own plan into place.
With enchantments and treachery at every turn, will anyone ever make it off?
The comedy usually belongs to Trinculo and Stephano but is extended much wider here in a production that places love at its heart, whether it is the innocent delight of Miranda at the new wonders unfolding before her; Prospero’s love for his daughter that sees him push her into the arms of Ferdinand then quite literally pull her away in a moment of concern about untimely consummation; and finally to the forgiveness of those that wronged him which in turn will guarantee a future for his daughter.
Current times draw us to consider the inherent colonialism of the piece, with the portrayal of the savage and deformed Caliban clearly to the fore, and partly because of this, but perhaps also because the humour has not been limited to this one aspect, the plotting with Trinculo and Stephano felt rather flat. In contrast, Ariel is to be rewarded by his master for his years of loyal service and although he caught the anticipation and frustration of the character, I was expecting something more magical from Morgan.
There was superb choreography from Siân Williams and the live musical accompaniment from composer Stephen Warbeck under the direction of Rob Millett and musicians (Dario Rossetti-Bonell; Richard Henry; Sarah Homer; Dai Pritchard; and Magnus Mehta) caught the mood and emotion of the piece at every turn.
Prospero is often overplayed so it was delightful to see Allam adopt a more understated performance which allowed a believable human figure to emerge from the smoke – this is after all a man looking out for his only child – with Buckley’s Miranda equally engaging in her innocent wonder that rather quickly and neatly develops into the more sexual knowing of a young woman when she meets her love match and finds he needs more than just his hand holding.
As we enter our very own brave new world, it is hard to imagine another production offering a better Prospero and Miranda than that concocted here by Allam and Buckley.
Shown as part of BBC Culture in Quarantine, it is available to view on iPlayer. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08b02zz/culture-in-quarantine-shakespeare-the-tempest
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 15th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★