Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: The Tempest

It seems rather fitting that the last of the four late romances I’ve attended this long weekend is The Tempest, which is not only presumably Shakespeare’s final solo work (he ended his career with a few collaborations, including Pericles), but also the final Globe play under the direction of the outgoing artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, who’s held the position since 2005. While I’ve always appreciated the artistry of The Tempest, I’ve never felt particularly connected to the play, and have had a number of reservations: Prospero’s treatment of Caliban and Ariel, Prospero’s general machinations, the super duper problematic “romantic” relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand, and so on. I suppose the main reason I’ve never taken to the play is my lack of a favourite–or even just a preferred–character, which then means I tend to lose interest in the plot. The high incidence of music and physical comedy also makes it difficult to sit and read off the page, which meant that although The Tempest is not at all my “go-to” play, I always look forward to discovering how stage productions make use of the play-text.

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That being said, I didn’t attend the Globe’s performance with super high expectations, which worked out very well because while I wasn’t gushing, I did end up enjoying it. Specifically, I found myself laughing many, many times during the scenes with Stephano (Trevor Fox) and (drunken) company, which took me a little by surprise because I tend to gloss over those bits. Trevor Fox was brilliant as Stefano, and, in my opinion, pretty much stole the show.

Another aspect I loved about the production was its music, composed by the always amazing and really lovely Stephen Warbeck (of Shakespeare in Love fame, whom I’m fortunate enough to have meet). A wonderful aspect of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the musicians’ gallery, where the talented multi-instrumentalists do an awesome job in providing that crucial auditory dimension to the performances. And, as I’ve argued in my academic work, music plays a vital role in The Tempest, where it’s pretty much synonymous with magic–Ariel’s songs are essentially spells, and many of the “magical” scenes and scenarios are dependent on the presence (and sometimes absence) of music. The massive snare drums also provide the early modern equivalent of thunder “sound effects”, and on more than one occasion, I saw my fellow theatregoers jump in surprise at a particularly loud drumtastic bang. The song settings, while not as striking as some from other productions, were enjoyable enough, and provided some serious and several jovial moments.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really take to the rest of the cast, though I’m not sure if that was due to the performers themselves or the characters. While I’m always interested in seeing interpretations of Ariel (Pippa Nixon), Miranda (Phoebe Pryce), Prospero (Tim McMullan), and Caliban (Fisayo Akinade), I found their depictions pretty ordinary. That being said, I was happy enough to watch the show without any expectation, and, after Prospero delivered his fourth-wall-breaking epilogue, I was quietly content with the experience, and especially grateful for the opportunity to attend all four late romances.

Alas, my Shakespearean long weekend has come to an end, and once I return to Belfast, I’ll be plunging right back into teaching and finalising my PhD thesis (I submit next Friday!). At some point over the next fortnight, I’d like to reflect a little more on the collective plays and my overall experience, but for now, I hope you’ll enjoyed these these mini reviews, and that they have been helpful for anyone considering attending any/all of the romances this Globe season. Until next time!

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