The Tempest, Shakespeare's Globe, London

A magical and symbolic show from man who made the Globe
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The Independent Culture

A couple of years ago, while writing a profile of this great actor-manager, I canvassed the opinion of a number of leading directors and performers. They were unanimous in the opinion that only one man could have launched Shakespeare's Globe and made it such a thriving theatrical concern.

A couple of years ago, while writing a profile of this great actor-manager, I canvassed the opinion of a number of leading directors and performers. They were unanimous in the opinion that only one man could have launched Shakespeare's Globe and made it such a thriving theatrical concern.

That man is Mark Rylance, the theatre's first artistic director. At the end of this, his 10th year at the Globe, he will pass the baton on to a successor. There's a symbolic edge, then, to the fact that he now inaugurates the 2005 season with a portrayal of Prospero, the magician and surrogate-director, who resigns by breaking his staff and renouncing his magic powers.

The twist is that Prospero is just one of several roles that Rylance plays in Tim Carroll's magical and mischievous staging which tells of shipwreck and vengeance turned to mercy using a cast of just three hard-working, versatile actors. The spirits of the island are three leather-jacketed biker-girls; the humans are in Elizabathan attire.

Why perform such a populous play with so few speaking actors? Partly, it's for the pleasure of the sheer prestidigitation involved - as when the storm at sea and the wreck of the ship are presented by Rylance alone at the start, ventriloquially taking on all the voices and moving pieces in panic round a wobbly chess board. Partly, too, in a play so full of magically induced sleep and so capable of being interpreted as a drama taking place inside the head of the central character, all the doublings, treblings and quadruplings of roles create weird dream-like connections. From the ceiling dangles a long rope with a loop at the end. By sticking his head through it and floating like a drowned man, Rylance's troubled and sensitive Prospero metamorphoses in an instant into the usurper Alonso.

He can also switch instantaneously into a hilarious portrayal of Stephano, the drunken butler. Again, it makes a strange sort of sense that one actor should play both these figures, because Stephano is an inverted travesty Prospero.

The charm and virtuosity of the occasion are greatly to the credit of the two other performers: Alex Hassall, whose roles include an affecting handsome brute of a Caliban and Ferdinand; and Edward Hogg, a pale, tall, slightly camp creature with the amazing ability, at certain moments, to seem to be Ariel and Miranda simultaneously.

Rylance stills the house, as only he can, in the abjuring-of-magic speech, when he movingly lets go of the rope, which is throughout an image of both restraint and freedom. This production is a joyous and haunting start to his valedictory season.

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