Theatre review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe, London

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When he played Falstaff at the Globe, and the weather turned nasty, Roger Allam sidestepped nimbly into a bit of King Lear (“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks…you cataracts and hurricanoes, spout”).

This season, as a marvellous and meddlesome Prospero, he’s found another way of joshing the perils of outdoors: low-flying, tourist-toting helicopters are the new threat, and if they come anywhere near his big speeches, he invents a great ruminative pause, winces for England, and re-charges the poetry with sarcastic splendour.

It’s a brilliant tactic to elaborate his portrait of a loving and devoted father who is trying to steer the life of his daughter Miranda – a thankless, insipid role attractively enlivened by Jessie Buckley – while ensnaring his enemies and renouncing his rough magic; things keep going wrong, but he gets there in the end.

Allam, as fans of Endeavour and The Thick of It on television know only too well, is the past master of contemptuous exasperation, and he channels this streak in his make-up to ensure the funniest and most touching Tempest I can recall.

With his perfect vocalisation – he’s thought about every single phrase he utters – and unforced baritonal melodiousness, he commands the stage as well as the elements (up to a point), before joining in the joyous masque for Miranda’s wedding to Joshua James’s hilarious, posh boy Ferdinand; he trips the light fantastic as well as he speaks it.

Jeremy Herrin’s production allows the play to take its time (coming in at almost three hours), which the Globe audience loves, especially in the sunshine. The tempest is done with wind machines and rattling metal sheets, the sounds and sweet airs of the island surrounding the auditorium in the darting presence of Sarah Sweeney and Amanda Wilkin as spirits and goddesses, with wonderful music (played on mandolin, saxophone and didgeridoo) by Stephen Warbeck.

Prospero’s art and the islanders’ discomforts are elegantly mediated by Colin Morgan as a darker, more grown-up Ariel than usual, and there’s an exceptional Caliban, Prospero’s prisoner, from James Garnon, waddling nakedly around in fright wig and body paint.

The stranded court of Milan is beautifully dressed in Elizabethan finery by designer Max Jones, while Sam Cox as the sloshed steward Stephano, and Trevor Fox as a Geordie Trinculo with curly cod-piece, read the comedy riot act before Allam calms the storm and trumps them with his own subtler brand of humour.  

To 18 August (020 7401 9919)

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