The Tempest Review
It's kind of appropriate that the recording of their 2013 production of The Tempest takes place on a wet day that rains down on the heads of the audience in the Globe's open-air theatre. Appropriate, but probably not much fun for the audience, you would think. On the other hand, like most Globe Shakespeare productions, the audience still seem to be enjoying themselves enormously as the performers do their utmost on a damp day to raise spirits (another appropriate turn of phrase). It might also be as a consequence of this that there's perhaps a little too much emphasis placed on entertaining in this production of The Tempest possibly at the cost of the wider dynamic and themes of the play.
It is however, particularly in view of the weather conditions, also appropriate that the production stirs up a bit of a tempest in the performance itself. Having whipped up a storm to cause a shipwreck that washes up King Alonso and his brother Antonio onto the island of Sycorax, Roger Allam's Prospero proceeds to stomp around the Globe stage in a fury, declaiming to his daughter Miranda the sorry tale of his exile by the conspirators who deposed him as Duke of Milan twelve years ago and drove him into exile, leaving him to languish on a godforsaken island. This Prospero is one angry man.
His exasperation extends to his attempts to keep a rein on the unruly creatures on the island that he commands - the airy spirit Ariel and the earthy monster Caliban. They also rage around in a up a bit of a fury against their captor; Ariel (Colin Morgan) in the nicest of ways declaring that he has served Prospero well and deserves release from his bonds; Caliban (the irrepressible James Garnon) raging in a much more aggressive and colourfully articulated manner against the injustice of the island of his mother, the witch Sycorax, being overrun by these humans. But uppermost in Prospero's mind is the urgency of dealing with Antonio, his brother, seeking repentance, forgiveness or revenge for his banishment.
And urgency is the style that characterises the Globe's production of The Tempest. Pacy, if you like, which is indeed how it ought to be played, matching the rhythm set by the verse and the tone of the language. It's a magical piece, rich and wonderful, and it ought to carry the audience along in the spell of the charm it weaves. The cast assembled here are experienced enough to work the crowd to those ends and that is something that is central for the purpose of the Globe - Sam Wanamaker's theatre proving to be an inventive experiment that brings out those interactive facets of Shakespeare's work so well. The Globe might be less prestigious and respectful than the RSC or the NT in that respect, less afraid to be a little rude and playful when the occasion allows, but it's often all the better and more authentic for it.
That comes across well in Globe screenings and the 2013 recording of The Tempest directed by Jeremy Herrin is equally as effective in this register. The audience reaction, their laughter and their appreciation, enlivens and undoubtedly contributes to the nature of the performance. That's fine for the most part, the exploits of the jester Trinculo (Trevor Fox adopting a broad Geordie accent) and the drunken Stephano (Sam Cox) with Caliban in particular being riotously funny, but these episodes often frame the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand (Jessie Buckley and Joshua James), and there should be more contrast there. These episodes however are also played full-pelt and are a little too shouty, but if you like you could put this down to the youthful enthusiasm of the young lovers. At the very least, they are never dull and in the context of the Globe productions, that's very much part of the policy.
Roger Allam's Prospero likewise fits in with the tone of this production. For all his sound and fury, his single-minded pursuit of revealing the conspiracy of his brother, his manipulation of the creatures of the island and his protectiveness of his daughter's virtue, there are many other sides and aspects to Prospero's character. Herrin involves him fully in the hilarity of the Act IV masque with the spirits invoking Hymen - which it has to be said can otherwise be very dull - making fun of some of his more pompous moments by engaging him in absurd dancing. Allam is very much game for this, but often too declamatory elsewhere, and it's hard then to see him having the necessary solemnity that is also needed for a more fully-rounded portrayal of Prospero.
A rounded portrayal of this central character is vital in The Tempest. In fact, you could read the play as being entirely the projection of the complex personality of Prospero alone, and - by extension - that of the nature of the playwright. Not unlike Hamlet with the travelling players, there's something of the playwright here examining the power of his own craft and imagination. Ariel and Caliban are reflections of Prospero's higher and his base nature, while the whole drama "this insubstantial pageant" that he sets up and observes, could be seen to be nothing more than a playing out of his own sense of bitterness and betrayal and a means of resolving those issues to the satisfaction of his own mind. Of course, as the final words of the play indicate, that remains firmly in the hands of the audience "or else my project fails", that project ultimately being "to please" and through "art to enchant". That is also undoubtedly the intention of The Globe and The Tempest unquestionably does that.
The Tempest is released on DVD by Opus Arte. The DVD is dual-layer, and encoded in NTSC format for international compatibility. The disc is region-free.
The Globe productions are of course all filmed in High Definition, and some of them have found their way in that format onto Blu-ray discs, but as with the releases of last year's productions of Twelfth Night, Henry V and The Taming of the Shrew, the 2013 productions of The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream are released on DVD only. The video quality for The Tempest is reasonably good for Standard Definition NTSC. The earlier scenes, filmed the lighting enhanced by natural daylight in the open-roofed theatre are relatively clear and detailed. As the evening draws, the reddish tone of the lighting dominates and doesn't allow quite as much detail and definition. On a regular screen this will be of little consequence and more than adequate, but viewed on a larger television or projected, the deficiencies will be more evident in detail, contrast and skin tones.
The audio tracks are plain Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The soundtracks are probably even more vital than the quality of the video transfer, and thankfully the recording of the live performance is very good. Due to the nature of the live recording and the use of microphones however, it can be a little bit booming and not greatly equalised. This makes it difficult to settle on an acceptable volume level that allows you to hear the dialogue without being deafened by the louder elements of drumming, music and high pitched yells.
All of the dialogue however is well enunciated and cleanly delivered, making it very easy to follow without the need for subtitles. Optional white subtitles are however available in English, French and German only. Other than a Cast Gallery there are no extra features on the disc, but there is an essay and an outline synopsis included in the booklet that comes with the DVD.
The Tempest is regarded by critics as the last play Shakespeare wrote as sole author, and in many ways the situation of Prospero, his gathering of characters and his manipulation of them towards his own ends can be seen as a reflection on the nature of the playwright. Primarily, the duty of the playwright must be towards the audience, to enchant and entertain, and there's plenty of that in the rich veins of humour, romance and philosophy in the magic drama of The Tempest and in the Globe's entertaining 2013 production of the play.