Review by Oli Burley
IT SOUNDS like the type of dramatic streamlining usually dreamt
up by a struggling company: get three guys to carry out the work
out of 11.
Only The Tempest, the opening offering of The
Season of the World and the Underworld, is in no danger of doing
poor business at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer.
It is a sleek, alluring spectacle in which Mark Rylance, Alex
Hassell and Edward Hogg boldly carry the entire narrative, accompanied
by a trio of modern dancers and six Elizabethan singers.
This dreamlike concoction is one that Rylance revels in as he
takes on the role of usurped duke Prospero, wrecked with his modest
daughter, Miranda (Hogg), on an island inhabited by spirits.
From the outset Rylance’s influence, still potent in his
10th and final year as artistic director at The Globe, is clear
as in a solo turn he plays out the storm and the fates of his
foes on a chessboard.
It is also a clear indication that Master of Play, Tim Carroll,
intends to explore Prospero’s island as an extension of
the character’s mind.
The success of the ploy, however,
hangs on the clarity of Prospero’s relationship with the
other figures on stage – something anyone unfamiliar with
the text may struggle with.
Given that each actor plays several parts, at times in the same
scene, even the keenest of ears need to be alert to pick up the
narrative nuances – difficult enough in the oft distracting
environs of The Globe.
As expert as the players are at role-shifting, it is somewhat
off-putting to have Rylance play Alonso and Prospero in the same
conversation, or Hogg morph between the trashed Trinculo and clinical
Likewise, the dancers – reminiscent of Bros fans in jeans
and leather jackets - jar the senses as they initially demonstrate
the influence of the spirits by dragging Prospero onto stage with
a rope that hangs from the stage ceiling.
With time, these dexterous performers ease on the eye and, invisible
to the characters, they manipulate fate – most memorably
in the drunken staggering of Stephano (Rylance) and Trinculo.
Likewise, the looped rope gradually pulls everything together,
even allowing Rylance at times to switch characters simply by
putting his head through it.
Elsewhere, Hassell, at times most affectionate as the monster
Caliban, uses the prop to swing wildly across stage while the
rope becomes the discarded staff when Prospero casts aside his
It is this final act of liberation that resonates throughout
The Globe, as Prospero’s release from the island becomes
in the same moment Rylance’s farewell to the wooden ‘O’.