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The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe – review

Sean Holmes' new production runs through to 27 October

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Olivier Hubard and Ferdy Roberts in The Tempest
© Marc Brenner

Prospero begins proceedings by commanding his daughter, Miranda, to "Pluck my magic garment from me" – in Sean Holmes' latest production at Shakespeare's Globe, that magic garment is a purple poncho and, once plucked, it is just in the briefest of brief, bright yellow ‘budgie smugglers' that Ferdy Roberts' Prospero spends the rest of his adventures. This is Shakespeare meets Benidorm – and much like the bawdy television comedy, there is stuff here to (guiltily) laugh along with, as much as there is plenty more to find about as amusing as a kiss-me-quick hat and a straw donkey.

The opening storm scene is virtually unintelligible with a cacophony of the Boatswain shouting via a loudhailer whilst the rest of the ships company – all dressed in modern business suits – are dragged around in a large sound inhibiting plastic box. It's like some kind of awful River Thames corporate booze cruise has taken a wrong turn and ploughed into the hallowed walls of the Globe.

Things settle onto a gentler course after this with Roberts giving a really rather good Prospero – regardless of his scarce attire – that is full of warmth and wit as well as revenge-inducing anger. His frenetic performance is exhausting to watch and it is notable that Roberts is at his strongest in his moments of stillness – his "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" is beautifully delivered.

Elsewhere, the rest of the company is on the whole strong despite having to battle with some of Holmes' rather laboured directorial concepts. Rachel Hannah Clarke's Ariel is full of sass in an array of sparkly sailor suits and cowboy outfits but is often somewhat underpowered vocally to properly enchant as the cheeky spirit. Nadi Kemp-Sayfi's charming Miranda suffers similarly with a vocal that would benefit from a little more projection into the open space of the Globe.

A trio of gender-swapped roles make good use of wigs and facial hair to create a melancholic Alonso (Katy Stephens), an excitable Sebastian (Lucy Phelps) and a wonderfully wiry Francisco (Joanna Howarth). The noble Gonzalo is given some terrific hang dog treatment by the effortlessly funny and self-effacing Peter Bourke.

Bringing the conspiratorial comedy to the fore – as well as some much-needed energy – is a trio of clowns in the shape of Ralph Davis' Trinculo, George Fouracres' Stefano and Ciaran O'Brien's Caliban. Davis and Fouracres mercilessly mock and seem to enjoy every minute of toying with the Globe's Yard audience. O'Brien's Caliban is more morning-after-the-night-before Club 18-30's Rep than devilish and mystical. He stays true to type by leading a rousing chorus of football anthem "It's Coming Home" – could it happen anywhere else other than the Globe? When reaching for disguises, the trio don't simply go with hoods and capes – it's an altogether more recognisable form of costuming and raises laughs aplenty from the younger element of the crowd – and whilst I won't spoil the surprise here it somehow jars with storytelling.

Paul Wills' designs have laced the Globe stage with Ikea looking self-assembly palm trees and a few swimming pool inflatables. He uses large, yellow plastic shipping crates to drive the action but there is little here that is transportative. Holmes' decision to use lunacy over sorcery is funny on occasions but it ultimately leaves a somewhat unsatisfied feeling.