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The Tempest (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Dominic Dromgoole directs his final production as artistic director of the Globe

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Farewells echo around the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As the ship goes down in the opening storm, sailors cry out their goodbyes. Shorthand says The Tempest was Shakespeare's last play - his own adieu. Now, Dominic Dromgoole uses it to sign off after a decade in charge at the Globe.

If that lends the evening a certain poignancy - Dromgoole's tenure has earned the affection of audiences - it also instils its meaning. The Tempest becomes a study of power - maybe more so than even Macbeth or the histories. Everyone in it either has, hopes for or submits to power, and Dromgoole makes clear the seductiveness of holding sway and, more importantly, the wrench of relinquishing such authority. That's what every Prospero must do in the end: break his staff, destroy his books, free his servants and let his daughter go. To retire is to hand things on. The politics is subtle, but definite - it's all too easy to cling on.

One way or another, you see Prospero as a director of sorts. Tim McMullan raises his staff to command the storm like a puppetmaster, then plays people just the same. He whispers instructions to Ariel (Pippa Nixon), controls Fisayo Akinade's Caliban with threats and insults, and holds court to his daughter Miranda (Phoebe Pryce), impatient whenever she interrupts. Whatsoever he orders, happens, just by his say-so. His command extends to Ferdinand, and in no time at all, Dharmesh Patel is sucking up to his prospective in-law.

As the end draws near, however, McMullan comes into his own. He slows the words 'so, so, so,' as if delaying the inevitable. Prospero's retirement is, you realise, a return from godliness to humanity: his "pulse beats" and his "every third thought" is death. McMullan signs off with a sigh and a wistful smile.

All this is there in the language, with its ratifications, sovereignties and absolutes, and Dromgoole's production is beautifully spoken - clear as a tropical sea. McMullan's deep, honeyed voice is a paradise all of its own, but you hear the play's every nuance and, as such, grasp its patterns. All its usurpations - the lords scheming against their king, the clowns claiming the island for themselves - echo Prospero's power.

Nixon is an assured Ariel, shimmering gold in the candlight. Treading carefully on the balls of her feet, she brings something of Pinnochio to the part, while Akinade's fur-clad Caliban acknowledges colonial interpretations without being confined by them - another example of power given up too grudgingly.

Otherwise, though, it's quintessential Dromgoole: silliness around a serious core. His actors lurch left and right in the storm, and, being invisible, Ariel holds hands and haunts shirts. The clowns are half-in and half-out. They see through the play, but still fall foul of it. Dominic Rowan's Trinculo points Ariel out to us, then marvels at her magic nonetheless, and Trevor Fox's Antonio talks us through textual footnotes. Few directors revel in the ludicrousness of theatre's rough magic like Dromgoole, and few theatres do it better than "the great Globe itself."

The Tempest runs at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 22 April.

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