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The Tempest at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London – ‘a crowd-pleaser’

Tim McMullan in The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photo: Marc Brenner Tim McMullan in The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photo: Marc Brenner
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Given that he’s chosen Shakespeare’s final play as his last production as artistic director of the Globe, it’d be easy to compare Dominic Dromgoole with Prospero, breaking his staff and throwing his books into the ocean. But it wouldn’t be quite right. Where Prospero cloisters himself away, Dromgoole’s of the world – a crowd-pleaser. He’s more likely to throw his hat into a ring.

And that’s how he’s going out here, with a staging of The Tempest packed with his trademarks. The scenes with Stephano (Trevor Fox) and Trinculo (Dominic Rowan) are typically rowdy, with Rowan chucking ad-libs at the audience as if his life depended on it. It verges on too much at times, but it’s also irrepressibly fun.

Besides, there are deeper currents beneath the frothy frolicking. Fisayo Akinade’s Caliban makes his mistreatment by Prospero (Tim McMullan) count. He’s not a monstrous other – he’s been a slave. And Akinade and McMullan bring nuance and depth to their rueful reconciliation at the end of the play.

The last production of The Tempest at the Globe, directed by Jeremy Herrin, staged it big but played it small and sitcom-like. Here, in the candlelit nearness of the Wanamaker, opening on a shipwreck in miniature, we get the magic back (admittedly, with a few skeleton dogs popping up from before). Dromgoole lets the verse and McMullan’s rich delivery conjure their own images.

Some of the play’s details are lost as a result of this approach. But few directors can take a space and make Shakespeare feel as alive in it as Dromgoole.

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Dromgoole leaves the Globe in style, with a production that tracks a darker undertow beneath the frothy fun