We know that The Tempest was first performed at Whitehall in 1611 before King James. The 2016 production of the play at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse thus replicates the conditions of the first performance with some precision.
Restrictions on our numbers led to my organising three separate visits in the second half of the Spring Term and I am confident that the fifty odd students who took advantage of this opportunity to see the play they are studying this year, in conditions so closely replicating its initial performance 405 years ago, all derived something positive from the experience.
Most memorable for all of us were the comic scenes, featuring Stephano and Trinculo. Purists should have no problem with their ad-libbing: their contemporary allusions (“Jubilee Line…Health and Safety”) are paradoxically authentic in relation to acting practice in the early modern period and Trinculo’s accent made that odd line, “were I in England now” make sense for the first time in my experience. The troupe of actors was uniformly strong and the one playing Sebastian was un-phased by a glass of some unidentifiable liquid falling on stage. What are the odds of this mishap (not perpetrated by an MPW student I hasten to add) taking place directly before Sebastian delivers the line, “I am standing water”? I’m pretty sure the actor slipped the preposition “in” between the last two words in that sentence!
The respect that the Globe and its sister playhouse display to the acting conditions of early modern plays means that the performance is not over until the entire cast dance themselves and their audience out of the play world. In The Tempest, with its theme of reconciliation and light out of darkness, that dance (in which each actor held tea-lights in their cupped hands) seemed even more apposite than usual.