When The Globe announced Roger Allam was to appear as Prospero in The Tempest, our Twitter timeline went into meltdown. Roger Allam, back at The Globe! The place where he gave his Olivier-winning performance as Falstaff. The man who, as Peter Mannion in The Thick Of It, made us literally double over with paroxysms of laughter at his delivery of "I'm bored of this, I'm going for a Twix". The paternal mentor DI Thursday in Endeavour. The original Javert in Les Mis. The sardonic pilot in Radio 4's Cabin Pressure, smooth adulterer in Tamara Drewe and oily propagandist in V for Vendetta. It's fair to say expectations were high. So, are they met?
Oh dear god, yes.
Allam's Prospero is less the autocratic sorcerer and more a loving father, concerned that his daughter should get her birthright than about the robbing of his own. He watches tenderly as Miranda hurtles headlong into love with the prince that Prospero conjured a storm (partly) to throw in her way, is cruel to Caliban primarily because the woad-painted 'monster' once tried to rape his daughter and has a softer relationship with spirit Ariel than master-servant. The performance is tinged with sadness; you almost feel that, if it weren't for wanting Miranda to have a proper life, he might actually like to stay on the island with his books for company.
But The Globe is never the place for much dainty subtlety – the proximity of the audience and plain lighting mean it's more fit for broad comedy. And so Allam also mines every possible laugh from the text, creating guffaws out of a pause, an eyebrow lift, an emphasis. Yet he always commands the stage and when Prospero needs to roar, the wooden O quivers. Bloody hell, he's good.
No, we haven't forgotten everyone else. Colin Morgan (of Merlin fame) plays his Ariel as a childlike naïf, navigating the set with parkour skills to represent his light otherworldliness. James Garnon waddles crab-like as Caliban, eliciting pity from groundlings then instantly pouncing on and mocking it. He has two excellent foils in Sam Cox and Trevor Fox as the old drunks. Shakespeare's comic characters are sometimes a bit tedious, but these scenes are genuinely amusing. (Beware audience members leaning on the stage: you're in the splash zone.) And where some of the Bard's young lovers can be annoying and wet (Hero and Claudio, we're looking at you) Jessie Buckley and Joshua James are an adorable couple; her Miranda quite tomboyish and if Ferdinand is foolish, at least he's a fool in love.
As well as amping up the funny, director Jeremy Herrin has created some visual spectacles, too. When Ariel terrifies the shipwrecked Italian nobles he bursts onto the stage as a huge bird, ready to peck their eyes out. An actual ship passes across the stage at one point, and effects range from pyrotechnics to a simple but surprisingly moving confetti shower. And at the centre of it all is Roger Allam, mesmerising even without the aid of a magical staff.
The Tempest runs at The Globe Theatre until 18 August. Tickets £5-£39. For more information see the Shakespeare's Globe website. We saw this performance on a complimentary press ticket.