005 – The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
The theatre is filled with crashing sounds and the flashing light of a tumultuous storm. Sailors can be heard shouting to each other to try to prevent their ship from splintering apart. We are aboard the King of Naple’s ship that is about to founder on a unknown island – an “isle full of noises, sounds and sweet airs” – a magical kingdom ruled over by a sorcerer and his apprentice, who are about to stage their own drama of romance and revenge.
This is Shakespeare’s late great masterpiece, The Tempest. It would be the last play the playwright would write by himself. It premiered at the court of James I in December 1611, and it is suggested that hereafter Shakespeare spent most of the remaining five years of his life in semi-retirement in Stratford.
To help us explore our first Shakespeare play we are joined by one of our finest actors, Tm McMullan. Tim knows Shakespeare from the inside, having appeared in many acclaimed productions, including most pertinently for these purposes as Prospero in the 2016 production of The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker theatre at the Globe in London.
Tim McMullan is one of our most acclaimed and recognisable actors. He studied History at St Andrews University before training as an actor at RADA. His stage career comprises a number of iconic performances in Shakespeare, including Oberon at the RSC, Jacques at the Globe, Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and Enobarbus in Antony & Cleopatra at the National Theatre, and most pertinently for our purposes, as Prospero in the 2016 production of the Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker theatre, directed by Dominic Dromgoole in his last show as Artistic Director of the Globe.
Of course, Tim’s work encompasses much more than Shakespeare. He has worked with Cheek by Jowl, Complicite, and Mnemonic; performed at the Almeida, Donmar, Hampstead, and the West End, as well as in more than 20 plays at the National Theatre.
His film and TV work includes Shadowlands, 5th Element, The Queen, The Woman in Black, Foyle’s War, Brexit An Uncivil War, Melrose, The Crown, and of course Shakespeare in Love.
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
We have footnotes for this episode …
These footnotes are a follow-up to our live discussion in episode five of the podcast, including a selection of points from my researches that we didn’t happen to include, as well as follow-up on any facts and questions that came up during our conversation with Tim.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
You might also be interested in …
Tennessee Williams breakthrough playThe Glass Menagerie is a very personal portrait of Williams’ own flawed family. It first opened on Broadway in March 1945 to rave reviews, it’s box office success catapulting its 34-year old author to fame and fortune. The play is now a standard on educational curricula and theatrical programs, loved for its heart-wrenching portrayal of the hopes and disappointments of its characters, and admired for its theatrical technique and poetic dramatic language.
The play was brilliantly staged in 2013 on Broadway in a production directed by John Tiffany, which was revived in 2017 in London’s West End, and I am absolutely delighted to be joined in this episode by the director himself, John Tiffany, to share his insights into this enduring classic.
It is 2:00 am, and George and Martha have invited a young couple for after-party drinks to their home on a New England university campus. What follows is arguably the most extended and vitriolic marital argument ever staged. Over four hours of drunken skirmishing George and Martha tear strips off each other and their young guests, in a terrifying mix of games playing and truth telling, fuelled by anger, shame, disappointment, hatred and possibly even love. As the hostilities intensify both couples are forced to face unvarnished and difficult truths about themselves and their relationships. This is American playwright Edward Albee’s classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which opened on Broadway in 1962, and was greeted by both moral outrage and critical acclaim. Both types of review contributed to its run-away box-office success, and led to the 1966 Oscar-winning film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Joining me to survey the damage of this blistering marital battle are John Mitchinson and Andy MIller, the co-hosts of the award-winning podcast Backlisted, which as its strap line declares “gives new life to old books”.
It is 1759 in East Anglia. A child has been murdered and a young woman has been convicted to hang for the crime. She ‘pleads her belly’ and a jury of matrons must determine if she is truly with child and thus may escape the gallows. Lucy Kirkwood’s powerful play The Welkin, is an historical thriller and a tense courtroom drama, as well as a vivid representation of the real burdens that women carry in a patriarchal world of any age.
The Welkin premiered at the National Theatre in January 2020 before its run was cruelly cut short by the first Covid lockdown. I’m delighted to be joined by the author herself to talk about her rich new play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …