Tag Archives: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

“Twelfth Night” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Emma Rice has chosen well for her last show as director of the Globe, with a cross-dressing comedy that updates the Bard for our gender-fluid times. If you don’t think Shakespeare and Sister Sledge mix, then be warned – Rice’s energy, sensitivity and sense of irreverence are bountiful. The disco lights are on and it’s time to celebrate her reign at The Globe.

Let’s not forget that organising a good party is hard work and can call for tough decisions. There are moments of forced jollity – musical chairs proves messy – and a close reading of the text isn’t invited. But the passion in Twelfth Night is frenzied and Rice’s insight is to allow this. Nasty edges have poignancy, fate is presented as a choreographed natural phenomenon (cleverly mocked as a touch of “community theatre”) and the laughs are manic.

The twins, Sebastian and Viola, whose adventures we follow, are used to anchor the show. In these roles Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena impress, respectively showing a touching vulnerability and sounding particular gorgeous. The confused suitors who fall for the ship-wrecked siblings are played by Annette McLaughlin, who makes for a joyous Olivia, and Joshua Lacey, whose river-dancing-mullet-sporting-lothario Duke is the funniest I’ve seen.

Marc Antolin
Marc Antolin

The trio of pranksters in Olivia’s house continue the strong comedy. Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria, played by Tony Jayawardena, Nandi Bhebhe and the super-talented Carly Bawden (another strong voice) really go for it. The revelation is Marc Antolin as Aguecheek, transforming the role with physical comedy, ad-libs and fluorescent Y-fronts. And a lisp… sorry, but lisps are funny.

Katy Owen
Katy Owen

What the production takes seriously is drag, spoiling us with cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat, whose Feste steers the tempestuous proceedings like a glittering, magical MC. It’s impossible to steal a show from six feet of sequins, but Katy Owen’s Malvolio holds his/her moustachioed own. Funny again (well, most jokes are better with a Welsh accent), Owen tackles bullying intelligently, tempting us to join in, then allowing the character to retain some dignity. Role-play can be dangerous.

All good parties depend on their soundtrack. Rice’s secret weapon is Ian Ross, whose compositions dominate the show: driving plots, aiding comedy, interacting with the text – check them out online. Using so many lines as lyrics enforces how productive treating the text loosely can be. It annoys purists when Shakespeare is tampered with, but Rice does so intelligently, aided by additional lyrics and lines from Carl Grose. The revisions sustain her imaginative interpretation, making the play both accessible and stimulating and her the sadly departing hostess with the mostess.

Until 5 August 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Hugo Glendinning

“Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice’s second, and sadly final, season as creative director on the South Bank opened last night with a bold, experimental show directed by Daniel Kramer. Not for all tastes, and far from flawless, the production brims with intelligence as well as tricks – if originality is what you seek, it is plentiful.

The Montagues and Capulets are made up like clowns – “alike in dignity” indeed. Missiles hang in the sky and coffins abound as doom and death pervade the arena. Subtle it ain’t. Nearly every line is wrung for all its worth, with exaggerated delivery or incidental action. Even Romeo changing his trousers can mean missing a plot point. It’s exhausting, but always engaging. And such bombast makes the masque scene unmissable: karaoke ‘Y.M.C.A’? Why not? And Mrs C’s Fay Wray fancy dress is to die for.

Some of Kramer’s ideas are a puzzle. Why does Lady Capulet double as the apothecary? And why are there so many guns when knives and poison are specified? Other ideas have unfortunate consequences: the make-up and incredible costumes, a cohesive part of Soutra Gilmour’s design, make it difficult to differentiate characters. Which leads to the production’s biggest fault – a sense of performers struggling to stand out, leading to a kind of hyperinflation.

The notable exception is Golda Rosheuvel’s Mercutio, whose recasting as a woman adds tension to her friendship with Romeo. Rosheuvel embodies Queen Mab in unforgettable fashion and her death scene is shocking. In the title roles, Edward Hogg energetically follows Kramer’s strategy, using every inch of the stage. Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is more captivating. The lovers present some of their venerated lines as hackneyed – a startling move that accentuates the often ridiculous and embarrassing nature of teenage love.

Kramer’s vision of the play is bleak right to the end –it’s about dying kids, after all. Anger fills the show, with a lot of running around. There’s a fantasy execution of parents and in-laws by Romeo, and Juliet’s lust is violent, too. Both scenes are riveting. The only quiet moment is the marriage night, during which Bushell and Hogg magically introduce a sombre tone. These lovers are more star defying than star crossed, leaving little room for any other emotion.

Kramer’s most exciting idea is conflating scenes. Joining Romeo and Juliet’s marriage with Mercutio’s fatal encounter with Tybalt adds poignancy. Playing scenes two and three of Act III simultaneously creates a riff on the theme of banishment and death that is inspired. It’s a shame these interpretations are more successful than the production’s emotional impact. Yet they are brilliant insights, shaping the way we see the play and, in my eyes, redeeming many of its faults.

Until 9 July 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Robert Workman

“Imogen” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Matthew Dunster’s new production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is bravely “renamed and reclaimed”. Focusing on the female lead – after all, she has the majority of the lines – is enlightening and provides a star role for Maddy Hill that she proves commanding in. This new take on Shakespeare fits well with artistic director Emma Rice’s vision for the Globe.

Praise first: Dunter’s ability to tell the story is superb. Cymbeline has a complicated plot with plenty of disguises but this production is a model of clarity. The idea of updating the play, with contemporary gang culture and the drug trade is good. The use of voiceovers is inspired. Likewise, casting a deaf actor (William Grint), signing his role as one of Imogen’s long-lost brothers, brings out raw emotions marvellously. There’s a declaratory style that some performers struggle with, and ironically feels old fashioned, but the physicality of this show is commendable.

The biggest coup comes from the work of designer Jon Bausor and choreographer Christopher Akrill. Bausor uses a giant plastic curtain and strip lights to set the scene. Purists won’t like the fact that the theatre’s charm isn’t taken into account, but the cinematic feel of the design is visually arresting and in keeping with the whole. Akrill’s dance adds poetic moments and makes the fight scenes stunning, so much so that bursts of aerial acrobatics seem unnecessary.

But while it all looks great, there’s a flaw here. Cymbeline is a notoriously difficult play, with a plot defying credulity and a final scene so full of revelations it is difficult not to laugh. Unfortunately, Dunster seems determined to play the whole thing for comedy.

Attempts to reflect the violence of this society are unsuccessful. Only Jonathan McGuinness in the title role manages to be frightening. The rest of the cast are hampered by too many interjections just for laughs. Matthew Needham’s Giacomo is a case in point; the disturbing scene where he spies on Imogen in bed becomes a lark. Suffering most is Cloten, played with conviction by Joshua Lacey: the role is reduced to a strutting cock (yes, we get the joke) and a character that should be terrifying becomes a lame joke.

Time after time humour deflates tension, leaving the text flat. There seems little faith in the play’s power to move an audience and the outcome is monotone if not monotonous. Dunster plays out his strategy boldly – credit to him – I just happen to disagree with it.

Until 16 October 2016

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice’s first production as artistic director at the Globe has provided controversy for the much-loved venue and tourist hotspot. Fans of Rice’s work with her previous company, Kneehigh, will recognise some techniques here. But applied to Shakespeare, her irreverence and inventiveness proves invigorating.

First a caution – for some odd folk – this approaches Dream: The Musical. No excuse necessary, but it is striking how much of the play is sung. Stu Barker’s score is accomplished, dramaturg Tanika Gupta’s lyrics (drawing on the Sonnets and John Donne) are exciting and the singing West End standard. There’s a clever Indian twist and an electric sitar, so let’s describe the sound as Bollywood Rock. Is Rice being provoking? I do hope so.

Raucous is de rigueur at the Globe but, for good or ill, Rice has upped the stakes. If it weren’t for fear of sounding hopelessly out of touch I’d suggest some age advisory warning. There were squeals of horror in the crowd at some pretty full-on audience participation.

midsummer 1
Zubin Varla and Meow Meow

The show is sexy – many clothes are shed – and the polymorphous sexuality in Shakespeare is emboldened. Most impressively, with the King and Queen roles played by Zubin Varla and cabaret star Meow Meow – both intense performers –their chemistry is captivating. We’re reminded how creepy Titania being “enamoured of an ass” really is and both stars hold the stage, despite too much going on.

There are reservations. When Beyoncé is first quoted, your heart might sink at such an easy appeal to a younger audience. There’s a great deal of movement and some of it is messy. With water pistols, crazy costumes and a lot of accents, it’s anything for a lark. And the problem? Too many lines are difficult to hear, even lost. Rice lands the laughs, but they often fall at the expense of Shakespeare or, more generously, use the play as merely a springboard.

The hyped gender-bending casting (which is hardly new) may have been seen before, but not with the bite that Rice manages. Katy Owen does a superb job as Puck, working the crowd brilliantly, despite that water pistol. The rude mechanicals are recast as women. Only Bottom remains male – Ewan Wardrop doing the guys proud. Updating the wannabe theatricals into Globe volunteers is sweet and leads to excellent cameos, especially for Lucy Thackeray, whose calm ad lib, “my nephew’s gay”, tickled me pink.

midsummer 3
Ncuti Gatwa and Ankur Bahl

But it’s most with the Athenian lovers that Rice’s indiscretions are forgiven. Updating the couples into Hoxton hipsters is very funny. Ncuti Gatwa and Edmund Derrington make an energetic Demetrius and Lysander. Anjana Vasan gets roars of approval for her very modern Hermia. Ankur Bahl plays –hold on – Helenus, with wit and courage. There’s more to this decision than giving the line “ugly as a bear” a new twist. An uncomfortable response from some, admittedly young, audience members gives pause for thought. The Globe is a global institution (listen to how many visitors are from abroad). To see love between two men portrayed with complexity on such a stage is remarkable. There may be touches of over enthusiasm here but Rice balances public appeal with a radical streak that makes this show, and her direction, one of the most exciting things around.

Until 11 September 2016

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Steve Tanner

 

“Nell Gwynn” at the Apollo Theatre

Historical romps are not uncommon on the British stage. And the theatre loves referencing itself. Combining the two, with the story of 17th-century actress-turned-courtier Nell Gwynn, makes sense and provides a hit for playwright Jessica Swale. There’s plenty of fun from Gwynn’s love affair with King Charles II, while John Dryden’s hastily scribed plays add a touch of behind-the-scenes Noises Off style laughs. Having started at Shakespeare’s Globe, this show retains the venue’s vibe, pleasing the crowd with great gags and catchy tunes. No time for stuffiness here – this is a terrific night out.

Gemma Arterton’s performance in the title role is a joy. She’s cheeky, chirpy and utterly charming. Easily carrying Swale’s pointed remarks on women in the theatre and making the risqué comedy look effortless, Arterton proves a queen of innuendo. There are superb cameos from Sarah Woodward and Sasha Waddell as the other women in Charles’ life – both suitably overblown and over-painted – but the glorious Michele Dotrice steals every scene as Nell’s dresser, bringing the house down with a single salutation to the King and getting more laughs out of playing a triangle than you’d have thought possible.

Michele Dotrice
Michele Dotrice

There are men in the play, too and it’s satisfying that for once they take a back seat. Greg Haiste has the best lines as the actor who used to perform women’s roles before those “actor-esses” came along. And there’s a fine turn from David Sturzaker as Charles, who gracefully allows himself to be upstaged by a dog. The chemistry between the King and his mistress is down to the performances and builds touchingly. And yet it’s only fitting that the irresistible Arterton grabs our main attention. As for demanding better parts for women, condemning Shakespeare’s Juliet as a “noodle”, the play provides its own irrefutable answer.

David Sturzaker
David Sturzaker

A lot of Swale’s script should really be too downright silly to work. The comedy is as broad as a pantomime and historical references land with a bang that I presume is designed to pop any pomposity. More seriously, attempts to give the characters depth – let’s make the merry Monarch melancholy – are ham-fisted. Subtle it ain’t, but it works. And in spectacular fashion, with direction from Christopher Luscombe powering the play along and a series of performances that rocket the piece into the comic stratosphere.

Until 30 April 2016

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“The Oresteia” at Shakespeare’s Globe

It’s hard not to contrast this new production of Aeschylus’ trilogy with that from the Almeida – acclaimed and transferred to the West End. But Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation has its own aims. A more literal translation of the story, miraculously condensed and painfully blunt, it focuses obsessively and powerfully on the theme of justice. For all the Almeida’s contemporary touches, Mullarkey’s version is the riskier. But unfortunately the plays, despite their universal themes and influences that echo especially loudly in Shakespeare’s Globe, come across as downright wacky.

There’s a great start, with a fluid chorus containing excellent actors. Hannah Clark’s costumes, with a nod to the geometric style of pre-classical Greek art, end up giving us a sixties-siren Clytemnestra that Katy Stephens performs marvellously. The modern score, by Mira Calix, will not be to every taste although it’s satisfyingly integral: Cassandra’s role is mostly sung, accompanied by a saxophone, and Naana Agyei-Ampadu won my admiration in the role even before she had to perform in a gold lamé swimsuit. Even a prophetess couldn’t have seen that one coming.

0resteia-2-credit-Robert-Day
Joel MacCormack and Rosie Hilal

For the second play, there are strong performances from Joel MacCormack and Rosie Hilal, playing Orestes and Electra. Stephens’ return as a Biba-bitch is again strong, with a startling wardrobe malfunction. But director Adele Thomas’s camp touches start to get out of control. Cue the Furies, presented as something out of a horror film – it makes sense, I suppose, but the zombie twitching and grunting, admittedly light hearted, detracts from the powerful language. We’ve already had plenty of gore, the stage literally “blood carpeted”, and a Chamber of Horrors tableau Tussaud’s would be proud of. None of this compares favourably with Mullarkey’s text.

And on to the final play, peopled by “the gods, the ghosts, the monsters, the demons”, a combination that’s clearly too much for any audience’s good. It’s impossible to forget how odd this all is as drama: a lesson about the first ever murder trial, with a Goddess in charge. Athena is, strangely, as wooden as a statue that descends like something out of Spinal Tap. There’s an uneasy humour again… and even a giant golden phallus. Thomas’s embrace of the oddity a modern audience inevitably senses ultimately seems lazy, even if the cast works like mad.

Until 16 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Robert Day

“Richard II” at Shakespeare’s Globe

While The Merchant of Venice quote, handily emblazoned on tote bags in the Globe’s shop, tells us “all that glisters is not gold”, the theatre’s new production of Richard II is a solid 24-carat affair. Shakespeare’s deposed king is often presented as a star vehicle, but director Simon Godwin provides a carefully crafted ensemble piece that gives every character their due and is all the better for doing so.

Which is not to say that Charles Edwards isn’t magnificent in the title role. Against the golden backdrop of Paul Wills’ set and accompanied by Stephen Warbeck’s impressive score for trombones, Edwards strikes a suave figure. But it doesn’t take long to see a delusional aspect to this infantile King, set up by a prologue scene of his childhood coronation. In an admirably understated performance, especially during his imprisonment, Edwards shows this hollow crown is unhinged and tarnished by religious fervour.

The impact Richard’s divine right to rule has on society is highlighted by the luckless Aumerle, a role that Graham Butler gets a great deal from. One of Richard’s “caterpillar” sycophants, then betrayers, like his ruler, he seems strangely juvenile. One reservation: in this serious show, Godwin introduces humour into the scene of Aumerle’s treachery. While the text suggests jokes and the piece allows William Chubb and Sarah Woodward to shine as the Yorks, surely going all out for laughs is a misfire.

Much better are the muddled motivations of Richard’s courtiers. Godwin creates a sense of unprecedented events unfolding – with Chubb, again excellent, as a conflicted Regent and a superbly sinister Northumberland played by Jonny Glynn. Even the gardening scene, which I always think should be pruned, is handled well, using the audience in the complicit manner that directors at the Globe can seldom resist.

Godwin’s usurping Bolingbroke is a relatively complex figure, suggesting that events might have overtaken a once loyal subject. David Sturzaker gives a sterling performance in this strangely opaque role; a virile presence, we see the politician but also an emotional intensity that adds a layer to a play so much about surface presentation. Underlying the production’s traditional feel and gorgeous look is a satisfyingly intelligent assessment of the play’s themes.

Until 18 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“Measure For Measure” at Shakespeare’s Globe

For all its charms, the Globe is not a comfortable theatre and at Wednesday’s press night of Measure for Measure it was pretty much like an oven. It’s testament to Dominic Dromgoole’s new production that the audience adored the show under such conditions. Exploiting the play’s bawdy background, the cast creates such riotous fun I am surprised they didn’t pass out. Every performer won my admiration.

His last turn as director in charge of the theatre, Dromgoole goes all out with the ‘groundlings’ standing in the pit; they are pushed around by pimps and prostitutes before the play’s even begun. And although there is a close-up branding of one prostitute, emblematic of the puritanical theme of justice, the overall tone is fun. Led by a boisterous Mistress Overdone (Petra Massey), with a great comic turn from Brendan O’Hea’s Lucio – and plenty of ad-libbing – the licentious lord it over this play.

Measure-006-crop
Mariah Gale and Kurt Egyiawan

The bawds make a strong contrast with what is the main thrust of the story: Angelo’s condemnation, then blackmail, of Claudio (Joel MacCormack) and his sister Isabella – offering to save him in return for sex with her. All three deliver powerfully understated performances. Kurt Egyiawan’s Angelo gave me a chill, despite that weather. He’s wonderful at suggesting anguish behind his evil impulses – the uselessness of Isabella trying to defend herself when his “false o’erweighs your true” is delivered with near resignation. Mariah Gale gives an eloquent and credible portrayal of as Isabella, making the character’s religion and integrity central.

Despite the excellent performances, Dromgoole doesn’t manage that precarious balance between scenes of comedy and tension. There’s a lack of subtlety, shown best in Dominic Rowan’s absconding Duke: a powerful actor, with first class delivery, he rattles through plot points for laughs and abandons ambiguity about his motives. But Dromgoole knows the venue better than anyone and, while the tactic is vaguely disappointing, it’s in keeping with a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of a show.

Until 17 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“The Merchant of Venice” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Jonathan Munby’s new production will be memorable alone for marking Jonathan Pryce’s magnificent debut at Shakespeare’s Globe. Not to belittle Pryce’s achievement – it would have been a surprise if he wasn’t right for the role – the bigger story is that the whole production is of a consistently high standard, making it one of the best I’ve seen at the venue.

Munby embraces the play’s sometimes off-putting mix of comedy and tragedy. The broad humour that does so well at the Globe is present, most notably in Stefan Adegbola’s servant, Launcelot, going down a storm by pulling audience members on to the stage. And there are particularly fine comic performances from Dorothea Myer-Bennett and David Sturzaker, as Nerissa and Gratiano.

At the heart of it all are those most concerned with the theme of justice: the woman who masquerades as a judge, Rachel Pickup as a glacial Portia, and Dominic Mafham as the titular merchant Antonio, imperiled by the word of the law. These parts anchor the show and reveal the structure of Munby’s grasp.

As for the tragedy, no excuses are made for the text’s anti-Semitism, displayed in all its cruelty and violence. Spat at and assaulted, Pryce plays it straight, which all the more demands our attention. He is joined onstage by his own daughter Phoebe Pryce, playing Shylock’s child Jessica, who is full of passion and seemingly born for the role. Culminating in a heart-rending scene as she sings while her father is forced to be baptised, it’s a fine finale that confirms how brave this production is.

Until 7 June 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Farinelli And The King” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Any trip to the gorgeous Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is exciting. And it’s commendable that the programming for the venue includes brand new plays. You can see why Claire van Kampen’s work, Farinelli And The King, seemed like a good idea: it’s about the famous castrato who sang for Philippe V of Spain and is perfect for highlighting the venue’s terrific acoustics. The Playhouse doesn’t just look enchanting, the sound here is flawless, unforgiving, actually – you can hear a sweet being unwrapped from any seat. Iestyn Davies and William Purefoy have been drafted in to sing, and are joined by some fine musicians, but unfortunately the play they accompany isn’t strong enough to outshine the venue.

Mark Rylance, Van Kampen’s husband, ensures the play is a hot ticket and gives a masterful performance as Philippe, with a seemingly instinctive grasp of what the space needs. His is a remarkably understated and hugely engaging king, but the role is written far too much for laughs. Philippe’s bipolarity, dramatised as simple lunacy, fails to move emotionally. Sam Crane is wasted as Farinelli, whose the role is grossly underdeveloped – a problem shared with one-dimensional secondary parts. At times, the play is more about Philippe’s relationship with his queen, an impression bolstered by a fine performance from Melody Grove. The opportunity for a triangle of relationships is opened up too late.

John Dove’s direction is swift and forceful but the script is just not good enough, being an inconsistent mix of biography and pretension satisfying neither history nor ideas. The bare bones of Farinelli’s fascinating life are delivered dismissively, particularly at the end when the play really runs out of steam. Far too many highfalutin speculations are made about space, time and morality but none is dealt with in any depth. Throw in some lofty theorising about art and you approach incoherence. The obvious comparison with Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George III is an unfortunate one for this first attempt at playwriting from Van Kampen, who has contributed so much in her capacity as composer for the theatre. Sadly, this is one production to avoid.

Until 8 March 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Marc Brenner