Posts Tagged ‘Globe to Globe’

This was my first foreign language Shakespeare, 32 years ago at the Edinburgh Festival. Set in Shogun period Japan at cherry blossom time, it blew me away and kick-started an interest which has led to 38 Shakespeare productions in 31 languages, boosted by the wondrous Globe to Globe festival in 2012. Seven of them were in Japanese, six directed by the late, great Yukio Ninagawa whose work this is, back in London after 30 years.

It’s hard to explain why the play feels so right in this setting. Perhaps it’s the similarity of two warrior races almost at opposite ends of the planet. Shakespeare’s story works so well with emphatic acting and stressed and distressed dialogue Japanese style. Above all though it’s the visual imagery, every scene a feast for the eyes with a stunning black, red and gold design, sumptuous costumes and of course all that cherry blossom. The stylised battles are brilliant, Lady Macbeth’s madness feels authentic, the murder of Lady Macduff and her children is devastating, Macduff and Malcolm’s determination on revenge intense and Macbeth’s tyranny all consuming.

There’s a Western classical, mostly choral and vocal, soundtrack which you might expect to be incongruous, but works brilliantly, haunting and beautiful. The witches played by men kabuki-style and the human horses aren’t comic at all. The performances are passionate, many larger than life, some more subtle. It’s rare to see the same production so many years apart, but doing so demonstrates it’s timelessness, serving the play so well, a classic production of a classic play.

At the second curtain call, a picture of Ninagawa in front of one of the design’s iconic features appeared above the actors. What a wonderful tribute and memorial this is. I feel privileged and blessed.

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Well, I’ve seen Macbeth in Japanese, Cantonese, Zulu and Polish (twice), so why not Welsh? It was also in an 850-year-old castle in the town I went to school in, so it proved impossible to resist.

We wait sitting on benches in one of three castle rooms before the witches take us up narrow winding stairs to an intimate room where the first part is staged. It’s very atmospheric and the costumes are really authentic. There’s a dramatic orchestral soundtrack which adds a regal feel. We walk the ramparts, with glimpses of the witches and the soundtrack clearly audible, to the second location, the Banqueting Hall, which provides a bigger space for sword-fights, battles and murders.

I listen to a commentary / synopsis via their app, which I felt was much better than simultaneous translation or the surtitled synopses use in the Globe to Globe season of foreign language Shakespeare productions in 2012. Though I’m not a Welsh speaker, it’s a surprisingly lucid Macbeth.

There are fine performances all round, led by Richard Lynch as Macbeth and Ffion Dafis as Lady Macbeth, though once I’d realised Lennox was the gay undertaker from Stella, I became a bit distracted – but I got over it!

I’m always fascinated seeing Shakespeare interpreted by different cultures in different languages, and it’s good to add Welsh to my collection of 37 ‘foreign’ language productions in 29 languages.

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Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio from Hong Kong made such a good job of Titus Andronicus in Globe to Globe 2012 (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/globe-to-globe-now-all-in-one-blog – eight shows down) that I was rather looking forward to their take on Macbeth. Perhaps a little too much.

A modern couple have a dream and enter into the world of Macbeth, which is in ancient China, and assume the roles of the Macbeth’s. Once they enter the dream, we are in this ancient world, where the witches are Chinese shaman and the characters look and behave like ancient Chinese. None of this is a problem for me; such approaches have worked many times. There’s a big focus on ‘movement’ and its very stylised, which also isn’t a issue. What failed for me was its pace – it’s agonisingly slow – and the fact that it in no way conveys the ambition, ruthlessness or lust for power that the play is all about.

I’ve been a big supporter of Shakespeare in other languages and of the Globe to Globe initiative, and very much liked this company’s previous contribution, but I have to be honest and say that this one didn’t work for me at all, I’m afraid. Perhaps, on this occasion, you needed more cultural or linguistic understanding?

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I’ve seem something like 40 Shakespeare productions in a foreign language, but this one from the National Theatre of China visiting Shakespeare’s Globe must be the oddest.

Richard is a cartoon villain with only an intermittent deformity, as if the actor continually forgets to do it, and a penchant for odd knowing but funny looks direct to the audience. Early on three witches appear with prophesies, presumably lost on their way to Macbeth. Lady Anne has a dreadful whine, Queen Elizabeth a dodgy wig and Queen Margaret is blind, freely dishing out curses. The murderers are acrobatic clowns with painted faces. The Prince of Wales, a girl, appears to be a speciality dance act with a giant feather headdress.

This is no tyrant king and there is no menace. It felt like Carry on Dick and I was wondering if they are actually sending up the bard. The best thing I can say about it is that the costumes are great. When they brought it on 2012 the costumes never arrives, so it’s a good job I missed it then. Next month it’s Macbeth in Cantonese, so I won’t be surprised if Bottom and his chums turn up.

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Is there a more ambitious theatre than Shakespeare’s Globe? Not content with presenting all Will’s plays, each in a different language, they now embark on a tour of Hamlet that takes them to every country in the world – all 205 of them – over two years. This may be the first World Tour that lives up to its billing. It starts here in London, of course, and prior to its opening at The Globe on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, it previewed at Middle Temple Hall, where some of Shakespeare’s plays were staged in his lifetime. How could I resist?

The staging is as it will be on tour; there’s no compromises to this august venue. A temporary wooden stage, a red curtain and boxes of props and that’s about it. A group of 12 actors play all of the roles and play musical instruments too. Though it has by necessity been cut, it’s a faithful telling, though it overran it’s 2h 30m advertised time by almost 30 minutes at the performance I attended (though some of this was ladies loo interval queues – the law is still a man’s world!). I liked the simplicity of the staging, concentrating on telling the story without gimmicks or distractions.

It’s a fine cast led by a fine performance from Ladi Emeruwa as Hamlet, in what appears to be his professional stage debut. Imagine that on your CV ‘Graduated LAMDA . Played Hamlet in 205 countries’! True to the spirit of the venture, its a multi-cultural troupe for the ultimate in multi-national tours.

In truth, Hamlet is not my favourite Shakespeare play and I’m a bit Hamleted out at present, but it was great to be there to wish them well as they embark on this extraordinary adventure. Second best to being a bag carrier on the tour!

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For me, this was the-one-that-got-away in last year’s extraordinary Globe to Globe Festival; all of Shakespeare’s plays, each in a different language. There were others I missed, but this was the one I regretted missing most and I’m glad I got a second chance.

It’s only 80 minutes playing time, but it still feels like the real deal. Clearly you miss the verse, but captions giving scene synopses enable you to keep up without complete surtitles distracting you from whats happening on stage. In some ways, its a typically East European staging – radical and visceral – but there’s an edginess to Belarus Free Theatre which makes them unique.

In a brilliant opening scene, Lear distributes his kingdom as a pile of tin mugs which Regan & Goneril stuff into their skirts, revealing more than they probably should in the process. The storm is superbly played out with a polythene sheet and the minimum of water; the same sheet later provides a cover for the now naked Lear, Edgar & The Fool (played in English by Chris Bone). The final scene is as moving as I’ve ever seen it.

This extraordinary company are more used to modern drama, which makes this achievement all the more impressive, and one I’m very glad didn’t get away in the end.

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Contemporary Music

Joe Jackson is someone who is forever reinventing himself and his latest project is a tribute to Duke Ellington. Given he was with ‘the bigger band’, a six piece, I was expecting his Cadogan Hall concert to be the album plus some other jazz in the same vein, but he mixed in rearrangements of his back-catalogue and it was terrific. The Latin jazz material from Night & Day fared best and the final three songs – Is She Really Going Out With Him rearranged for accordion, tuba and banjo, the timeless Sunday Papers and A Slow Song (with added tears) provided a perfect ending. A treat.

I’m afraid Rufus Wainwright’s concert proved a bit of a disappointment, as was his latest album, and to some extent for the same reason. In seeking a more commercial sound, Mark Ronson’s CD production and the somewhat one-tone live sound design are both in danger of propelling him towards blandness. You can’t take anything away from the fact he writes great songs and has an extraordinary voice, but neither of these were shown off at their best here. The band, featuring solo favourites of mine Teddy Tompson and Krystle Warren, was excellent. Both Teddy (Richard & Linda’s son) and Leonard Cohen’s son Adam provided good opening sets, though the latter wasted 10 of his 35 minutes on anecdotes and arsing around. Talking of arsing around, I sighed as it became clear we were going to get another of Rufus’ pantos as an encore (we haven’t had one of those for some time) – and the most OTT one too, presided over by cupid in loincloth and wings. Rufus entered the auditorium dressed as Apollo, walked through the audience, took people on stage and massacred a couple of songs. Though I did go with the flow and laugh along eventually (when it became so surreal there was room for nothing else) I couldn’t help thinking we could have got 5 or 6 songs in the 20 minutes it took to do all this. Looking at Teddy Thompson and Krystle Warren’s expressions made me think I was not alone!


The Guildhall School of Music & Drama excelled itself again with a fascinating and hugely entertaining triple bill. La Navarraise is a tragedy by Massenet set in the Basque country, which lent itself perfectly to an updating. The singing from the second cast was superb, in particular Roisin Walsh as Anita, Adam Smith as Araquil, Ben McAteer as his dad and James Platt as Garrido, and the choruses were outstanding. Le Portrait de Manon by the same composer was a gentle romance where Des Grieux (from his opera Manon) has to tackle the young love of his ward; I saw Manon in April and there was something satisfying about seeing Des Grieux turn up in another opera! The final piece, Comedy on the Bridge by Martinu, was more challenging musically but very clever and very funny. The characters find themselves in a no-man’s-land on a bridge between borders, as they give up their passes to one border guard and have nothing to give the other. For opera, very original, and a delightful 40 minutes. 

Four years ago, commemorating 50 years since the death of Vaughan Williams, the late great Richard Hickox & The Philharmonia gave a stunning semi-staged performance of The Pilgrim’s Progress whilst Covent Garden ignored the anniversary and ENO’s contribution was a minor work. Well, ENO now give it it’s first full staging since the 1951 premiere and it proves to be something for which staging doesn’t really add much! It’s beautifully played by the ENO Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins and Roland Wood is an excellent Pilgrim / Bunyan, but the staging and design added little I’m afraid.


I enjoyed the British Museum’s Shakespeare: Staging the World, though I did think the connection of some of the material and items was a bit nebulous. There was however much to fascinate and enjoy and it was an excellent choice of subject for the London 2012 Festival.

The Michael Werner Gallery is actually two rooms on the first floor of a posh building in Hedge Fund City (Mayfair) but it was the location for 10 new paintings by Peter Doig so a visit was mandatory. They are excellent works, but 10 paintings doesn’t really constitute an exhibition in my book!

I don’t really do queuing, but the 60 minutes wait for Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican Centre was well worth it. You walk through a tropical downpour, but as you do the rain stops wherever you are. It’s brilliantly lit, so you get changing visual images and shadows as you move through the installation. Huge fun!

Art of Change at the Hayward Gallery showcased nine Chinese installation artists and contained some very original work. I was convinced one piece was a sculpture a la Ron Muek, then they closed the space to change performer and I was gob-smacked; how he maintained the position is beyond me.

I did a fascinating backstage tour of Shakespeare’s Globe – from heaven (the attic) to hell (understage) and followed it by viewing the photographic record of the Globe to Globe season at the entrance to its exhibition space. It brought back many fond memories of a unique experience and of course I had to buy the book!

At the Southbank Centre, the annual exhibition of art by offenders didn’t seem as good as last year, but they’ve extended the range of work on show and started selling some. It remains an annual must-see anyway.

The Photographers Gallery has a fascinating little exhibition called Shoot! Existential Photography which is about something I’d never heard of – shooting galleries where you aim for a target whilst a photo is taken of you. It’s extraordinary how similar people’s expressions and poses are and there’s one series of a Dutch woman who had one taken almost every year from 1936 to 2008, so you see her age in minutes.

The pairing of photographers William Klein & Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern is inspired. They’re very different photographers yet somehow the contrast adds value. Klein is in-your-face, dramatic and challenging while Moriyama is more subtle and mysterious. I loved them both, but Klein most of all. By contrast, A Bigger Splash at the same venue is for me a bigger disappointment. It seeks to explore the connection between painting and performance. The first half was mostly film and photos of people throwing paint over themselves and the second half a bunch one-room installations, most of which left me cold. Yawn.

The NPG is a lovely place to pop into when you have a spare few minutes and this time it was a lot of minutes, two exhibitions and a handful of displays. The Portrait Photo Award Exhibition is terrific this year and includes a handful of the known (unflattering Victoria Pendleton but flattering Mo Farrah) amongst the unknown. The Lost Prince commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of the prince who would have been Henry IX had he lived (and given that Charles I got the job, may have changed British history). Though it was interesting, had I not been a member and paid the £13 admission, I’d have felt somewhat cheated – another one of those excuses for a paying exhibition?

Bronze is one of the best exhibitions the Royal Academy has ever mounted. With pieces spanning 3500 years and organised thematically rather than chronologically, it was simply captivating. Somewhat surprisingly, the oldest were north European finds and the greatest revelation was the wealth of extraordinary pieces from West Africa. Unmissable.


Skyfall was the first film I’ve seen in the cinema for over six months so that could be part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. There are fewer locations and maybe less action, but focusing on London and bringing the character of M to the fore was no bad thing. Ben Wishaw is a great new Q and there were some excellent cameos, notably from Albert Finney as an old Scottish retainer. I did think Javier Bardem’s baddie was a bit too much of a caricature though.

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