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Posts Tagged ‘Henry VIII’

Well I suppose you’re bound to have some controversy if you invite artists from 37 countries, but my heart sank as I approached The Globe for the 21st time in 38 days to find it resembling a war zone. Two groups of protestors – for and against, obviously – lots of police vans and officers, x-ray and bag searches on entry (via a special door). All I wanted on this sunny evening was my now customary Pimms and more of that drug called Shakespeare.

Though the disturbances were few and far between, it was hard to concentrate (particularly in the first half) on this Israeli  Merchant of Venice. The eyes of the audience (and the actors; I don’t know how they concentrated) moved to banners, ladies with taped mouths and the occasional cry or appropriate Shakespeare quote. I couldn’t clock the regulars I’d by now got used to seeing and talking to and I was as disturbed by this very partisan audience as I was by the protesters. I felt someone had hijacked MY festival and I felt violated. Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole addressed us, positioning the evening as art not politics, asking us to remain calm during the inevitable interruptions.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the interpretation was more sympatric to Shylock than many, in particular by inserting an opening scene showing him attacked by his anti-Semitic neighbours (including his subsequent victim Antonio) and a long sad journey from the stage at the end. The (Venice) carnivalesque style was clever and the trail scene (the whole second half) was expertly staged. There were fine performances from the entire company. Exiting the theatre through a police cordon was a sad end to the evening.

The Spanish drew the short straw with Henry VIII but they did an excellent job, with a particularly fine company of actors who commanded the whole stage like few others have. Their interpretation was also more sympathetic to their compatriot Katherine of Aragon, in particular with her ‘haunting’ the closing coronation and christening scenes; Elena Gonzalez was superb in this role. There was terrific music from a faux period organ above the stage and suitably royal costumes. There’s something delicious about an English lord talking in Spanish about his visit to the French court! The young German girl standing next to me, who spoke no Spanish and limited English, told me it was the best thing she’d done in her visit to London, which really made my day.

Like South Sudan before it, the appearance of a company from Afghanistan (with help from The British Council) was very welcome indeed. It was a somewhat broad staging of The Comedy of Errors, a little rough at the edges, but the combined enthusiasm of the cast and the audience swept it along on a wave of fun. Ephesus was Kabul & Syracuse was Samarkand (an excuse for a few jokes, like the dress of the arrivals from Uzbekistan!) but in other respects it was TCOA as we know it, played for laughs as it is meant to be. The Kitchen maid who lusts after a Dromio, played by a man in drag with a beard, brought the house down!

Across the river at the Barbican, you couldn’t have got a Shakespeare production further away from this – an epic staging of Cymbeline in Japanese by the Ninagawa company. His Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play I saw in a foreign language (so the addiction is his fault!) and I’ve seen a handful more of his since. Though I regretted buying a ticket without a practical view of the surtitles (more important with this rarer, more complicated play than any others), having seen it a few weeks ago (the South Sudan production at G2G, also a million miles away from this) and read the synopsis, I survived – and it allowed me to concentrate on the  visual feast before my eyes. It was surprisingly funny and somewhat moving at the denouement, but it was the epic staging of battles and beautiful visual images that captivated. Gorgeous!

It would have been nice to end on a high, but I’m afraid the German Timon of Athens showed the worst of (mainland) European theatre i.e. where the director thinks he knows better than the playwright and takes too many liberties. The Polish Macbeth took a lot of liberties, but it still got to the heart of the play, which for me this one didn’t. Giving the Germans a play about a spendthrift Greek was a bit of a gift given current events, but they didn’t really make the most of it! It will probably be remembered most for being the first exposed male genitalia (?) on the Globe stage.

This has been an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My only regret is that I missed 13 of them, especially those from Kenya, Macedonia and Belaruss – but of the 24 I did see, I left only 5 feeling disappointed, which is a better hit rate than my normal theatre going! Hopefully, The Globe will return to an annual visit from an overseas company (can we start by asking the Georgians back please?!), as they did in their early years. For now, though its back to English language Shakespeare with a deconstructed Hamlet inside a box, Henry V & Mark Rylance’s Richard III back at The Globe, Simon Russell Beale’s Timon of Athens at the NT, Coriolanus at an RAF base in Wales and Jonathan Pryce’s King Lear at the Almeida – oh, I forgot my 4th Polish Macbeth in Edinburgh!

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I really regretted not seeing this at The Globe last year. I’d booked for Henry VIII, but by the time I decided I also wanted to see this, I couldn’t make any of the remaining performances. So I was delighted when they brought it back – and that Miranda Raison was to return as AB.

Of course, four hundred years on there is a degree of speculation. Playwright Howard Brenton’s is that Anne was hugely influential in Britain’s return to Protestantism and lays the foundation for her grandson James I’s bible. In fact, the play starts with James, before flashing back to Anne, and returns to his time again later. Though it covers a fairly brief period, it was a very eventful one, packed with manipulation and intrigue by big hitters like Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and William Tyndale as well as the royals. We begin with the seeds of the romance between Anne and Henry VIII and end with her execution (well, actually start with that, but that’s the magic of theatre!).

Mirana Raison is excellent, but there are also fine performances from James Garnon as a punkish James I riddled with nervous twitches, Julius D’Silva as a manipulative Cromwell, Colin Hurley as an arrogant Wolsey, Anthony Howell as a besotted Henry VIII and a whole host of good supporting performances. John Dove’s staging is excellent, with entrances from front and sides as well as the back and a walkway thrust into the groundlings’ space providing an extra intimacy. Michael Taylor’s period costumes are authentic and elegant and William Lyons music highly effective.

I found the play fascinating and compelling, not in the slightest bit dry and earnest. It was captivating throughout, playful and funny and one of the best new plays they’ve ever done here at The Globe.

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