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You have to admire the ambition of Shakespeare’s Globe. A year after they produce all of the Bard’s plays, each in a different language, they announce a 2-year Hamlet tour to every country in the world – all 205 of them! This show is also ambitious, albeit on a smaller scale than the other two projects, and though they don’t quite pull it off, I still admire the way it stretches the Globe yet again.

I’m not sure why the play is called Gabriel. It isn’t in fact a play, it’s an ‘entertainment’ that includes a number of playets written by Samuel Adamson and a lot of music. The tales involve characters from the late 17th century, including Purcell whose music they use, and appear to be based on true stories. They also include Queen Mary and her nephew the young Duke of Gloucester, trumpeter Matthew Shore and his sons and theatre producers Rich and Betterton. The trumpet is the key as it apparently came about when trumpeter Alison Balsom (who appears / plays) expressed a wish to appear at The Globe and here is the crux of the problem – it appears to be a bit of a vanity project, and you can see the artifice.

There is a much to enjoy. The music is gorgeous and the period trumpet seems entirely at home on this stage. Some of the tales are very funny; I particularly liked the first scene involving the watermen, brilliantly characterised as the black cab drivers of their day, and a satire on opera audiences (nothing changes, it seems). It’s often racy – I can’t even begin to tell you how Kate is rewarded for giving an acting lesson – and an infectious bawdiness lingers over the proceedings. It even contains the most original use of the trumpet – using its bell to cover a man’s private parts! It has clearly been well rehearsed and the idea of staging the sort of semi-opera of the period is an excellent one. Sadly, it doesn’t produce a cohesive evening. The tone changes too dramatically at times, it comes over as a bit of a rag bag and at 2 hours 45 minutes, it’s about 30 mins too long.

The musicians play well whilst moving around and there are some fine performances, in particular from sometime Nancy Jessie Buckley who sings Purcell’s songs beautifully and acts well (including when she’s getting her reward for an acting lesson!). Jonathan Fensom’s period costumes and design are excellent and the space is well used, with a platform jutting out at the upper level, linked to the stage by a staircase. The stage itself has grown three oval wings, which opens up the action (albeit at the expense of the grounding’s space).

This was only the third performance and Dominic Dromgoole’s staging was a bit ragged at the edges, particularly with the dance and movement, but it will have to sharpen and shorten significantly to be a real success. They also need to look at the audibility issues, as some dialogue is lost when there is music in the background. That said, I don’t regret going and admired its ambition and originality, the music and the humour.

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