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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’

For Mark Rylance’s return to Shakespeare’s Globe, as Iago, he’s paired with American actor Andre Holland as Othello, in a pared-down production by his wife, and the Globe’s former Director of Music, Claire van Kampen, and it’s good to report its success.

With just twelve actors, running at a little over 2.5 hours, there are cuts in both lines and roles, some doubling up and two actresses play male roles, but none of these changes seem to damage Shakespeare’s tragedy. If anything, by concentrating on the six main characters the story has more focus. Holland is a fine Othello, with his accent further emphasising the character’s difference. Rylance shows us a multi-faceted Iago, with touches of flippancy and humour, often speaking and moving around quickly, with makes him seem even more villainous. Emilia, too, gains in significance. It has more pace, without damaging the intimate scenes. Jonathan Fensom’s design concentrates on the costumes, which are excellent, so the performances can breathe in a largely unadorned space.

Holland and Rylance make a fine pairing, but there are other great performances too. Sheila Atim’s superb Emilia is particularly good in the final scene where she realises the role her husband has played in her mistresses demise, and she closes the show singing beautifully. Jessica Warbeck as Desdemona handles her emotional roller-coaster well, and has great chemistry with her husband. Aaron Pierre is a passionate Cassio, a professional stage debut no less. The characterisation of Roderigo is unusual, highly strung and effete, but it made him more interesting, and Steffan Donnelly played him very well.

After the audience ruined my evening at The Two Noble Kinsmen recently, I said that this might be my last visit to Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre gods must have been listening, as last night’s audience was respectful and rapt, with moments where you couldn’t hear a pin drop, erupting in appreciation at the end. This was indeed a fine night at the Globe.

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Playwright Rory Mullarkey seems to be very skilled at persuading the artistic directors of some of our high profile theatres to stage his work. If only he was as good at turning his interesting ideas into good plays. The Wolf From The Door was put on Upstairs, his adaptation of The Orestia was staged at Shakespeare’s Globe and Saint George & the Dragon found its way onto the Olivier stage at the National; all of them, like this, half-baked. Where are the dramaturges, literary managers and artistic directors when you need them?

An unemployed man kills time in the market square of a provincial town where a department store employee, on her day off, is showing round her her visiting dad. They decide to marry. The town is hit by multiple bombs, gunfire and lightning. This escalates to war between the ‘red’ and the ‘blue’ sides and before you know it it’s gone global. Cue cannibalism, a plague and an earthquake. All in one day. Sadly, the members of the Fulham Brass Band, who had been entertaining us since before it started, had gone home by 8pm.

They’ve thrown a lot of kitchen sinks into the production, and Chloe Lamford’s ‘design’, Anna Watson’s lighting and a lot of music, dancing and special effects add up to something spectacular. Let’s just say you’re unlikely to dose off. It doesn’t stop boredom though, and doesn’t paper over the lack of a coherent narrative. It feels like a whole load of ideas have thrown up on the Royal Court stage to create an anarchic mess. I thought it was dull. The nine performers, technical team and stage management work really hard.

I couldn’t help thinking how many budding playwrights are being kept of our high profile stages by something that frankly doesn’t deserve to be on them. The title seems to encapsulate it. Yet another disappointing evening at the Royal Court.

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I’m finding it increasingly difficult to enjoy an evening at the Globe. Nothing to do with the shows, but a lot to do with the audience, who’s behaviour appears to have deteriorated more than elsewhere, partly because the venue seeks to replicate Shakespeare’s period. On Friday I had to contend with simultaneous translation to my left, a middle aged couple making out in front, food & drink noise and talking all around, mobile phones, incessant photography and stewards attempting to stop the photography and in doing so walking loudly on the wooden floors, making it worse! I like to immerse myself in a show; these distractions make that impossible. I’ve been there many many times in its twenty year history, but the forthcoming Othello may be my last visit.

Based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, from the late 14th century Canterbury Tales, there now seems to be a consensus amongst scholars that this play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, towards the end of his career. The two kinsmen, Arcite & Palamon, are very good friends, both nephews of a discredited king, who find themselves in the custody of King Theseus. They both fall for Theseus’ sister-in-law Emilia, which sets them on an adversarial course. The king imprisons Palamon and banishes Arcite, before deciding they should fight it out for Emilia’s hand, the loser and his followers to be killed. When Palamon was in jail, the jailer’s daughter fell for him and this provides a sub-plot as her love for him sends her insane.

Though I’ve seen it before, I hadn’t grasped the fact that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is happening offstage while this story is being told; very clever. Barry Rutter’s production has the earthiness that became the trademark of his company Northern Broadsides, with excellent costumes by Jessica Worrell and music by folkie Eliza Carthy (which I’m afraid I thought was all over the place). It’s boisterousness suits the Globe, with songs and dances to sweep it along. Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker are well paired as the kinsmen and there’s a trio of charismatic royals from Jude Akuwudike as Theseus, Mayo Akande as Hippolyta and Matt Henry as Pirithous. Ellora Torchia as Emilia and Francesca Mills as the jailer’s daughter both delight.

I just wish I could have enjoyed it more, but don’t let that stop you.

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My two encounters with Shakespeare in this Globe mini-festival to celebrate his birthday earlier in the week were in Westminster Abbey and on the streets of The City and Southwark.

In the Abbey, we were invited to wander amongst the tombs of many of his historical characters, with actors popping up all over the place, individually, in pairs and small groups, speaking lines from his plays to individual visitors or small groups. Within minutes of entering, my first encounter was Mark Rylance close up in the transept giving Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy; many more followed. We ended up in a circle in the nave around the actors with lanterns, singing before they left the abbey in procession through the front door. A really unique, uplifting and emotional experience.

Forty hours later I arrived at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch, famously connected with James Burbage, who built London’s first theatre down the road, and his son Richard, the first Hamlet and the first Richard III. Collecting a map and a red rose, we set off in small unguided groups on the Sonnet Walk East, which took in the site of this first theatre, appropriately called The Theatre, the recently discovered Curtain Theatre, where Romeo & Juliet was first performed, and the site of the first and second Globe, ending at the third present day Globe where we wove our red roses with the white ones already in the theatre gates.

At ten points en route actors popped up to read sonnets or speeches, one a song. My first encounter, as it had been in the Abbey, was Mark Rylance, but you could only identify him by his voice as he read Richard III’s battle speech from inside a tent on the site of The Theatre (probably wise as he’s now been in three Spielberg films!). We were fooled several times when the people we encountered seemed to be someone else (well, they are actors) until they began speaking verse. This included the site foreman in hard hat at the building site on top of the ruins of the Curtain, who described the find and its preservation, then spoke his lines just as we were about to leave, a lady asking for a photo and a Globe volunteer. Sometimes we imagined passers by were actors, mostly wrongly but occasionally right.

Like the Abbey, this was a lovely experience and together bookended a great weekend. Mark Rylance devised both, so hats off to him.

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There are actually four Hans Christian Andersen tales adapted here. The rather sad Little Matchgirl bookends three lighter tales – Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea – two of which take up much more of the evening, a contrasting if odd combination.

Our narrator is Ole Shuteye and the five performers are collectively called Shuteyes (and the band The Swan Vestas!). The adaptations, by Emma Rice (who also directs) and Joel Horwood, have contemporary references, in particular in The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the weavers have become modern fashionistas and we get living designers name-checked and some Spice Girls music. Not all of this contemporary stuff works; it sometimes gets in the way of the magic of the fairy-tales and turns the show into posh panto for Waitrose customers, with Trump, Brexit and even cheating cricketers thrown in for good measure. It does work for the title tale though, where the contemporary spin involves war and homelessness.

Vicki Mortimer’s costumes are excellent and the original music by Stephen Warbeck, played by an onstage trio and one of the performers, is delightful. Niall Ashdown makes a cheeky and charming narrator as well as the gullible Emperor. Katy Owen and Guy Hughes were huge fun as the fashionistas and the latter made an excellent prince. Edie Edmundson’s puppet matchgirl melts your heart. It really does fit the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse like a glove.

There’s much to enjoy, but I do wish they’d reigned in the pantoesque stuff and concentrated on the magic of the fairy-tales, something Emma Rice does so well.

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This is what Emma Rice does best – creating theatrical magic. It’s her 4th such show in the last 2 years – Romantics Anonymous, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and this revival of her 2007 masterpiece, four of the best of her seventeen shows I’ve seen. It’s back in the same cinema, just down the road from the location of the film’s world premiere in Regent Street seventy-two years ago.

It interweaves the film’s story of the relationship between Laura and Alec with playful scenes involving the other characters at the station – Asst. Station Master Albert and Refreshment Room Manager Myrtle and her assistants Beryl and Stanley, two other rather less serious couplings. It takes us from the moment Alec removes grit from Laura’s eye in the refreshment room at Milford Junction station, through their regular meetings at the station, in the cinema, the cafe & restaurant and in the flat of Alec’s colleague Stephen, to the crunch will-they-won’t-they denouement back at the station.

It flows beautifully from scene to scene, location to location, using film footage, songs with lyrics by Noel Coward and music by Coward and Stu Barker, and every trick in the inventive staging book. The cleverest thing about it is that the fun scenes don’t contaminate the love story, helped by the fact Isabel Pollen as Laura and Jim Sturgeon as Alec play it straight throughout. Lucy Thackeray’s Myrtle, Dean Nolan’s Albert, Beverley Rudd’s Beryl and Jos Slovick’s Stanley are all an absolute joy to behold, and if that isn’t enough they play another seven roles between them.

It’s a respectful homage to the film, which doesn’t for one moment send it up. The fun scenes add bucket-loads of charm and humour, and the two interwoven parts add up to one hell of an entertaining show. Though its hard to remember how you felt ten years ago, first time around, if anything I felt it was even better this time. Whatever you think of her two years at Shakespeare’s Globe, we’ve got Emma Rice back to create theatrical magic like this. I for one can’t wait for her next show.

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The story of the first global spy network 400 years ago is ripe for dramatisation, and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect place to stage it.

Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s spymaster. He had an international network of spies and double-agents. He spread false rumours on a wholesale scale. He sanctioned torture and execution. The master of manipulation. We don’t know whether he was doing the (possibly paranoid) Queen’s bidding or whether he was manipulating her, and the play suggests he may in turn have been manipulated himself.

Anders Lustgarten’s play, directed by Mathew Dunster, doesn’t hold back on the profanity or violence, even humour and cheeky modern references, which is where he shoots himself in the foot. Its flippancy hijacks the drama and the Queen’s language, perhaps intended to change our perception of ‘good Queen Bess’, just feels childish and tacky. Though they are funny, the cheap quips about our popularity in Europe and success at tennis, attempts at contemporary resonance, don’t help. It’s such a shame, because there’s a great story screaming to get out.

Designer Jon Bausor has created a brilliant two-story backdrop by putting screens at the front of the gallery that match the lower half, and inserting lots of drawers for Walsingham’s files. Apart from some light from the corridors, it is largely candlelit, though with fewer than usual, so its often very dark, in keeping with the story. I loved Alexander Balanescu’s music, played by a trio behind an the opaque left side of the gallery.

Only three actors play a single role, the other six playing between two and four, and this is sometimes confusing, particularly in the dark! Tara Fitzgerald has great presence but her profane dialogue weakens the characterisation. Walsingham is a big role, and he goes on a big journey, and Aidan McArdle handles it well. It’s a fine supporting cast.

A great idea, the perfect space, but for me misguided in writing and execution.

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