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Posts Tagged ‘World Shakespeare Festival 2012’

I first came across Spanish director Calixto Bieito when he directed the opera A Masked Ball at ENO. Given that the opening scene was a dozen men sitting on toilets, it’s hard to forget. If he wasn’t 49, we’d still be calling him an enfant terrible. My next exposure to his work was theatrical, with a surreal version of Celestina in the Edinburgh Festival, made even more surreal by the running commentary of the deaf people sitting next to us! 

Whatever you think about his work , he is a bit of a one-off and I find it hard to resist going to see things by him. On this occasion, I wish I had resisted though. It was as pointless as it was original and as meaningless as it was inventive. A ‘mash-up’ of Shakespearian lines loosely connected by forest settings in general, and the Forest of Arden in particular. Visually, it’s mostly shock and awe with some nudity, a tree and a lot of earth. It’s one redeeming feature was fascinating musical settings of some of the verse by Spanish singer Maika Makovski who also sings, plays piano and performs (on one occasion face down in the earth).

I don’t think I’ve looked at my watch so many times in the theatre ever before. 100 minutes seemed like 200. In short, a daft idea executed self-indulgently. A disappointing ending to the World Shakespeare Festival and along with the Brazilian Richard III at the Roundhouse, its low point.

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Another trip to Wales, this time to see the National Theatre of Wales ‘mash-up’ of Shakespeare’s play and Brecht’s mid-20th century left-wing spin on it. This one’s in a disused aircraft hangar at RAF St. Athan. It’s extraordinary.

They’ve solved the three great problems of site-specific promenade productions. You have headphones, so you can hear every word. There are two giant screens, so you needn’t miss a thing. You’re not marshalled or herded around, so no distractions built in.

The hangar is divided in two by a double wall so you really do move from Rome to Antium when you walk through the gap. You are the people, so they’re often speaking directly to you; when they’re not, they are in cars & vans (that move) or caravans (that don’t) and you eavesdrop on their conversation on the big screens and through your cans. The play acquires a depth which I’ve never experienced before. The heroic story. The contempt for the people. The loyalty to his mother. The political shenanigans.

You feel like you’re in the middle of events as they unfold. Everything is in black & white like CC TV. This really is happening and you have to decide where you stand. Are you for him or against him? It’s extraordinarily contemporary.

Technically, Mike Pearson & Mike Brooks production is masterly. The combination of live video and personal audio with live dialogue & music is terrific, but it doesn’t get in the way of the dramatic flow of the play – to the contrary, in heightens it. The performances are exceptional too. On a  number of occasions I felt like Coriolanus was looking directly at me, connecting with my inner thoughts; Richard Lynch is outstanding in the tile role. Rhian Morgan as his mother Volumia is superb. Richard Harrington is an excellent Aufidius. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting.

I was captivated by this play like I’ve never been before; the staging isn’t a gimmick, it’s a liberation of the story and the text and Coriolanus has never been more compelling or thrilling.

Based on my three visits to NTW, this company is very special indeed; I will be making more 340-mile round-trips – work this good doesn’t happen that often. The undoubted highlight (in English) of the World Shakespeare Festival.

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I love seeing Shakespeare in other languages. I got the addiction when I saw Yukio Ninagawa’s Japanese (Shogun period – cherry blossom time) Macbeth at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. Lots of other Ninagawa Shakespeare’s followed – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus and a Kabuki Twelfth Night – plus a Swedish Hamlet at the NT. When the Globe first opened, we got one visiting company each year, starting with a terrific Zulu Macbeth, a Japanese Comedy of Errors, Cuban Tempest, Brazilian Romeo & Juliet and a kathakali King Lear from India. For some reason they then dried up……so how thrilled was I when The Globe announced 37 productions, each in a different language and a groundling season ticket for £100! Well, I was never going to get to them all (as a season ticket holder, you have to mostly do matinees) but I was going to do as many as I could.

The weather wasn’t kind in the first week, but I managed four out of seven, starting with the South African Venus & Adonis. The company that brought The Mysteries and Carmen to Wilton’s and Magic Flute and Christmas Carol to the Young Vic created a musical staging of the epic poem, with seven Venus’ passing their (wedding?) dress from one to the other like a baton in a relay. The singing was glorious, the staging captivating and their enthusiasm infectious. They were clearly thrilled and proud to be there and we shouted and cheered our appreciation.

Next up, Troilus & Cressida in Maori! Well, who’d have thought you could relocate it from ancient Greece to the ancient Antipodes so successfully? Intra-Maori war instead of the Trojan wars and thrilling it was too. The kathakali King Lear showed how you could act with facial expressions – well, the Maoris did too, adding tongue and buttock acting for good measure! It was occasionally funny (Achilles lover was a Maori Mr. Humphreys!) but mostly action-packed thrills. Another standing ovation (well, I was already standing, so I cheered) for another hugely talented bunch who seemed thrilled to be celebrating with us on Will’s birthday.

The Russian Measure for Measure was a complete contrast but a great production nonetheless. They roughed up the stage with litter to create a decadent Vienna, the Duke and Angelo were played by the same actor, making the point (I think!) that the Duke’s lust for Isabella was no better than Angelo’s. The acting was brilliant and somehow the play made more sense to me in Russian than it ever has in English!

I suspect the Greek Pericles was great if you understood Greek. I knew the play (I’ve seen them all) and again I read a synopsis beforehand and the synopsis provided for each scene on screens in the theatre, but the storytelling style of this production meant you really did miss the dialogue. The lack of any ‘production’ as such put all the focus on the words that you couldn’t understand. A disappointment, I’m afraid.

Week Two was a full house for me and it got off to a cracking start with the Korean A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With wonderful make-up and costumes, this very athletic show dumped the rude mechanicals and focused entirely on the main story. Puck was twins and Bottom turned into a pig rather than a donkey. It may not have pleased the purists, but it was completely in the spirit of Will’s play and a joy from start to finish. The actors of Yohangza Company came into the foyers for photos and meet & greet so we were able to thank them for coming.

I had high hopes of Julius Caesar ‘coming home’ to an Italian company. Sadly, in the hands of a seemingly avant-garde director, we got a static, slow, dull and irritating interpretation. There was a lot of stuff with mobile doors and other directorial conceits and even if you told me they were offering free Chianti in the second half, I still couldn’t have been persuaded to return.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, with the help of the British Council, were very brave to tackle Cymbeline. It wasn’t as refined as much of what had gone before or will no doubt follow, but it was quite possibly the true spirit of this festival and thoroughly enjoyable. The actors had real presence, projected brilliantly, with superb audience contact and their excitement at being part of it all was infectious. The play ends in peace and one can only hope these people find peace, despite the news stories that very same week. Lovely.

When Titus Andronicus started, we were confronted with the actors from Hong Kong company Tang Shu-Wing sitting on chairs in an arc, dressed in white, grey or black depending on their ‘allegiance’. The first two acts were presented as a summary, lasting less than 30 minutes, as they spoke and struck poses with no interaction. Just as I was thinking ’it’ll be over in an hour’, they revert to more normal staging for the ‘meat’ of the play (sorry!). The acting was absolutely brilliant and I was captivated for the rest of this most bloodthirsty of plays. Despite the body count, there was no blood (or onstage baking!) but the tale of revenge was brilliantly told.

Richard II was presented by Palestine company Ashtar Theatre. It was a tense, angry and passionate production, with Richard as a charismatic manic rather than an introvert. The English names interspersed with the Arabic dialogue (blah blah blah Mowbray blah blah Ireland blah blah blah) brought a smile to my face. The uprising of five, entering through the audience waving flags, faces covered with scarves, was surprisingly effective and the staging of the negotiations was light-hearted but very clever. I was enjoying it very much, but sadly by now too exhausted to see it through to the end.

The week ended with Othello: The Remix, a Hip Hop story (rather than Shakespeare’s play as such) from Chicago’s Q Brothers. The theatre was packed and the average age had reduced by decades. The four actors rapped virtually the whole thing in 75 minutes, with the help of a DJ of course, dumping all but the eight main characters. It was largely played for laughs, yet the story was intact, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when Desdemona was dying. Othello was the king of Hip Hop and Desdemona was a singer (represented here just by her recorded voice) and it all happens when they’re on tour. I would have liked to have got more of the clever verse – the amplification, background sounds and street style vocal buried a lot of it – but it was a quartet of four virtuoso performances and a real buzz in the house. Somehow, I think Will (and Sam) would have been thrilled.

I only managed four again in Week Three and it wasn’t the most exciting start. I had high hopes for Dhaka Theatre’s Tempest but I’m afraid it was a mere squall. There was something about the exaggerated movement (particularly the silly walks!) which irritated and for me it was colourful but neither dramatic nor magical, I’m afraid.

The next day, though, the Polish Macbeth restored honour to European theatre – with bells on! A very radical and filleted modern staging was no doubt detested by the purists. The witches were drag queens (who cruised in the audience and sang I Will Survive on cue!), Macbeth’s riotous victory party saw the vodka-fuelled King dad dancing to Billy Jean and most of the male characters seemed to spend a large part of the time in their underwear. It came in at under 2 hours (with interval!), yet I thought it completely captured the power-crazed madness that is the heart of the play.

I’ve been to all the Balkan nations in recent years and thought the idea of asking three of them to each do one part of Henry VI was inspired. Perhaps arriving 40 minutes late (I thought it started at 1.30pm not 12.30pm) was part of the reason I couldn’t really understand what the Serbian‘s were getting at with their interpretation of Part I. The actors had great presence as very realistic noblemen at war, helped by some excellent period costumes. There were a large number of wrought iron pieces which kept being reconfigured into a snake-like platform, a circular ’maze’ etc. but I couldn’t see the point – they just got in the way of the action. What I really didn’t like was the misguided funny business, like a dumb-show illustrating the early life of Richard as Mortimer is relating it to him.

With a right royal history (including the brilliantly titled King Zog!), one should perhaps not be surprised that the Albanian Part II was a more regal affair. Again, actors with great presence, but I’m afraid the pacing was somewhat slow – with some scene changes taking so long you were wondering if we’d got to an interval / conclusion.

Work got in the way in Week Four, so I only got to three. Whilst I was in the Caucasus last year, the Armenians were announced as part of Globe to Globe and our guide said they were rather chuffed and looking forward to it – even though they had drawn a somewhat short straw with King John! Well, they arrived on the Globe stage one-by-one to a round of applause, each carrying a suitcase or trunk. In the first half I was finding it difficult to work out who’s who and what was going on (despite having just read a synopsis and following the scene summary surtitles), but by the second half I was having a fine time. It was an intriguing take on a difficult and rarely performed play and at the curtain call their joy at being here was clear, and the somewhat sparse audience did their best to return it.

Then came the Georgians with their As You Like It, which was a joy from start to finish. They did it as a play-within-a-play, the staging was full of invention and wit and the acting was superb. It was so utterly charming and delightful and completely in keeping with the tone of the play – without question the best AYLI  I’ve ever seen; a thoroughly uplifting experience which had us shouting and cheering at the curtain call. The director was a double for the Globe’s Dominic Dromgoole, which made me smile even more!

The Brazilian Romeo & Juliet was the only re-visit in Globe to Globe, as Grupo Galpao brought the same show here 12 years ago. My recollection is that it featured a cart, but now it features an onstage car! The cast of ‘clowns’ parade through the yard in carnival fashion, then zip through Shakespeare’s tragedy in 100 minutes. They play it largely for laughs, but when the tragedy hits, you couldn’t hear a pin drop and a little tear formed. Shakespeare narrated his own play (the actor is an uncanny double), Romeo spent most of the time on stilts (as did others), Juliet was a ballerina, Lady Capulet carried her pet cockatoo, the nurse bared her boobies and there was lovely ‘latin folk’ music. This was no conventional R&J, yet it seemed to me to be true to the spirit and yet another G2G treat, restoring Brazilian honour at the same time (I’d hated the Brazilian Two Roses for Richard at the Roundhouse just two days before).  The warmth at curtain time was mutual and heartfelt and, like the Koreans, they hung around for greetings and photos.

Only three in Week Five too (work up north this time), starting with a bizarre Japanese Coriolanus. This was hard to follow; the title character seemed to have a basket over his head most of the time and he was accompanied by just a chorus of four. Again I read the synopsis before it started and followed the scene descriptions on surtitles, but I’m afraid I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Perhaps having seen a handful of Ninagawa’s epic Japanese Shakespeare stagings (and another the same week!) I was expecting too much. A disappointment…..

…..unlike the Gujarati All’s Well That Ends Well, which was a huge treat. Relocated to early 20th CenturyIndia, it seemed completely at home.India’s caste / class tradition and attitudes to marriage somehow gave the play a particular relevance. There was some lovely musical accompaniment, lots of songs sung in character, some elegant dancing & lovely costumes, but above all a set of captivating performances. It was a sunny afternoon, and the show was as bright as the day – a charming, uplifting confection much like the Georgian As You Like It of the previous week. One of the best!

I wasn’t sure about the Turkish Anthony & Cleopatra when it started, There were a lot of distractions in a packed theatre and I was struggling to concentrate. I was won over by its pace and the quality of acting. The actors playing both title roles were excellent. Haluk Bilinger (a former EastEnder!) had great presence and authority as Anthony and Zerrin Tekindor played Cleopatra like a vamp on heat – they had terrific chemistry. Kevork Malikyan (also known to us from both TV and cinema screens) was an excellent Enobarbus, but I thought some of the smaller roles (messengers and attendants) were a bit overplayed. The simple staging (with excellent costumes) was very effective, particularly the sea battles played out by men swirling water-filled balls on chains – despite the fact I got wet (again – the Polish Lady Macbeth has drowned me!). No gimmicks. No liberties. Good storytelling.

Week Six, the final one, started somewhat controversially. 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 another 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!

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 fromKenya, 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 behind glass screens, 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 (what is it about Macbeth and the Poles?)!

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Seven years ago I was wowed by a site specific show which took place in Scotland’s Register House in Edinburgh and dreamthinkspeak, the company responsible for it, instantly became one to follow. Two years ago they blew me away with a show based on The Cherry Orchard over six floors of a disused department store in Brighton. This one, part of the World Shakespeare Festival and originated at the Brighton Festival, is completely different but just as inventive and original.

You stand in a dark space surrounded on four sides by reflective screens. At various times, films and images are projected onto the screens and they light up to reveal 10 rooms, three of which change during the 90 or so minutes running time. Scenes from Hamlet are enacted in modern dress in bedrooms, a bathroom, dressing room, office, a large lounge which takes up one side of the space and a boat! The characters are from Hamlet – Gertrude & Claudius, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Polonius, Laertes & Ophelia and Hamlet himself (oh, and The Ghost of course).

The story is surprisingly intact, though it’s not the whole of the play in exact chronological order. You have to change where you look as the scenes unfold in different ‘rooms’ and at times you don’t know where to look as things are happening all over the place. At one point almost everyone seems to be doing the ‘To Be or Not to Be’ speech in different spaces, starting at different times and overlapping. At another point, there are three versions of Hamlet’s bedroom simultaneously, with Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius each occupying one of them – Hamlet trashing it, Gertrude tidying it and Claudius searching it.

I don’t always like shows which mess around with classics (Katie Mitchell is the biggest culprit) but here you get the essence of the play even though you don’t get every word in the right order; but all the words are Shakespeares. Somehow, I got under Hamlet’s skin and fully understood how he felt as much, if not more, than any other production of the play. It was compelling, captivating and deeply satisfying.

Tristan Sharps staging, with design collaborator Robin Don, is impeccable. Technically, it’s a masterpiece. The performances are uniformly good. Edward Hogg had all the intensity you expect of Hamlet. Ruth Lass & Phillip Edgerley were superb as Gertrude and Claudius. Michael Bryher & Stewart Heffernan (any relation to John?) were playful and funny as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern and Richard Clews, Ben Ingles and Bethan Cullinane were a passionate trio as Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia. Thorston Manderlay’s Ghost stalked the proceedings atmospherically and occasionally scarily.

Apart from Globe to Globe, the World Shakespeare Festival has disappointed me so far, but this raises the bar with something sparklingly original that is brilliantly executed. If you’re interested in Shakespeare, you’d be bonkers to miss it.

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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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Only three this week (work up north!), starting with a bizarre Japanese Coriolanus. This was hard to follow; the title character seemed to have a basket over his head most of the time and he was accompanied by just a chorus of four. Again I read the synopsis before it started and followed the scene descriptions on surtitles, but I’m afraid I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Perhaps having seen a handful of Ninagawa’s epic Japanese Shakespeare stagings (and another this week!) I was expecting too much. A disappointment…..

…..unlike the Gujarati All’s Well That Ends Well, which was a huge treat. Relocated to early 20th Century India, it seemed completely at home. India’s caste / class tradition and attitudes to marriage somehow gave the play a particular relevance. There was some lovely musical accompaniment, lots of songs sung in character, some elegant dancing & lovely costumes, but above all a set of captivating performances. It was a sunny afternoon, and the show was as bright as the day – a charming, uplifting confection much like the Georgian As You Like It of the previous week. One of the best!

I wasn’t sure about the Turkish Anthony & Cleopatra when it started, There were a lot of distractions in a packed theatre and I was struggling to concentrate. I was won over by its pace and the quality of acting. The actors playing both title roles were excellent. Haluk Bilinger (a former EastEnder!) had great presence and authority as Anthony and Zerrin Tekindor played Cleopatra like a vamp on heat – they had terrific chemistry. Kevork Malikyan (also known to us from both TV and cinema screens) was an excellent Enobarbus, but I thought some of the smaller roles (messengers and attendants) were a bit overplayed. The simple staging (with excellent costumes) was very effective, particularly the sea battles played out by men swirling water-filled balls on chains – despite the fact I got wet (again!). No gimmicks. No liberties. Good storytelling.

So now it’s the last week. A Hebrew Merchant, Spanish Henry VIII, Afghan Comedy of Errors and a German Timon. I will have escaped London for Wales before the French get their hands on Much Ado or the Lithuanians gives us their Hamlet, but I will fit in Ninagawa’s Japanese Cymbeline at the Barbican! I wonder how the scenes in Wales will be played?…….

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Work got in the way this week, so I missed the Latin American Henry IV’s and the Belarus King Lear (which I am particularly sad to have missed). So it became the Caucasus meets Brazil.

Whilst I was in the Caucasus last year, the Armenians were announced as part of Globe to Globe and our guide said they were rather chuffed and looking forward to it – even though they had drawn a somewhat short straw with King John! Well, they arrived on the Globe stage one-by-one to a round of applause, each carrying a suitcase or trunk. In the first half I was finding it difficult to work out who’s who and what was going on (despite having just read a synopsis and following the scene summary surtitles), but by the second half I was having a fine time. It was an intriguing take on a difficult and rarely performed play and at the curtain call their joy at being here was clear, and the somewhat sparse audience did their best to return it.

Then came the Georgians with their As You Like It, which was a joy from start to finish. They did it as a play-within-a-play, the staging was full of invention and wit and the acting was superb. It was so utterly charming and delightful and completely in keeping with the tone of the play – without question the best AYLI  I’ve ever seen; a thoroughly uplifting experience which had us shouting and cheering at the curtain call. The director was a double for the Globe’s Dominic Dromgoole, which made me smile even more!

The weekend was bookended by Brazilian productions – first the RSC sponsored Two Roses for Richard at the Roundhouse, then Romeo & Juliet at the Globe. Richard didn’t get off to a good start as the surtitles were so small you couldn’t read them from the 8th row of the stalls, and they weren’t Globe-type scene synopsis but complete dialogue. It might not have mattered if it was a straight Richard III, but it was a Katie Mitchell style reinvention, so it became impossible to follow very quickly. From what I saw (the first half – there was no point in staying) it was one of those arrogant, pompous, pretentious directorial ‘deconstructions’, so maybe it was just as well I couldn’t understand it!

Back at the Globe on Sunday, the Brazilian Romeo & Juliet was cheese to Friday’s chalk. This is the only re-visit in Globe to Globe, as Grupo Galpao brought the same show here 12 years ago. My recollection is that it featured a cart, but now it features an onstage car! The cast of ‘clowns’ parade through the yard in carnival fashion, then zip through Shakespeare’s tragedy in 100 minutes. They play it largely for laughs, but when the tragedy hits, you couldn’t hear a pin drop and a little tear formed. Shakespeare narrated his own play (the actor is an uncanny double), Romeo spent most of the time on stilts (as did others), Juliet was a ballerina, Lady capulet carried her pet cockatoo, the nurse bared her boobies and there was lovely ‘latin folk’ music. This was no conventional R&J, yet it seemed to me to be true to the spirit and yet another G2G treat, restoring Brazilian honour at the same time. The warmth at curtain time was mutual and heartfelt and, like the Koreans, they hung around for greetings and photos.

I am so loving Globe to Globe. A Japanese Coriolanus? Bring it on!

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