Tag Archives: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

“Emilia” from the Vaudeville Theatre

Archive recordings of shows can never match a live experience. But, thankfully, the energy that powers Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s 2018 play is so ferocious, exciting and contagious that this filming (far from the highest quality) still does this stirring play proud.

Lloyd Malcom uses the life of Renaissance writer Emilia Bassano to highlight modern concerns about representation, sexism and racism. I’ve seen it described as “mock history”, which sums up its irreverent tone if not quite doing justice to the anger in the piece.

That rage first: Bassano’s life story provides a framework for examining the prejudices women and immigrants face. There are efforts to highlight hope, too – calls for action as much as anger. If a balance was intended it has, surely, failed. But what’s wrong with angry? Bassano – “stifled, ignored, abused” – certainly had plenty to be cross about.

As for cheek, Emilia is a very witty play, with lots of jokes around period details and plenty of fun at the expense of men. Lloyd Malcom is a dab hand at deadpan lines that the cast deliver brilliantly. Unafraid of crudity or contemporary touches (a dance lesson proves a fantastic scene for Jenni Maitland as the Countess of Kent), the jokes are strong.

Lloyd Malcolm spoils us with ideas and loose ends result. There’s the notion of “muscle memory” that women have concerning feminine experiences that surely needs developing. And the matter of Emilia’s own privilege causes the play to stumble more than once. Part of acknowledging Emilia’s relative wealth, scenes with her as an educator (of working-class women) deserve to be a play in their own right.

This recording is of the show’s second outing after a premiere at Shakespeare’s Globe. Some of the charge of having Shakespeare as a character in Emilia might be diminished in the new location. In truth, this is not the strongest role, despite Charity Wakefield’s efforts. But the play isn’t hampered by the Vaudeville’s smaller stage and Luisa Gerstein’s music benefits from being indoors. Nicole Charles’ direction is excellent, keeping the action moving with well-placed pauses at emotional moments. Thanks to Charles the production is more contained and focused.

All involved excel at making Emilia clear. Getting hung up on period detail (well, any detail really) is avoided in favour of entertainment and polemic. That so much ground is covered, with such confidence, is aided by having Emilia represented by three actors. Which leads to a trio of fantastic performances from Saffron Coomber and Adelle Leonce, led by Clare Perkins. In a play whose project is to provide a voice to those ignored, these women prove the foundation for the production’s success.

Until 2 December 2020

www.emilialive.com

"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" from Shakespeare’s Globe

The three groups of characters within Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy provide possibly too easy a scheme to judge a production. But given director Dominic Dromgoole’s expertise with the work of Oscar Wilde, here’s hoping he forgives me for not resisting temptation and following it for a rough assessment of his superb 2013 production.

First, the doubled-up roles of those who rule – Athens and the fairy world – deliver two excellent performances. John Light makes a forceful Theseus and downright virile Oberon: there’s a perfect diffidence about his marriage to a not-so-willing bride and a gorgeous Irish brogue as he plays tricks on his fairy queen. Taking to the stage she is now in charge of as artistic director, Michelle Terry is wonderful as a still fiery Amazon and a Titania who engenders a good deal of emotion.

Our “hempen homespuns”, the workmen who put on a play within the play, are also superb. Led by Pearce Quigley as Bottom, a role he was surely born to play, the clog-wearing workers get laughs before they open their mouths. Quigley has some excellent ad-libbing and a deadpan tone that makes a nice change for the role; his ironic delivery of a “monstrous little voice” and an actor’s temper tantrum are two of many highlights. Moonshine’s dead dog is another!

With the final group of the four Athenian lovers, things aren’t so good. Demetrius and Lysander are too cartoonish and Hermia a touch bland. It’s left to Sarah MacRae’s Helena to get the laughs, try as hard as the others do, creating unbalanced scenes that drag a little. Two out of three doesn’t sound that great. But Dromgoole has a vision for the play as a whole that sets his work apart. Steeped in rural mysticism (aided by the work of designer Jonathan Fensom) that Shakespeare’s audience would have recognised and is appropriate for the venue, there’s a powerful cohesion to the production. With a surprising amount of violence, danger and some pretty scary spirits, Dromgoole brings a tension that the play can sometimes lack. You probably can’t have a perfect production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream but, with a nod to an unsettling nightmare, this one comes respectably close.

Available until 28 June 2020

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Wildgoose

“Macbeth” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Even a virtual trip to London’s South Bank is welcome during the current Covid-19 lockdown. Macbeth was filmed on a wet day earlier this year – how I miss that peculiarly British pastime of watching outdoor theatre in the rain, and would happily sacrifice the current fine weather for the chance to be a groundling again! Unfortunately, the uncomfortable fact remains that director Cressida Brown’s production – fast and full of ideas as it is – is below standard.

Brown is keen to keep the action moving and anxious to show she has fresh thinking to offer. While surely defendable in a debate, the ideas don’t work well on stage. Maybe there’s too much of an eye on provoking discussion in the school room? Too many innovations fail, and some are downright awful. It’s all the more disappointing as the relatively small cast works hard, only to end up burdened by the direction.

First the famous witches. They arise from a pile of dead bodies on the battlefield, which is a good idea. But all three fail to be scary. The attempts at a playful air aren’t even creepy. Driven by the reference to a “bloody child” in Act 4 scene 1, the apparitions of the witch’s “masters” are dolls… and the scene ends up closer to funny than fearsome.

That the Scottish court, with Georgia Lowe’s design, is a contrast to blood-stained soldiers isn’t bad. But making Dickon Tyrrell’s Duncan a golf-playing, egotistic fool (even if some rulers are just that) makes it hard to care about what happens to him. As for his son Malcolm, the idea of emphasising his schoolboy age makes sense but comes back to bite Brown and makes Aidan Cheng’s performance in the role regrettable. Putting him in shorts and Harry Potter glasses really doesn’t work when he tries to trick Macduff as to his “voluptuousness”. Cheng’s delivery is so uninspired that other characters don’t even bother to stay onstage and listen to him.

There are bigger ideas and surprises in the show. Most will be shocked that Lady Macbeth’s encounter with the doctor has disappeared – I assume there’s some academic thinking behind this, but it leaves the audience (let alone Elly Condron, who takes the role) a little cheated. That Lady Macbeth is visibly pregnant during most of the show fits in with a debate most do know about. But, without explicit references in the text, all Condron can really do is rub her padded tummy a lot. Oh dear.

Thankfully, the show still has points to enjoy. Condron’s chemistry with her husband is good; that their relationship fraught from the start aids her powerful performance. The dynamic between Macbeth and Banquo benefits from Samuel Oatley’s strong performance as the latter. Best of all, taking the title role, is Ekow Quartey. His Macbeth is puzzled, frightened and nervous, even suicidal at one point. Good at showing panic and great in his fight scenes, Quartey can work the crowd as he goes to “mingle with society” during the banqueting debacle. It’s just a shame that this fine Macbeth finds himself in such a poor production.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until UK secondary schools reopen on globeplayer.tv

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Grateful as I am for the various shows put online during lockdown, this one made me sad! Of course, this was never the intention behind Barrie Rutter’s fine production, but it only serves the truth that filmed versions highlight how much better live theatre is and why we miss it so much.

Having seen the show ‘for real’ and being happy to watch it again indicates the strength of Rutter’s work. This is far from Shakespeare’s finest play: written with John Fletcher, the love-at-first-sight romance seems ludicrous, the characters schematic and the themes of honour silly. If it weren’t for beautiful poetic moments (and the fact he isn’t guiltless of all three problems elsewhere) you’d question whether Will had anything to do it.

There is still a grandeur behind Moyo Akandé and Jude Akuwudike, who play Hippolyta and Theseus, showing us courtly concerns with a touch of humanity. And Ellora Torchia does well as the princess who has to choose between the titular heroes – one of whom will die – showing an appropriate incredulity as well as sensitivity. Staying centre stage when the final fight goes on, this “maiden-hearted” bride-to-be proves fascinating. The kinsmen, played by Paul Stocker and Bryan Dick, are great – suitably dashing but also funny – with a similar knowing air behind the performances. But, on film, none of this talent is quite enough to make it all engaging.

The camera shows up all the text’s troubles. Stripped bare, without the atmosphere of the theatre, the play drags and all the work done to inject energy or touches of cynicism is lost. The excellent treatment of “country pastimes”, including a fantastic dance, sounded much better live and were full of details lost in the filming. One criticism stands: the unrequited love of the jailer’s daughter (Francesca Mills), which literally drives her mad, is played too much for laughs. And on a screen this poor version of Ophelia feels even colder and crueller.

The biggest problem is that, with the camera dictating what we see, a sense of momentum doesn’t come across. With characters “beyond love and beyond reason”, it’s necessary to drive the action along, which Rutter did with distractions including music and musicians. It made for an effective night out. Nobody wants our theatres open again more than those who work in them, and this show reminds us how much better it is to see plays where they belong.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 17 May 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Romeo and Juliet” from Shakespeare’s Globe

This trip to the summer of 2009, generously available during lockdown from globeplayer.tv, is a classy affair that is blissfully difficult to find fault with. Director Dominic Dromgoole’s production has plenty of traditional touches – including gorgeous period costumes from designer Simon Daw – a fresh appreciation of the text from a cracking cast, and a seemingly effortless handling that makes it easy to recommend.

Dromgoole’s skill is clear – he makes the play tight and concise without losing any nuance. There’s a dark undertone appropriate to the star-crossed lovers that shows “violent delights have violent ends”. Ian Redford’s excellent Capulet possesses a frightening anger, while his wife’s grief for their nephew Tybalt’s death makes a fine scene for Miranda Foster. Both render palpable the vendetta that exists in Verona, presided over by a bruiser of a Duke lifted from London’s East End (an excellent Andrew Vincent). A sense of excitement is aided by some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen – congratulations Malcolm Ranson on those.

Alongside this drama, Dromgoole brings out a gentle humour in Romeo and Juliet that feels distinct and is delivered without too much exaggeration. Jack Farthing’s Benvolio benefits most but there’s also a strong turn from Fergal McElherron as a crowd-pleasing servant and Tom Stuart’s hapless Paris is watchable and endearing. The wordplay that makes up so much of the text feels light and witty – something that we are welcome to enjoy rather than scratch our heads over.

Ultimately, any production of Romeo and Juliet has to rely on its leads and this one benefits from a couple who gauge the tenor of the production perfectly. Adetomiwa Edun makes a charming Romeo and does especially well in showing how bright his character is. And there’s a dangerous edge; kicking Tybalt when he is down proves a startling move. Ellie Kendrick makes sure her Juliet is a “soft subject” for “Heaven’s stratagems”. Shy and modest until tragedy strikes, she ends up shaking with grief. Enforcing the youth of the couple proves effective. Dromgoole makes sure the action escalates as we see the youngsters trapped in events beyond their control. Excellent work from tense start to tragic finish, with a confidence that ensures, along the way, we come to care for and admire them both.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 3 May 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Hamlet” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Six free plays to help theatre-goers on lockdown, along with lots of interesting content and even the show’s programmes, have been made available by Shakespeare’s Globe. My first choice, the one I most regretted not seeing when I had the chance, was Michelle Terry’s performance as The Dane. Marking Terry’s appointment as the venue’s artistic director in 2018, while a female Hamlet is nothing new, it was a bold risk. It’s pleasing to say the confidence paid off – Terry is fantastic and the production very good.

Directed by Federay Holmes and Elle While, aside from having a woman in the title role (which surely shouldn’t shock… but still) this is a sensible, even traditional, show. There are even, mostly, period costumes in Ellan Parry’s design – all a part of rendering the play accessible and the delivery natural. As a part of these admirable qualities, this is also a snappy show, just over two-and-half hours, with sensitive cuts and an unerring eye on keeping the action moving.

The production is a model of clear-thinking. Benefitting most is James Garnon’s Claudius, whose delivery is remarkably fresh. A poor schemer (after all, most of his plots fail), he often seems confused and struggling with the situation – an interpretation that adds interest and tension. Garnon’s is an understated performance, a quality shared by Helen Schlesinger’s Gertrude – at first frosty, “when sorrows come”, she reacts magnificently.

It might be better if the admirable restraint was universal. Shubham Saraf’s Ophelia and Bettrys Jones’ Laertes both come across as hysterical in contrast; their roles are used as a foil to the royal family a little clumsily. And I suspect it will surprise no one that Pearce Quigley’s Rosencrantz is played for laughs: in this instance his comic talents are something of a shame. The accompanying Guildenstern (Nadia Nadarajah) uses sign language, which proves fascinating, and Quigley comes across as a distraction.

These are quibbles in what is a very fine production. Holmes, While and Terry carry clarity into the production’s argument. Of Hamlet’s actions and emotions, they would claim, “it is not madness” – a position adhered to with consistency and made convincing. Terry delivers the “wild and whirling words” with credible mania. And she can be scary – not just when she looks like a demented clown. But what happens if you don’t think Hamlet is mad? Taking him as “sweet and commendable”, Terry invests incredible emotion into his plight. The soliloquies are always intense, but Terry makes them more emotional than ever. Like the “sweet Prince”, I often had a tear in my eye, making this a Hamlet to remember.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 19 April 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" at Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s comedy, containing all manner of trials for married life, could well be the perfect fit for the South Bank venue that bears his name. In Elle While’s production, the often broad humour enjoyed in productions at The Globe is in full force. The show is as smutty as it is witty, all out to include the crowd, and a great deal of fun.

The setting for Sir John Falstaff’s efforts to become a gigolo – and the plots to stop him – is updated to the 1930s. The decade provides some lovely costumes from designer Charlie Cridlan while Frank Moon’s music adds a great deal of energy. But the production is very much for today, with an eye on the #metoo movement the men here are pretty awful. I’ll not argue with the observation but there’s a danger, as men try to tyrannize wives and daughters, that the comedy will turn sour; it’s While’s achievement that the play still manages to be funny.

With the husbands, who aren’t really going to be cuckolded, Forbes Masson has a nice line in apoplectic rage while Jude Owusu does well with his character’s jealousy. The men who surround their houses, a trio of suitors and a Welsh parson, are also easy to laugh at (with Richard Katz’s ‘Allo ‘Allo accent making him stand out). Meanwhile, Falstaff becomes a real villain. The interpretation is fair enough when you consider his plans. Pearce Quigley’s performance is undoubtedly a success: his deadpan delivery gets a lot of laughs and his plentiful adlibs, while getting most of their charge from seeming irreverent, are good. Just one question, against all the odds, don’t we want Falstaff to have some charm?

There’s no doubting Quigley’s success with physical comedy – he can really hold a stage. Indeed a big key to the success of the show lies with its continual movement, most obviously with Sasha Milavic Davies’ choreography and a lovely little recap scene that is mimed. But a combination of manic dashes and confident surveying of the stage are carefully balanced throughout. The Merry Wives of Windsor isn’t a true farce, the pace is different and While understands that. You can see the combination in Falstaff’s final humiliation, when the cast mask themselves for a fairy masque, (which will look quite lovely when the weather improves) – here’s a scene marked by a wonderful sense of rhythm.

The real triumph of the production comes with the women in the play which it brings to the fore and makes the real stars. Sarah Finigan and Bryony Hannah take the leads as the eponymous wives and give delightful performances. They’re joined by a feisty Anne, the wonderful Boadicea Ricketts, who excels at carrying the show’s story of young love. And the play’s democratic bent adds further joy with its working class figures. There’s Mistress Quickly, of course, but a clever recasting of the local landlord as a hostess makes both Anita Reynolds and Anne Odeke major roles that add heart to the show. Revelling in its female characters, While delivers not just merry wives, but merry women all around, and a happy audience as well.

Until 12 October 2019

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Helen Murray

"Edward II" at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

While few productions at Shakespeare’s Globe lack contemporary touches, it doesn’t seem too reactionary to suggest that the venue’s glorious indoor site needs them the least. Nobody wants theatrical reconstruction – impossible anyway – but seeing a play in a manner close to that experienced by Christopher Marlowe’s original audience is a special thrill. Congratulations to director Nick Bagnall for this surprisingly traditional affair. Ironically, amidst so many interpretations and so much theory in the theatre, it makes for a refreshing change.

While Bagnall presents the story of England’s troubled king and his love affair with lower-class servants simply – making great use of the space, particularly the candlelight, and its unique intimacy – he isn’t enthralled by the text. As a strict editor, he presents a complex plot efficiently and isn’t held captive by it. Doubling – and trebling – of roles by the hardworking cast is expertly handled (special praise for Annette Badland and Sanchia McCormack), making the action clear throughout.

Plot is to the fore – it’s an interesting story, after all. Emotional impact is ensured by strong performances, primarily from Tom Stuart in the lead role, who gives us a man it’s hard not to sympathise with, despite his flaws. There’s charismatic work from Beru Tessema as Edward’s first love, Gaveston, and a superb performance from Colin Ryan as the replacement in the king’s affections, Spencer. Cleverly, there’s little eroticism in the production – the men’s concern is with status more than sexuality – and, arguably, Bagnall takes us closer to Marlowe’s concerns than contemporary ones.

A focus on the action does deprive us on one point, though. While it’s clear an effort has been made to make the role of Edward’s queen central, Katie West struggles with the part. Isabella’s own obsession with Edward, an essential counterpoint that could make her seem just as unstable as her husband, is missing. Even worse, the depths of Isabella’s relationship with the treacherous Mortimer (Jonathan Livingstone) – that they “kiss while they conspire” – are unexplored. The delivery of these fascinating characters is far too flat.

This is a close study of the play, which has resulted in careful insight. Polly Frame’s Kent has a wonderful final scene: as the shock of the character’s execution dawns, her role comes into focus magically. And there’s terrific work from composer Bill Barclay. Bagnall deals superbly with a text that, while containing wonderful poetry – delivered especially well by Stuart and Tessema – also has a lot of narrative detail. Constant direct appeals to the audience (making us Edward’s judges many times) and a remarkable dynamism in the performances all add to a solid, quality production.

Until 20 April 2019

www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Emilia” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Ostensibly an historical biography of poet and proto-feminist Emilia Bassano, playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and her director Nicole Charles have current times very much in mind for a play that’s about sexism and racism.

The key move is to use the fact that little is known about Bassano. If the name rings a bell, it’s as the reputed ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets: the casting takes this literally to examine prejudices suffered due to race as well as gender. The wish is to reclaim women and minorities in history, and the result is unashamedly political.

The language alone tells you the target is the here and now. There’s talk of positions of privilege and mansplaining and, when it comes to dancing, they “slay”. Lloyd Morgan’s many eloquent turns of phrase include a motif of “uprooted growth” for Bassano’s African origins: a heritage that means she is used as a “curiosity” at court – a double whammy of abuse.

We get not one but three Emilias, who are all impressive. Led by a magisterial Clare Perkins, there are strong performances from Vinette Robinson and Leah Harvey, who work together to take us through the character’s life.

Leah Harvey and Charity Wakefield

The all-female ensemble supports with vigour in a variety of roles, most entertainingly when taking on male parts. Sophie Russell’s Lord Howard is great, with a brilliant dash of Lord Flashheart from Blackadder. And we get to meet Will Shakespeare himself – a delicious performance from Charity Wakefield – who gets a poor rap considering he’s one reason we’re all sitting on the Southbank. Appropriating some of Bassano’s lines, he’s part of the problem, saved only by being amusingly ineffectual. Emilia is specially commissioned for The Globe, a scene is set in the theatre and Charles uses the space superbly – maybe the chance to resist bardolatry was irresistible.

It seems safe to say Lloyd Malcolm hopes to stir debate. Uncomfortable parallels with Elizabethan immigration policy are leapt on and Emilia’s wish for a “voice” is a recurring theme. There are some problems: religion is mostly omitted and considering class brings a lot of trouble. Emilia comes to see her own privilege and, as is de rigueur, has to be reminded that victimhood isn’t a competition by a circle of sisterly support, Yet with the working-class women Emilia befriends, somewhat miraculously, we are in tarts-with-hearts territory too quickly.

This is an openly angry affair and that may turn some people off. Yet the sense that theatre can do something, a calling to account and an empowerment, is sincere and moving. But it does have an unfortunate consequence. The play destines itself to fail as biography: the action is too brief, taking on too many key moments (a baby daughter’s death feels especially truncated), when fewer might have been addressed in more depth. The result is little sense of Emilia as an individual. The character can’t get away from the – always admirable – arguments. You can cheer along with many of the sentiments, but is there a question that Emilia is merely being used all over again?

Until 1 September 2018

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Helen Murray

"The Two Noble Kinsmen" at Shakespeare's Globe

This is Michelle Terry’s first season as artistic director on Bankside. And good luck to her. While she takes on Hamlet, and has programmed other big beasts, it’s notable and reassuring that there is new writing to come later in the summer, and the chance to see this less performed work, penned later in life by Shakespeare working with John Fletcher. Colourful and crowd pleasing, this production is an accessible and entertaining introduction to the piece.
Following the adventures and love rivalry between the titular cousins, Arcite and Palamon, as they battle for marriage to Emilia, is quite the tale, crazily combining courtly manners, ancient gods and plenty of characters who are literally mad for love. Director Barrie Rutter, of Northern Broadsides fame, has only worked at the Globe once before but shows a clear command of the space. There are strong costumes from Jessica Worrall and lots of music from Eliza Carthy. Any incongruous notes go to show how much Rutter wants to reach out and grab the audience’s attention, hence the story is clearly presented, the staging swift and the action exciting.
This is an actors’ production. Rutter makes a focal point of the performances, rather than any kind of concept or argument, and the result is relaxed and enjoyable. Right from the start there’s the stylish Jude Akuwudike as Theseus and Moyo Akandé as Hippoltya to impress, while Ellora Torchia plays their sister Emilia and excels with the plot’s incredulous moments – of which there are many. The play rests with the leading men, and Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker deservedly steal the show. They can both cut a dash as heroic figures making us (almost) believe in their desire to die to for love, while also enjoying their sudden rivalry.
It can be tricky to have fun with Shakespeare – some people get upset if you try. But here the jibes at valour and exaggerated love are so convincing there’s a case that Bard’s efforts with Fletcher have their own knowing irony. There’s still the suspicion that the piece wouldn’t be performed without Shakespeare’s name attached as the concerns and references are too arcane. But the production makes a strong case for the play, undaunted by its oddity and rooting itself in heady emotions that remain recognisable.
Until 30 June 2018
www.shakespearesglobe.com