Tag Archives: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

“The Duchess of Malfi” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

2014 is off to a great start for lovers of the stage, as the late Sam Wanamaker’s visionary plan for an indoor theatre, next to Shakespeare’s Globe, is now open. Deservedly taking Wanamaker’s name, this reimagining of a Jacobean indoor theatre is an exciting opportunity to see plays of the period in an authentic context.

So what’s it like? In a word: fascinating. The tiny space is instantly appealing. Candlelit, it is full of charm and even smells wonderful. The acoustics are shockingly good; this will surely be its major contribution to our understanding of Renaissance theatre. That it’s lit so differently to the theatres we are used to, and you can hear a pin drop, makes for a very different interaction between the audience and the play – one that, for me anyway, felt heightened and cerebral. It is also, it has to be admitted, rather uncomfortable. Bench seating is never luxurious and the theatre is crowded, potentially hot, with some awful sightlines. Go, but avoid the restricted view seats.

The first production is John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. The gore filled revenge story unexpectedly benefits from being staged in this space. It all seems much quieter than we are used to. Much more about listening to the horrors inflicted on a widowed Duchess who dares to marry again than seeing blood splattered everywhere. First directorial honours go to the Globe’s boss Dominic Dromgoole, who does a superb job embracing the new theatre. The famous scene where the Duchess is visited in the dark, which here really is pitch black, is thrilling.

Inevitably there’s the sense of a company still finding its feet. Gemma Arterton’s performance as the Duchess is understated and seems spot on as a result. But her wicked brothers, played by David Dawson and James Garnon, who oppose her marriage and then torture her when they discover it, seem overplayed as the play progresses.

Webster’s exuberant language often raises a smile nowadays but playing it for laughs (a common way of dealing with his wild metaphors) seems a missed opportunity here. Duke Ferdinand’s insanity certainly isn’t supposed to be funny nor, I am sure, are the mad people sent to live with the Duchess as part of her punishment. Just possibly, this is the place to play the text straight.

But these reservations only serve to support what is so exciting about this new old theatre. The chances it offers to explore well-known plays, and hopefully soon to rediscover lost works, make the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse brim with potential. London has a new star venue.

Until 16 February 2014


Written 17 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“Blue Stockings” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Education is, quite rightly, always a hot topic. While our own universities face many problems, even basic schooling is still denied to many around the world. With this in mind, Jessica Swale’s new play, Blue Stockings, which opened at the Globe Theatre last night, serves as a first-class tribute to those who fought for women to be able to graduate from Cambridge University.

On the brink of the 20th century, four young women and their tutors at Girton College are our heroines. Their determined pursuit of knowledge might have made them a little pious, but this is a jolly bunch, especially Tala Gouveia’s fur-clad, cosmopolitan Carolyn. What with that “modern miracle of engineering”, the bicycle, and that classic “French folk dance”, the Can-Can, there is plenty of fun to be had among all the inevitable (and occasionally portentous) discourses about the virtues of art versus science.

If £9,000 a year in fees puts some off university nowadays, the cost to these pioneers was different. Swale unfolds the price they paid gradually, and by the end we’re pretty hooked. The struggles of the college staff, played superbly by Gabrielle Lloyd and Sarah MacRae, and the sacrifice of ‘respectability’, is presented commendably. A disarmingly sweet love story for the lead role of Tess (wonderful Ellie Piercy) shows that a woman with an education was an isolated oddity, deemed a danger both to herself and to society. As the vote to allow women to graduate approaches, the tone darkens and events become disgracefully violent.

Appropriately enough, you’ll probably learn a lot from this play. These proto-feminists fight a tactical battle of ”patience and stealth”, forced to shun the suffrage cause in case it taints their demands. It’s only a shame that themes of class aren’t also developed, especially given a strong performance from Molly Logan as a poor scholar obliged to return home to look after her family. The play seems comfortable trapped in its period, using outrageous prejudices for comic effect; chaperoned silliness is performed well by Hilary Tones, but is overplayed.

Credit is given to the male tutors who taught at Girton (to the detriment of their own careers) but the many men in the piece otherwise come off poorly. And rightly so. Their two-dimensionality may be cartoonish but it serves a purpose — to enforce a connection with a contemporary audience. After all, Blue Stockings is also about the fight of an individual against the majority. The play graduates as a passionate plea for personal freedom, and its shocking conclusion shows just how long it has taken us to get where we are today.

Until 11 October 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 30 August 2013 for The London Magazine

“Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Olivier-Award-winning actress Eve Best makes her directorial debut at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer with an accessible and exhilarating production of Macbeth. It’s an assured first time effort that sends a chill down the spine even on a hot summer’s day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Best’s background, her version of the supernatural thriller puts the performers to the fore. Joseph Millson does a great job in the title role, his Macbeth’s fiery temper increasing the drama and sense of instability. Clearly at home in the Globe – like many of the cast, Millson’s direct addresses to the crowd create a sense of startling immediacy.

Best’s attention to her troupe only has one indulgence – an unnecessarily prolonged scene with the Porter. This aside, with such an excellent cast, giving every role its due is clever. Duncan’s court, at first sight, an array of powdered fops, develop their roles wonderfully and the short scene with Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is superb.

Full of prophecy and portents rather than politics, Best downplays militaristic bravado, and the female roles in the play benefit from this. The witches, for example, are a beguiling bunch, ironically harmonious, using movement and music to cast a spell. Their fright-factor is all the greater for its understated spookiness.

Samantha Spiro is the star of the show. Her Lady Macbeth is dynamic, her transformation into a Queen astounding, and her performance one of great depth. Macbeth clearly blames her for the path he sets foot on and an alarming scene of domestic abuse is a brave and electrifying take on their famous conjugal complicity.

Until 13 October 2013


Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 7 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Tempest” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Even if there’s still a chill in the air, for theatre-lovers the summer starts with a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe. The Theatre’s ‘Season of Plenty’ begins with The Tempest, a difficult play that director Jeremy Herrin, confident in the venue’s unusual power and his excellent cast, tackles with a light touch. It has been the fashion to subject the story of Prospero and his elaborate revenge on those who exiled him to a great deal of analysis. Herrin’s focus is on the theme of reconciliation and the magic in the play comes to the fore.

There is little threat on this island – the machinations that landed Prospero there aren’t given much attention. Instead, there’s a lot of laughs, led by the drunkards Stephano and Trunculo (played by exuberant double act Sam Cox and Trevor Fox) – and even Caliban gets to join in the singing. Indeed, the island seems too homely, almost drab – its attraction is the detailed depiction of the relationship between Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Jessie Buckley is a revelation in the role, captivating and able enough to bring on her suitor Ferdinand (Joshua James) to some charming scenes of romance.

Colin Morgan as Ariel

The pace of the production is skilfully developed, with Colin Morgan’s Ariel pivotal, injecting a spellbinding touch (in scenes of startlingly confident theatricality) and bringing home the play’s concerns with freedom. Morgan is athletic and otherworldly, mellow rather than mischievous and played with an intelligent depth that builds up the fascinating relationship with his master Prospero: it is here that the understated quality of Herrin’s production finds its power.

Only an actor as fine as Roger Allam, who takes on the central role, could make such a domesticated Prospero work. A model of clarity, Allam was born to play the Globe – he’s worth the price of the ticket and then some. His nuanced performance as a former Duke can be commanding and his dour touches delight, but it is as a father, the man behind the magic, that he becomes magnificent. He enjoys his power to enchant with such glee that abandoning it has added pathos, but renounce it he does – in order to become more human and experience the freedom that entails.

Until 18 August 2013


Photos by Marc Brenner

Written 3 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“Richard III” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Mark Rylance, former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, makes his return to the theatre in the title role of Richard III. The play is always a star vehicle, and Rylance’s Richard is a stuttering, often jovial figure who gets plenty of laughs. Playing with the theatricality of his character, a smart move that suits Rylance, his conspiratorial tone delights. It takes time to appreciate Richard’s darkness, but when he chooses, Rylance shows a startling, unashamedly psychotic King, making sure his depiction will be one to go down in theatre history.

Alongside Rylance the whole production, under the direction of Tim Carroll, shows skilful pacing. The speed of the action is breakneck but the riveting ensemble seize the attention masterfully. Special notice must go to Roger Lloyd Pack as the King-maker Buckingham, matching Richard in his cynical malevolence up to the point of murdering the princes in the Tower: when Lloyd Pack exits to consider the usurping King’s request, it is a moment of great tension, superbly performed.

This is an all-male production. Without revisiting the debate on this approach, and stressing that those taking on female roles give superb performances (especially Johnny Flynn, who plays Richard’s unwilling wife Anne), the move is indicative of a traditional approach to the play. There’s no dwelling on the history here or the superstition rife in early modern society – Shakespeare took both for granted after all. The emphasis is on drama and entertainment.

Thoroughly at home on his old stomping ground, Rylance leads the cast in exploiting the dominant feature of the Globe – its ability to encourage audience participation. Whether it’s knowing glances that create complicity or shared outrage at Richard’s demonic actions, Carroll’s production is always engaging. With direct appeals for cheers as he is encouraged to take the throne, Richard gets the applause Shakespeare’s play has denied him as a figure in history – in the case of this production, the cheers are well deserved.

Until 13 October 2012 and then transferring to the Apollo Theatre from 6 November 2012


Photo by Simon Annand

Written 26 July 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Taming of the Shrew” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Taming of the Shrew is surely Shakespeare’s most objectionable play: its politics can’t help offending a modern audience and its conclusion leaves a bitter taste – never a good move for a comedy. But director Toby Frow’s new production at Shakespeare’s Globe comes as close as possible to redeeming the piece. With a simple approach, Frow makes sure we don’t take the misogyny too seriously, expanding the comedy and saving the show in masterful style.

Frow, aided in dealing with the text by Samuel Adamson, adds plenty of slapstick and interjections that enliven frankly duller moments and acknowledge that few of us are up to speed with Shakespeare’s verbal dexterity. The result is two fold. The ensemble truly excels with even the smaller roles shining: Pearce Quigley’s deadpan Grumio is just one example, and the often sickly sweet lovers Bianca and Lucentio get to have a go, with superb performances from Sarah MacRae and Joseph Timms. Secondly, Frow establishes a fantastic, farcical rhythm (often quite literally – his use of music in the production is inspired) that escalates wonderfully. There’s a touch of One Man, Two Guvnors sometimes and more than dash of Carry On. And why not, if it works?

When it comes to the most unpleasant aspects of “taming”, Frow exploits the play’s dream theme and also sets up a relationship between Katherina and Petruchio that treads a fine line between feigned lunacy and the possibility of equality – this is a subtle, complex relationship underneath the broad comedy and works through the intelligence of its lead performers. Simon Paisley Day plays Petruchio in fine bombastic style, believable as the “devil” people describe him as and reducing the audience to fits of laughter. But his intended is more than a match, with Samantha Spiro putting in a tremendous physical performance as a head-butting, door-bashing Kate that steals every scene. Even if you can’t understand why anyone would want to tame Spiro’s shrew, you can still laugh along at the attempt.

Until 12 October 2012


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 July 2012 for The London Magazine

“Henry V” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Globe has a special relationship with Henry V: the play opened the new theatre and any bardophile is sure to thrill at the lines referring to “this wooden O” when they hear them in situ. With the bunting still out on the streets, Shakespeare’s most patriotic king is in tune with this summer. Henry’s rallying “once more unto the breach” is addressed so directly to the audience that it receives spontaneous applause. And it is richly deserved: Dominic Dromgoole’s new production is a triumph.

Droomgoole is too intelligent a director to reduce Henry V to jingoism. Fully at home in The Globe, he brings out the nuances in the play with all its bittersweet humour. There’s a tremendous performance from Brendan O’Hea as the leek-loving Welshman Fluellen, providing a cynical twist on patriotism. Leading the low life is the superb Sam Cox as Pistol, getting the laughs while reminding us that those who suffer most in war are often the poor.

The production is aided immeasurably by a wonderful performance from Brid Brennan in the role of the chorus. She sets the scenes, urging us to “work our thoughts” with beautiful clarity, perfectly reflecting Droomgoole’s simple, no-nonsense approach. This Henry V is full of confidence, it has faith in the play, and the production’s achievement is to show off Shakespeare at his very best.

The jewel in the crown of Droomgoole’s Henry V is Jamie Parker in the title role. Martial certainly, blood curdling when he has to be, but also full of charm, Parker’s frequently understated performance shows total control (he’s even better than Branagh), and you want to back him and even fight for him. This is a truly glorious reign, certain to make any theatre lover happy.

Until 26 August 2012


Photo by John Haynes

Written 14 June 2012 for The London Magazine

“The God of Soho” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The 18th century philosopher, Bishop Berkeley, posited that the world only exists in the mind of God. So if something goes wrong with the celestial cerebellum you’re in trouble – which is what happens in Chris Hannan’s new play The God of Soho, resulting in a mind-boggling – and ambitious – new drama.

Big God (the inimitable Phil Daniels) resides in a heaven in disarray. His daughter, the Goddess of Love, the excellent Iris Roberts, has an unrequited love for New God (a brave performance by William Mannering). The couple descend to earth where they mingle with Essex celebrities such as Natty, a commendable Emma Pierson, and the unhinged homeless on the streets of Soho. All of Hannan’s self-absorbed characters are searching for something real. However, this is far more interesting than merely an exploration of celebrity culture – these are people searching for a “raw skinned, butcher naked” reality.

Hannan appears to have none of the self-doubt that affects his characters. It is difficult to be bawdier the Elizabethans (this is the Globe, after all) but The God of Soho manages just that. It is positively filthy in every way: verbally and visually, with the laughs relying on obscenity. Nor does Hannan shy away from big themes. He juggles plenty of abstract concepts with a surfeit of allusions and enough topicality to make your head spin. The really impressive trick is the way in which he deals with so many ideas while creating characters real enough to care about.

Director Raz Shaw does a great job of marshalling Hannan’s text and injecting plenty of debauchery. Both writer and director have an eye for involving the crowd, essential at The Globe. With appropriately eclectic music provided by King Porter Stomp, The God of Soho is often a riotous affair. The production has a distinctive vision that is also disconcerting. Certainly, the world inside Hannan’s mind is a weird and wonderful place.

Until 30 September 2011


Photo by Simon Kane

Written 2 September 2011 for The London Magazine

“Doctor Faustus” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Thanks to the film Shakespeare in Love we think of Christopher Marlowe as more celebrated in his own day than Shakespeare. Now, of course, his work is performed far less frequently, making any production an event, especially when Shakespeare’s own Globe conjures up its first production of Doctor Faustus.

Director Matthew Dunster does his best to make the story of the man who sells his soul to the devil resonate with a contemporary audience. The emphasis is on magic rather than religion – a sound move in our agnostic times – aided admirably with a soundscape from Jules Maxwell.

But Doctor Faustus poses problems. With roots in morality plays, 16th-century concerns and seemingly impossible stage effects, several scenes are potentially odd to modern eyes. Dunster’s solutions are admirable, using wit, imagination and strong doses of broad humour to engage: Georgina Lamb’s choreography is a capable distraction when the Doctor meets the seven deadly sins, the Pope becomes a comic mafia don, and a castle in the air is a simple inflatable balloon that floats off over the South Bank.

Paul Hilton is a model of clarity in the title role. Fingers stained with ink, this scholar-turned-magus’s pride is painfully convincing and, if he lacks the sensual touch that comes to dominate a man “ravished” by desires, his relationship with Arthur Darvill’s commendably understated Mephistopheles is electric.

Dunster injects a huge amount of movement into what is potentially rather a static play, and his tautly controlled ensemble works hard, peopling the world Faustus plays in. Of particular note are Charlotte Broom and Beatriz Romilly as the angels who fight over Faustus’ soul with samurai swords. With flashy touches such as this, Dunster grapples with Marlowe’s mighty play in a magical fashion and does not sell Doctor Faustus short.

Until 2 October 2011


Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 24 June 2011 for The London Magazine

“Bedlam” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Nell Leyshon, the first woman ever to write a play for The Globe, has chosen her subject well. A story set in Bedlam, drawn from research into the Bethlem Hospital, the first and foremost home for the insane. To give us a break from the bard, the action takes place in the 18th century, where the gin flows freely and visitors pay to view the unfortunate residents of the asylum. As an audience we both replicate this morbid tourism and double as the inmates ourselves. The idea is typical of Leyshon’s clever and careful use of the space. While her play could be madder at times, she has a shrewd eye and ear for what works well at The Globe.

Director Jessica Swale also knows how to use The Globe’s distinctive intimacy. Her talented ensemble is given reign to have great fun. Pity those poor Groundlings (the standing audience members) as they have chamber pots poured over them and are dragged on to the stage. You have been warned.

There’s a lot of laughs here and, if mixing humour and mental illness can be tricky, rest assured it is tastefully done. Jason Baughan is the man in charge – having inherited his post he is proud to come from a long line of Mad Doctors. Sam Crane is a poet, trying hard to be pale and interesting and full of machinations. They both make delicious villains. A pleasing amount of fantasy is used to resolve the neat storyline and deliver poetic justice. Predictable maybe, but satisfying.

Where Bedlam really takes off is with its music. Leyshon researched contemporary sources and, with Olly Fox’s composition and Mark Bousie’s musical direction, has added to her play enormously. Sentimental songs are used with restraint and some hilariously bawdy numbers beg an encore. James Lailey is cast as a ‘Bedlamite’, an inmate released to earn his living busking, and given a moving story with contemporary resonance. Alongside him Ella Smith’s Phyllis is the roaming wife of a Bedlam warder, selling gin on the street as if she were a procuress. Smith gives great value for money, delivering an irristible performance. When the rest of the cast join in the singing, Bedlam becomes very special indeed. Treat yourself to a listen, enjoy some uproar, and don’t forget the gin.

Until 1 October 2010


Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 10 September 2010 for The London Magazine