The Tempest, The Globe, 7 May 2013
The standard stage was almost doubled in size by the addition of extensions to the front and sides. This also vastly increased the circumference of the stage front meaning that more groundlings could claim a position close to the action. This was unusual for a play where most scenes involve no more than four characters.
There were also three large rocks, which were marbled with the same colouring as the stage pillars. A discovery space was provided on the upper gallery accessed by a stage left stairway. Grips were attached to the stage right back wall to facilitate climbing.
The warm-up musicians were followed by a cheeky Geordie chappie (Trevor Fox) who reminded us to turn our phones off and not take photographs. He then jokingly assured us that the performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona would start shortly. This was a subtle jest at the expense of the Colin Morgan fans gathered at the front of the yard, for whom a mix-up of that sort would have been a disaster.
The storm began with loud banging on drums and metal sheets in the music gallery either side of the upper discovery space (1.1). Surround sound was achieved by using the walkway behind the middle gallery as a thunder run.
The ship’s crew lurched from side to side, falling over and pulling on ropes to steady themselves. At one point they leant back as if tracking a huge wave threatening to overwhelm them.
Because no amplified sound was used, and also partly because Globe actors constantly speak loud enough to combat aircraft noise, all the dialogue in the scene was clearly audible.
This was interesting from a theatrical point of view because it demonstrated that this scene did not need to be drowned out by the storm, as is often the case when speaker sound effects are deployed.
A figure we later discovered was Ferdinand (Joshua James) knelt and prayed in fear as the storm raged around the ship.
The storm scene was supplemented by a large model ship which was carried through the yard at head height, brought on stage and then taken down the stage left steps just as the passengers cried “We split, we split!” The offstage sinking of the model ship suggested the fate of the vessel being portrayed onstage.
Towards the end of the storm, Prospero (Roger Allam) appeared with his magic staff and cloak on the upper discovery space to oversee the tempest he had conjured.
As the last of the crew disappeared, Miranda (Jessie Buckley) walked up the same steps and looked backwards at the departing mariners to deliver her first line, pitying their fate and imploring her father to stop the storm (1.2). She wore a tattered light green dress that appeared to be fashioned from a larger remnant, under which she sported greyish cut-off trousers.
Prospero laid down his mantle at the front of the stage and placed his staff on top as if the mantle were only its cushioning. We now had a clearer view of the ragged clothes he had lived in for the past twelve years: a filthy white shirt, dark slashed trunk hose and boots with downturned tops.
The main problem with the production became apparent very early on. Roger Allam was quite content when playing within his comfort zone of affable comedy. But as soon as he was required to step outside that zone, he resorted to ‘doing acting’ and was unconvincing.
The disjunction between these two modes could be seen when he recounted his life story to his daughter.
Prospero was almost jaunty and affable as he began to tell his story to Miranda and was genuinely happy when she said that she remembered having serving women.
But when Prospero reached “Twelve year since…” he paused, and spoke the rest slowly in an unnatural, almost staccato delivery, as he looked off meaningfully into the distance.
The transition between natural flow and stilted technique was startling, as if playing Prospero’s darker side placed him out of his depth.
Prospero launched into his gag about Miranda’s paternity and the relief with which Allam returned to his comfort zone was palpable as his performance resumed its habitual ease.
But another lurch was coming. Allam paused again for effect after describing his brother as “perfidious”, accompanied by yet more portentous staring.
Allam’s Prospero was full of regret but there was no darkness and no menace in his characterisation. This compared poorly with Jonathan Slinger’s scary Prospero, who on his first appearance stood glaring for a long time before spitting with anger when he spoke.
Instead of giving us a Prospero who had brooded for twelve years and was now close to wreaking his revenge on his enemies, Roger Allam gave us a pompous senior civil servant on gardening leave.
He hugged Miranda at “O, a cherubim thou wast that did preserve me” thereby emphasising his paternal warmth rather than his sibling quarrel.
Prospero put Miranda to sleep and looked out for Ariel (Colin Morgan). Shaker sound effects rippled around the galleries to indicate his magical omnipresence. He sneaked up unnoticed behind Prospero, who jolted with shock when Ariel spoke.
Colin Morgan’s Ariel had short, black slicked hair, which contrasted with his light violet long-sleeve top, covered with long wispy, plumage-like strands. He wore blue breeches under a white apron that extended almost down to his white boots. While not a specific animal, he was vaguely bird-like, which made sense of his ability to flit around.
Colin Morgan was for many spectators the main attraction of the production. However, there was a slight Igor-ness in his delivery, which made him a visually attractive but dramatically unconvincing presence.
Prospero was content with Ariel’s efforts with the storm, but announced “there’s more work”. Allam’s comic instincts made this a humorous statement rather than a burdensome injunction from a martinet.
Ariel’s complaint about this provoked Prospero’s retort “How now? Moody?”, which was only mildly chiding. This invited comparisons with Jonathan Slinger’s vituperative fury when delivering the same line.
Despite Morgan’s reliance on making a visual impact as Ariel, there was a brief moment of interesting character development when he shrieked on being reminded by Prospero of his torturous imprisonment by Sycorax.
Discerning a high-work rate behind a performance is always gratifying. Right from the start it was plain that Jimmy Garnon had put great effort into his characterisation of Caliban.
When Prospero and Miranda visited him, Caliban rose from behind a rock, his body painted in shades of red, marbled exactly like the geology of the island. This was slightly reminiscent of the skin paint applied to the Caliban in Julie Taymor’s film. His reference to the “red plague” hinted that this colouration could have been the result of a condition particular to the island, causing its sufferers to take on the colour of its rocks.
His voice was coarse and guttural with a mixture of assorted accents that gave it a vaguely foreign air without fitting within any recognisable language. He loped barefoot on the front of his feet affording a strange animal quality to his gait.
Caliban cursed Prospero, accentuating his revolt by spitting at the audience, stealing a drink in a plastic cup from a groundling, downing it and then throwing away the cup (hopefully planted).
As if to seal his villainy in our minds, the skulking creature delighted in the idea of peopling the island with Calibans.
Prospero and Miranda retreated to their vantage point up in the gallery.
Accompanied by other spirit helpers, Ariel entered singing Full Fathom Five. He led Ferdinand up and down, remaining invisible to him and guiding his movements.
Prospero enjoyed loosing his daughter to Ferdinand and she boggled in disbelief at the young man’s “brave form”. However, rather than an athletic Adonis, this Ferdinand was slightly nerdish and spindly, perhaps justifying Prospero’s subsequent comment about his relative inadequacies.
But he was of obvious good heart. As a caring father, Prospero must have prized this quality in Ferdinand above any other consideration when arranging the match for his daughter.
Prospero descended and, having provoked Ferdinand with accusations of usurpation, took control of his threatening sword. At first the sword was frozen in mid air and Ferdinand struggled to move it as if the blade were fixed in rock.
Prospero then caused the sword to mirror the movements of his own staff. For a while Prospero played, causing Ferdinand’s weapon to move from side to side, finally forcing it to the ground, decisively disarming the young man.
Miranda clung to Prospero’s ankle, pleading with him to stop, as he ordered her to “Hang not on my garments.”
The introduction of the characters in the royal party began in undistinguished fashion with standard versions of the characters: the elderly Gonzalo (Pip Donaghy), the younger jokers Antonio (Jason Baughan) and Sebastian (William Mannering), and the careworn Alonso (Peter Hamilton Dyer) (2.1).
But an interesting note was struck when Sebastian said “we prosper well in our return”: the spirits in the galleries began whispering “prosper.. Prospero” as if bringing to life the echo of Prospero’s name in that remark.
Ariel put everyone to sleep except Sebastian and Antonio, leaving the latter to tempt the former with the idea of killing his brother. He then arranged for the sleepers to awake just as swords were poised over them.
Caliban threw away his burden of logs, scattering them to the back of the stage, cursing Prospero (2.2). The arrival of Trinculo drove him to hide under his gabardine.
Trinculo (Trevor Fox) wore a full jester’s motley with pointed shoes and large bicorn hat. He stood over a female groundling at the front of the yard and squeezed water out of his prominent codpiece and later pulled a small fish from his jacket to remind us of his recent escape from the wreck. He subsequently removed two more fish, each one larger than its predecessor, turning this into a running gag.
He spoke of the “storm brewing”, looked up into the bright, cloudless sky over Southwark and gave a series of knowing looks to the audience, peering up at the sky again as if the play text should have caused the weather to obey its implied stage direction.
After discovering the strange figure under the cloth, he smelt Caliban’s bottom, which was the source of “a very ancient and fish-like smell”. He climbed under the large covering, his feet pointing in the opposite direction to Caliban’s.
Stephano (Sam Cox) entered singing, a noise which frightened Caliban into attempting an escape. Normally this sequence is staged with Caliban and Trinculo remaining on the ground. But here, instead of remaining hidden under the coat, Caliban stood up so that he was bare down to the waist and pulled the still fully concealed Trinculo along behind him like the rear end of a pantomime horse. This fantastic vision caused Stephano to look at his bottle in disbelief as he contemplated this “monster of the isle”.
The “monster” returned to ground again enabling Stephano to pour in drink at both ends. When it reared up once more, Caliban struck the back end of the beast, still hiding Trinculo, with a stick.
Back on the ground Stephano pulled Trinculo’s legs to extract him from the coat and ended up in a compromising position on top of him. This unsophisticated crudity was not funny.
Caliban knelt before the bearer of the “celestial liquor” swearing him allegiance. He began to sing about his freedom, but spoke the first words of his song tentatively, looking round to see if any of Prospero’s agents were poised to punish him for his thoughtcrime. He rapidly gained confidence when he realised he could express a desire to have “a new master” and the first half came to an end as he celebrated his liberty.
The second half began with Ferdinand carrying some heavy, real logs from one side of the stage to the other (3.1). He addressed us cheerfully, saying that the hard work was a pleasure because it was undertaken for Miranda’s sake.
He beamed when he reported that Miranda did not want him to labour, because he saw this as proof that she loved him.
Miranda appeared and tried to carry the logs for Ferdinand, causing him to run back to the pile with a worried “No…” as if she were spoiling the game that gave him so much satisfaction.
Further confirmation of Miranda’s love caused him to take up a log, grin at us, and bear it easily to the other side.
This was a delightfully complicit inclusion of the audience in his simple joy at being adored, a seemingly novel experience that he would not take for granted.
Their ensuing betrothal was overseen by a contented Prospero.
The rebel trio reappeared in a state of advanced drunkeness, with Caliban’s wide-eyed, forty-yard stare distinguishing him as the most intoxicated (3.2). Ariel stood on the balustrade of the left lower gallery and scrutinised them a while before bounding on stage to ventriloquise Trinculo’s voice. He clambered nimbly from vantage point to vantage point, making use of the underside of the steps down from the platform as well as monkey bars underneath it.
Stephano became excited at the part of Caliban’s plan that involved Miranda, stuttering out “Is it so brave a lass?”
Caliban explained how they could kill Prospero. He took a rock and used a groundling as a stand-in to demonstrate how to drive a nail into Prospero’s head.
Around this time, planes and helicopters were flying overhead. When Caliban warned that Prospero had “brave utensils” he looked up at the sky and listened to the aircraft noise, drawing the others’ attention to it, as if this were Prospero’s agents high in the sky about some business. They stared up into the night for some time until the noises subsided. Though slightly laboured, this proved a humorous and effective way of dealing with the Globe’s noise pollution problem.
In line with the production’s general downplaying of deep moments, Caliban’s speech about the isle being full of noises was not as moving as it could have been.
The royal party saw some “strange shapes” bring on a table bearing a banquet (3.3). But before they could feast, the food exploded in a flash of hot bright flame, the heat wave from which reached the galleries, and the trick table revolved to display a representation of the charred remains.
Ariel confronted the “three men of sin” on high platform shoes shaped like claws with spirit helpers operating his wide, black, harpy wings. His head was covered with a large bird-like skull, his breeches looked like downy feathers and he had a breast plate with harpy dugs.
The combination of these two effects was truly spectacular.
Prospero congratulated himself on having his enemies “in my power” but with the vengeful aspect of his character underplayed by the affable Allam, his words conveyed little real menace.
Ferdinand had passed Prospero’s test, but Miranda’s protective father was still keen to emphasise to Ferdinand the importance of not breaking her “virgin-knot” (4.1). This subject continued to prove a light-hearted source of comedy that Allam seemed to feel more at home with than Prospero’s darker side.
The masque began with the brightly coloured Iris (Sarah Sweeney) calling on Ceres (Amanda Wilkin), who appeared in a white outfit with a neckpiece comprising fruits of the field. Surprisingly, Ariel took on the role of Juno, with a neckpiece of peacock feathers.
Prospero apparently mouthed Iris’ injunction that the marriage should not be consummated “till Hymen’s torch be lighted” in another comic touch highlighting his concern. There was no dance of the reapers, but the romantic shower of confetti that rained down from the upper galleries was more than compensation.
Prospero cried out that he had forgotten the “foul conspiracy” of Caliban’s and his associates. However, there was something actorly about his surprise and outrage that undercut any sense of real alarm.
This strange absence from his own role meant that “Our revels now are ended” similarly lacked impact. This speech is generally Prospero at his most contemplative, an aspect of the character that Allam did not at all emphasise. It said something that Helen Mirren’s Prospera was more convincing in her “I will plague them all, even to roaring” than Allam.
Prospero stood on the discovery space to oversee the hounding of the rebels by skeletal puppet dogs guided by Ariel and his helpers. These were very effective.
With his master’s plan now coming to fruition, Ariel persuaded Prospero to turn away from vengeance (5.1). This did not feel like a major turning point in the story, because the vengeful aspect of Prospero’s character had not been accentuated.
Although he announced “yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury do I take part”, this Prospero’s consistent absence of fury deprived the sequence of significance.
When Allam boomed that he had “bedimmed the noontide sun” it seemed very unlikely that he actually had.
Prospero abjured his rough magic. His cloak was taken from him by a helper and he placed his staff on top of it in a repeat of the ritual at the start of the performance.
Prospero enjoyed toying with Alonso before revealing his son Ferdinand playing Miranda at chess in a ground-level discovery space. With her mind whirling at the sight of the new arrivals, Miranda sat next to father to wonder at this “brave new world”. Prospero’s reply “’Tis new to thee” conveyed his aspiration for Miranda to discover more of the world on her release from the island.
Caliban cringed when he and his companions were released and brought before Prospero. Again, the light tone of the production meant that Prospero’s “this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine” was not freighted with meaning and had no impact.
Once pardoned, Caliban scampered along next to Prospero like a chimp. He stood up at full height and growled at Stephano as he passed him, angry at having been his dupe.
Prospero picked up his staff placed it behind his neck and snapped it with his arms. He looked round to where Ariel was, but with his magic gone Prospero was unable to see him. This moment represented Ariel’s liberation.
Allam told us that his charms were now all o’erthrown. And he was duly released by our indulgence.
The production was competent, innovative in places, but ultimately disappointing. There was a large gap where a thrilling Prospero should have stood.
Roger Allam’s downplaying of Prospero’s anger and vengeance diluted the impact of his final decision to show clemency. With the focus on Prospero as a father, the play became a city comedy about a man trying to marry off his daughter.
Twelfth Night, The Globe, 23 September 2012
The set was dressed only in climbing plants that ascended the back wall and pillars, adding a touch of realism to the sequence in Olivia’s garden.
Musicians played on the balcony at the start of the performance, then inexplicably stopped, prompting Orsino’s (Liam Brennan) opening line requesting in a fine Scottish accent that they should play on (1.1).
Viola (Johnny Flynn) appeared in a green dress with an obviously false wig of long brown hair, and a pale whitened face with a touch of rouge. She was helped out of the trap door by the Captain (Jethro Skinner), who put a coat around her shoulders. At this early stage it was very easy to accept a man as Viola because the character’s main function at this point was to express mournful sadness, which is non-gender-specific (1.2).
Colin Hurley was excellent as a slightly red-nosed Sir Toby who tried valiantly to put on his boots (1.3). When stuffed into a tightly-fitting low-cut dress Paul Chahidi’s Maria had distinct moobs which were a great advantage for playing a female character.
Maria expressed her displeasure at Sir Toby’s drinking by emptying his goblet on the ground only for him to refill it from a leather bottle. Maria also confiscated the bottle, but Sir Toby had another secreted elsewhere on the stage.
Sir Toby’s description of Sir Andrew (Roger Lloyd Pack) created the expectation of a young gadabout. When he appeared, he was old and greying, almost a parody of a young rake.
For the buttery bar sequence Maria took Sir Andrew’s hand and held it near to her bosom without making contact. Her phrase “It’s dry, sir” was delightfully confusing for being delivered by a male actor.
Sir Toby congratulated the ageing, grey Sir Andrew for having “an excellent head of hair”, and brought a lascivious relish to his wish to see a housewife take Sir Andrew between her legs “and spin it off.” Emboldened by this less-than-honest praise, Sir Andrew struck a pose with his foot extending backwards for the “back-trick”.
Viola had gained employment at Orsino’s court and wore a white doublet, almost Caroline in look, allowing her to maintain her own hair (1.4). She dropped her sword and carrier and Orsino helped to attach them properly to her doublet. This gesture was a symbolic act, involving the fitting of the ultimate male accessory. She prepared to serve as Orsino’s messenger to Olivia.
Orsino’s description of Viola’s “smooth and rubious” lip, remarking that “all is semblative a woman’s part” saw both getting slightly aroused by each other. This was the first of several great moments in which the play’s layers of deception collided, properly enhanced by all-male casting. Orsino was seeing through a woman’s disguise as a man, but the actor beneath was a man. Nevertheless, it was easy to believe in the disguised Viola as a woman when she spoke of her love for Orsino, pining “myself would be his wife”.
Feste (Peter Hamilton Dyer) looked lively in his orange boots and coloured jacket (1.5). This was an interesting characterisation with no hint of dour melancholy.
A long table was brought in, as Olivia (Mark Rylance), wearing a floor-length black dress with a black veil drawn down from her coronet over her face, bustled on stage with no motion of her feet visible. A black cloth was placed over a chair at one end of the table, representing her dead brother, to which Olivia bowed. Malvolio (Stephen Fry) drew back her chair to allow her to sit and he then positioned himself at her side. This initial closeness formed the basis on which Malvolio’s subsequent delusions would develop.
She signed papers and Feste began playing on his drum, prompting her to look briefly upwards and pronounce peremptorily “Take the fool away” as if she were asking for the window to be closed.
After Feste’s long syllogism, her second request for his removal saw her attendants begin to manhandle him away. His “misprision” remark became a protest to remain and to be allowed to prove her a fool. Despite her initial dismissiveness, Olivia relented and asked “Can you do it?” She got out of her chair and then sat down again with Malvolio again attentively drawing back the chair for her so that she could hear the fool’s explanation.
Olivia asked Malvolio for his opinion of Feste’s reasoning. Helped by the fact that no one had whooped on his initial appearance, Stephen Fry’s first words as Malvolio were sonorously disdainful.
Olivia’s witheringly critical response to Malvolio’s putdown showed that she did not in fact share his outlook or in any way constitute his soul mate, which was vital for later on.
Sir Toby arrived from the gate very drunk and sat himself down. He rose and went into a spasm of pain as he leant forward across the table. The others gathered round as he gave a sigh of relief, releasing a gust of malodorous wind that the others were obliged to waft away. Sir Toby explained the source of his discomfort: “a plague o’ these pickle-herring!”
Admonished and still very drunk he looked at the empty chair representing Olivia’s dead brother and raised his glass to it saying “Well, it’s all one”. This tiny moment conveyed a great deal: Sir Toby seemed to be saying that the living should enjoy themselves.
Malvolio shuffled closer to Olivia, symptomatic of his attachment to her, and explained that a young fellow had come to speak with her. He stressed repeatedly “and therefore comes to speak with you” as if surprised at the young man’s persistence. Unfortunately Fry got his “Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy” line wrong at first, getting “man” and “boy” the wrong way round, and had to repeat the line to get it right.
Olivia seemed to have enjoyed the fool’s foolery enough to attempt some of her own. As Cesario entered, she had Maria sit reading a book and positioned herself as if in attendance on her.
Falling into Olivia’s trap, Cesario addressed Maria before Olivia intervened. Viola’s speech was stilted, which added an extra layer of stiltedness over the male actor’s impression of a woman pretending to be a man.
The “I am not that I play” line pointed towards a collision of dense layers of disguise.
Once the pair were left alone, Olivia slowly lifted her veil to reveal her face. She was inwardly pleased at being able to show herself.
Olivia listened to Viola’s message and during this exchange they went to sit on a bench. It was clear from the way Olivia looked Cesario up and down that she found him attractive. This occurred even before Cesario’s “willow cabin” speech, in which Cesario’s thinly disguised pining for Orsino was mistaken by Olivia as veiled attraction to her.
Olivia’s intentions looked very obvious just before her “What is your parentage?” question.
After Viola left, Olivia sighed and facepalmed as she repeated her stupid query. She pulled a ring from her finger using her mouth and gave it to Malvolio, pretending that it was a gift to be returned to Orsino via the just-departed Cesario. She added “If that the youth will come this way tomorrow” as an afterthought hinting at her real reason for the subterfuge.
Our first look at Sebastian (Samuel Barnett) showed that he was identical to Viola in costume and pallor (2.1).
Malvolio caught up with Viola but had to pause to recover his breath as he had evidently been running (2.2). Malvolio threw the ring at her but it caught on her doublet and only eventually fell to the ground.
Viola finally realised that Olivia was in love with her. However, her state of mind was virtually unchanged, as if this additional circumstance were no worse than losing a brother and suffering an impossible love for Orsino.
Sirs Andrew and Toby gathered for some late-night carousing (2.3). Feste arrived with a brace of rabbits which he held around his head forming the picture of “we three” and making a reference to coney catching.
Sir Toby exploited Sir Andrew by taking money out of Sir Andrew’s hand to give to Feste, after which Sir Andrew decided to add some more, but both sums had come from his own purse.
The carousers sang “Hold Thy Peace” until interrupted by Maria. Sir Toby’s protest saw him sidle up to Maria and kiss her hand singing “There dwelt a man in Babylon, lady, lady!” which she received willingly. This was the first sign of a proper romance between Sir Toby and Maria, which made their subsequent marriage more credible.
The continued singing attracted the attention of Malvolio, whose quite ordinary nightwear was adorned with his three loop chain of office. Sir Andrew was the last to notice Malvolio, as he was busy swinging rabbits around his head, but once he spotted the steward he clambered slowly down from the table.
Malvolio rounded on Sir Toby warning him that Olivia wanted him to leave. The knight continued singing and eventually climbed onto a bench so that he could look down on Fry’s quite tall Malvolio to deliver his withering “Art any more than a steward?” As mentioned above, Malvolio was wearing the chain on which Sir Toby now ordered him to go rub crumbs.
Maria hatched her plot and was excited at its prospect. She put special emphasis on “I can write very like my lady your niece”, as if she had not decided on Malvolio’s love object until that very moment. She sat next to Sir Toby so that when she said “a horse of that colour” he was holding her by the hand affectionately. He kissed her at “Good night, Penthesilea” so that she exited smiling radiantly at the audience.
The next scene was key for the relationship between Orsino and Viola (2.4). The Duke called for music and asked Viola if she loved someone. Her descriptions of the presumed woman “by your favour… of your complexion… about your years” were so full of longing that it seemed impossible for Orsino not to notice that Viola was attracted to him.
Feste started to sing “Come away death”. Orsino sat Cesario on the bench to listen to the song but strolled around by himself indifferently. He caught Cesario looking sideways at him and then also sat on the bench facing the opposite way towards the audience.
As they continued to listen, Orsino shot Viola sideways glances full of trepidation and interest. Viola noticed and looked towards him with a constant coy but sadly puppyish expression. Orsino became bolder and held onto her hand, only to let go soon after. He then went further, taking her hand and placing it on his shoulder. It stayed there for a while until Viola withdrew it. Orsino’s audacity increased as he grasped her hand in his, but again Viola withdrew. As he sang, Feste was keenly focused on this display of tentative physical intimacy.
The song ended and Orsino angrily threw over the bench glaring at Viola. Orsino tried to pay Feste, who refused and commented on what he had seen saying “Pleasure will be paid, one time or another” with his glance directed firmly at Viola.
Orsino ordered everyone else to leave before instructing Cesario to visit Olivia once again. Cesario stood sheepishly at the side of the stage fully realising that she had angered him. This was the background to her pleading that there might be another woman who loved Orsino, a clear reference to herself.
They sat on the bench again as Viola repeatedly attempted to end her “concealment”. She alluded to her true identity stating that she was “all the daughters of my father’s house and all the brothers too.” As she said “and yet I know not” she hugged Orsino, who gingerly put his arm round her as if confused by this sudden affection. They broke away and looked at each other. Their lips move closer together until they almost kissed.
Viola recoiled with a start saying “Sir, shall I to this lady?” which made Orsino embarrassed, causing him likewise to come to his senses saying “Ay, that’s the theme.”
James Garnon’s Fabian appeared for the letter drop scene (2.5). The box tree was a leafy green box with openings at the side and slits in its sloped roof. The letter was placed on the bench and the conspirators hid inside the tree behind. They peeped their heads out of the top until they worked out that it was best to hide inside.
Malvolio entered as if holding his arm around an invisible Olivia. He sat on the stage right bench as continuing to hold Olivia before shifting to the central bench. At this point, heads popped out of the box tree, which shuffled closer so that it stood right behind Malvolio. The ensuing commotion was disguised by imitated bird calls.
The steward relished the fantasy of calling his officers about him.
Stephen Fry did not turn “where I have left Olivia sleeping” into a suggestive innuendo. But at the line “Play with my…” he paused and raised a finger as if forestalling our sniggers before continuing with “some rich jewel”. This was a brilliant piece of audience connection.
Knowing how much of a Shakespeare fan Fry was, it was possible to see his performance as a response to the great privilege of being offered the role.
Congratulating himself on being mentioned, Sir Andrew popped his head out of the top of the box tree until Fabian put his hand out and stuck Sir Andrew back in again.
Malvolio picked up the letter beside him on the bench and moved stage left to open it. When trying to figure out the meaning of MOAI, Malvolio looked at us as if we could help him. The solution eventually came “every one of these letters are in my name”, at which point he grimaced at us, implying that we had been remiss in not pointing this out to him sooner.
It was gratifying to see that no attempt was made to derive laughter from the letter’s instruction to “revolve”.
For those familiar with the play it was quite bittersweet to see Malvolio pause and beam before announcing “I am happy”. He ran offstage and was applauded, but immediately skipped back on again, “Here is yet a postscript”, which advised him to smile. He exited, this time walking normally.
After he left, Sir Toby put his neck on the bench inviting Maria to step on it. Maria triumphantly stood centre stage to explain precisely why yellow garters would be Malvolio’s undoing. As they departed, Sir Andrew could not free himself from the box tree, so he stood up inside it and walked away. As he turned, the back of box tree was revealed, bearing a sign that read “Interval”.
At start of the second half the entire cast came forward through the centre doors singing the song “Jolly Robin”. They then reversed back in again to make way for the scene with Viola and Feste (3.1).
Viola and Feste traded barbs that became meaningful once Viola said she was sick for a beard “though I would not have it grow on my chin.” This stress on the personal pronoun made it clear that she was thinking of Orsino’s chin.
Viola’s brief skirmish with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew led into her meeting with Olivia. The pair were left together in the garden. Olivia led Viola around the garden taking cuttings from the plants on the pillars. All the while Olivia was flustered with excitement. She made a stuttering and confused apology for the ring subterfuge. She was very keen to interpret Viola’s “I pity you” as “a degree to love”.
The clock struck making Olivia realise that her time was short. Just as Cesario went to depart, she threw off her shoe calling after him in the hope that he would put it back on her foot. Sir Andrew walked in on them through the centre doors and seeing Olivia without her shoe, made a quick exit. Olivia asked what Cesario thought of her and then made her declaration of love.
Olivia knelt on the ground to plead “Love sought is good, but given unsought better”. Viola rebuffed her, leaving Olivia on the ground in crumpled failure wearing just one shoe.
Sick for love of Olivia, Sir Andrew wanted to depart (3.2). But Sir Toby suggested that he challenge his putative rival Cesario to a duel.
Maria came to tell them of Malvolio’s approach, and it was gladdening that at this point they kept the mention of “the new map with the augmentation of the Indies”.
A brief scene showed Antonio (John Paul Connolly) together with Sebastian, who took charge of Antonio’s purse (3.3).
Olivia set out a sheet on the ground and made worried preparations for Viola’s return (3.4). Cushions and a banquet followed, but she was interrupted by the dramatic entry of Malvolio.
Stephen Fry’s Malvolio wore simple yellow cross garters and not the habitual carnival outfit of some productions. Olivia, sat on ground, caught sight of him and said “How, now, Malvoli.. oh!” Fry was very good with his “Sweet lady, ho, ho” as he put his leg up on the stage left bench.
He took an apple from the table, bit into it, and walked off upstage right. When Olivia said “Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio?” he froze quite still and dropped the apple, which hit the boards with a thud. When Malvolio spoke of some having “greatness thrust upon them” he crouched behind the seated Olivia and hugged her tightly. She turned and hit him firmly with a pillow, leaving him lying on his back.
Malvolio spoke at length about how Olivia’s reactions fitted the content of the letter. He knelt with his head bowed to thank Jove. When the others entered, they saw him with his bottom pointing at them and exited again. But they took courage and tried once more.
Maria tried to fend off Malvolio with a bible, which she slapped into his hand as she made a hissing noise suggesting his demonic reaction. Malvolio imperiously dismissed them and reclined on the ground, but they tried to pull the sheet away with him on it. They brought him to his feet and the sheet was draped over him. But he extricated himself and instead wrapped the sheet round him like a robe of office and strode out haughtily.
Sir Andrew brought his letter of challenge, whereupon Sir Toby sent him away and tore up the letter.
Olivia was left alone with Viola and offered her a jewel. Olivia’s phrase “’tis my picture” was said with patently feigned surprise, as if she wanted Cesario to believe that she had only just now noticed that the gift was her miniature portrait: the present had obviously been carefully selected beforehand. This attempted deception was quite touching in its innocence, with Olivia crediting that such a transparent device could not be seen through. She added excitedly that Cesario should come again the next day.
Sir Toby and Fabian scared Viola into thinking that a duel with Sir Andrew was imminent, and Fabian led her away.
Sir Toby then worked on Sir Andrew. Fabian brought in Viola, forcing her forwards in an arm lock, which Sir Toby pretended was in fact an attempt to restrain the aggressive duellist.
They both drew rapier and dagger. But each had to be propelled forward by Fabian and Sir Toby respectively as both Sir Andrew and Cesario were leaning backwards in fright.
Antonio rushed in to defend “Sebastian” and was promptly arrested, but Viola did not have his purse to bail him. The shock of being addressed as Sebastian made Viola lean against a pillar with her mouth slightly open.
Viola exited through the stage left doorway while Sebastian entered through the same doorway immediately afterwards (4.1). This unrealistic near miss foreshadowed their eventual reunion.
Sebastian was dismissive of Feste’s insistence that he was Cesario. Sir Andrew confronted Sebastian, took off the stranger’s hat and threw it to the ground, tweaked his nipples and then smacked his nose. Sebastian retaliated by taking off Sir Andrew’s hat, stamping on his foot and punching him. Sir Toby picked a fight with Sebastian just as Olivia entered.
She saw them locked in combat and exited briefly, returning to defend her love with a huge halberd, which she swung wildly about, forcing the others away from him. Having separated them, she dropped the halberd to the ground and ran and kissed a very surprised Sebastian. She took a few steps back and fainted, possibly from a mixture of shock and exhaustion.
After this halberd display, Sebastian looked at us and then at the revived Olivia as if she were crazy for inviting him into her house. But his “Madam, I will” was gloriously emphatic and caused Olivia to become flustered.
The gulling of Malvolio made ingenious use of the trap door, which opened to allow a box fronted with bars to be raised through the opening (4.2). Malvolio’s head appeared in the small cage so that he could speak with Feste. As the box opening faced forward, Feste was able to spend most of the sequence behind it, unseen by Malvolio, allowing him to switch effortlessly between his own voice and Sir Topaz.
Maria continued her spite against Malvolio, pouring molten candle wax on him through the cage opening after “Sir Topaz” withdrew.
Feste returned as himself and Malvolio put a hand out through the cage bars trying to reach him. Feste stood on top of the cage and took one of Malvolio’s hands, and then the other. But when Malvolio asked him to go, Feste suddenly let go of both, causing Malvolio to plummet into the bowels of the stage. The implication was that this cage was a vent accessible by a long climb.
Sebastian emerged from Olivia’s house (4.3). He was so confused that he had to check basic facts. His statements became almost questions “This is the air (?), that is the glorious sun (?)”.
Olivia asked Sebastian to excuse her haste, and then ushered in the Priest (Ian Drysdale), who was ready to marry them. Sebastian’s immediate consent was in character with the resolution he showed when first agreeing to enter her house.
After Feste’s lucrative fooling for Orsino, Viola spotted Antonio being brought in, who promptly confused Viola with Sebastian (5.1).
Olivia’s refusal to love Orsino developed into an argument which culminated in Orsino drawing his sword on her “Why should I not … kill what I love?” He then turned it on Viola threatening to sacrifice “the lamb that I do love…” Viola stood facing Orsino’s back when she said that she would willingly die a thousand deaths to make him happy.
Viola went to leave, and just as she reached the stage right door Olivia cried after her “Cesario, husband, stay”. Orsino echoed the key word “husband” in complete surprise. The Priest confirmed the story. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby showed their injuries inflicted on them by “Cesario” who was in fact the pugnacious Sebastian.
While Viola cowered at the back stage left, Sebastian entered from stage right and addressed Olivia without seeing his sister. But Orsino, positioned behind him, could see both siblings and commented on their similarity. Sebastian turned to see Antonio and spoke with him stage right. Antonio’s question “how have you made division of yourself” caused Sebastian to turn once more and see Viola. Olivia’s “Most wonderful!” produced a great laugh.
Once Viola had revealed her true identity, Sebastian was quite matter-of-fact in pointing out that Olivia had nearly married a woman. This was in character with his previous directness.
Orsino was palpably relieved to discover that Viola was a woman.
Feste read Malvolio’s letter as a rant, obliging Olivia to pass it to Fabian. To everyone’s relief, all was well between Olivia, Orsino and Viola.
Fabian explained that Maria had written the forged letter and that she had married Sir Toby, which caused Maria to inject a low-key “hooray!” but it was obvious that she was the only one in a mood to be happy given what she had just admitted to.
Malvolio was slightly bloodied and most dishevelled, and made a very angry threat to revenge himself on the whole pack of them.
Orsino took Sebastian by the hand and started to talk to him, before swapping to Viola and beginning his speech again “A solemn combination…”
Feste sang the closing song with its rain references in shower of real rain. This wonderful coincidence was cheered almost as heartily as the lively jig that rounded off this truly excellent performance.
This production had two distinctive features: original practices and Stephen Fry. The thought-provoking effects of the former meant that the celebrity status of the latter was not the overbearing distraction it might have been in a vanilla staging.
Applying all-male casting to Twelfth Night created mind-boggling layers of meaning when a male actor playing a female character dressed as a man exclaimed that she was not what she played.
Richard III, The Globe, 28 July 2012
Mark Rylance’s Richard was a very special creation. Rather than a nascent tyrant, a bubbling cauldron of frustration hemmed in by physical deformity, this Richard was overwhelmingly weak, with a vague passivity that made him seem at times almost withdrawn.
So when he began his campaign of politic conquest, it was characterised by a sad, depressed cruelty. Only the rarest of outbursts hinted at the fire, not of bloody ambition, but of some deep-seated unhappiness. His was an arctic winter of discontent that had frozen both his body and spirit.
He appeared for his opening soliloquy with flowers in his hat band, a victorious wreath that he offered to a groundling singled out as a “wanton ambling nymph”. Where one would expect snarls and a viperish grin, he merely gave an absent smile.
Richard’s weakness was comedic, which made it easier to derive humour from his outrageous audacity. His deadpan contradictions got lots of laughs.
But playing Richard that way could only be made to work if everyone else in the play was weaker than him.
Therefore his fiercest opponent, Margaret, was cut entirely. The excision of this key character was a vital step, because Rylance’s Richard could only have crumpled under the weight of her withering disdain.
Without Margaret’s galvanising effect on the other female characters, the power of the women in the play generally was also diminished. Anne and Elizabeth were portrayed by Johnny Flynn and Samuel Barnett respectively as weak and vacillating. Their characterisations were less effectual than most contemporary actresses would have made them. James Garnon’s Duchess of York was almost comic as she hunched over and floated about the stage, her feet invisible beneath her wide dress.
Even when Anne was angry, her ire failed to rouse a commensurate response. When she spat at Richard to rebuff his advances in 1.2, his reaction to this assault came after a delay, as if he were only marginally engaged in what was happening around him.
The male characters were not much more effective. The sickly Edward IV (Colin Hurley) was pale as a sheet and wheezed like a dying man after his every line.
Edward seemed at peace after having reconciled his family. But when he heard of Clarence’s (Liam Brennan) death and received a request for pardon from Dorset (Ben Thompson), he became troubled at his double standards over “poor Clarence” whom he had sentenced to death. This emotional pain helped to finish him off.
Buckingham (Roger Lloyd Pack) was the only personality to prove a match for Richard. As a result, in the balcony scene where Richard refused the crown, he looked more like Richard’s carer than this friend.
The weak or absent women and Richard’s faded strength meant that the production was characterised by a low level of energy, which was punctured on only two occasions by Richard’s outbursts.
After Richard’s re-entry in 3.4 he sat at the end of a table nearest the audience. Continuously nursing his withered hand rather than making eye contact with anyone else, he asked what fate should befall the traitors who had used witchcraft against him.
Hastings’ (Paul Chahidi) comment “If they have done this thing, my gracious lord” was the detonator that sparked Richard’s explosive “If?!” Given his previous quietness and reticence, this outburst was all the more forceful.
Richard returned to his former subdued self until Buckingham demanded the earldom promised to him (4.2). The king’s irritation erupted into another fiery explosion of temper, reminding Buckingham that he was “not in the giving vein today.”
If Richard was harbouring a seething discontent within him, it was most frequently expressed in casual low-key cruelty.
After being crowned, Richard sat and held his wife’s hand as he explained why he had to have her killed. She shed tears which Richard himself wiped off and smeared into his own eyes saying “Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye”. He took the ring from Anne’s hand and gave it to Tyrrell (Paul Chahidi again) as the token he would need to gain access to murder the princes.
All of this heartless behaviour came from a man who was still outwardly quiet and strangely unassuming.
The only other notable feature of Richard’s character to be brought out by the production was his extreme vulnerability to expressions of real love. At the end of their long scene together (4.4) Elizabeth pretended to assent to Richard’s plan to marry her daughter. She sealed the agreement with a passionate kiss that caused Richard to collapse.
This strange turn of events could be explained as Richard being overcome by the power of a spirited woman’s freely offered affection, in contrast with the compelled love and obedience he was accustomed to receiving from those he manipulated. Surrounded by a cocoon of extorted love, the merest touch of the real thing was more than he could bear.
Richard declined with clearly signposted indications of mental frailty. He began to make mistakes, such as calling for Catesby (Peter Hamilton Dyer) when he was standing right beside him, and then not instructing him with his errand. When Richard said “My mind is changed” it implied decay and change for the worse.
On Bosworth Field he commented on his missing “alacrity of spirit” (5.3). He soon fell asleep in his chair at the start of the dream sequence.
Buckingham, Clarence, the princes, Hastings and Anne appeared, their faces painted white and framed by all-encompassing white sheets knotted over their heads. They spoke their curses from the tiring house doorway.
This prepared the way for the final battle between Richmond (James Garnon again) and Richard, who in a nice touch had his withered hand encased in armour but wore no gauntlet on his good hand.
As they battled with swords, Richard temporarily gained an advantage over his rival.
But then his victims, who had that night haunted his dreams, appeared once again as waking visions. With no ghostly trappings, the dead walked the stage as they did in life, re-enacting their interactions with Richard.
The princes with played with daggers and Hastings bowed to him. Finally, Richard caught sight of Anne and knelt to offer her his sword, an echo of their previous encounter in which he had taunted her with her lack of willingness to kill him.
The fatal sword was then taken by Richmond who stuck it into Richard’s back: game over.
In the light of Richard’s mental decline and their lack of spooky attire, these final visions were most likely delusions drawn from memory rather than yet another ghostly visitation.
For all its quirks, the production achieved a high degree of internal consistency. The ending was satisfying because it summarised the entire trajectory of Richard’s character. He had become a highly-driven monster through his inability to deal with past traumas. His ultimate defeat was brought about, not by a stronger opponent, but by a haunting vision from this same past. He literally and metaphorically handed victory to Richmond.
The Taming of the Shrew, The Globe, 27 June 2012
The most disturbing thing about this production of Shrew was that there was nothing remotely disturbing about it.
At the end the audience willingly cheered the happy couple’s kiss after Katharina’s apparent act of self-abasement: somehow the problematic nature of the play had been completely obliterated.
In retrospect it was possible to determine that this extraordinary effect had been deliberately and skilfully achieved by the most subtle of means.
And it was so much more than just another instance of the familiar staging that has Kate discover that humouring Petruchio can be fun.
The process began right at the start.
The pre-performance warm-up music from the Globe band was disrupted by a loutish figure at the back of the yard, St George flags painted on each cheek, shouting and gesticulating as he made his way forward and stumbled up the steps onto the stage.
He was immediately surrounded by theatre staff who tried to push him back and even the stage manager came out from the tiring house to try and stop him.
But he proceeded to urinate against the stage right pillar, turning towards the audience in mid-flow so that the Globe boards and a groundling near the stage front were comprehensively soaked.
Tired and emotional, the bedraggled football fan collapsed and was attended by a medic, prompting the stage manager to announce the cancellation of the performance.
For an encore, the man sat up and vomited.
Needless to say, all this (including the wet fake groundling) was part of the performance and our first glimpse of Christopher Sly (Simon Paisley Day).
Some of the play’s cast, half changed into costume and still wearing their ID badges, found Sly and planned to trick him into thinking he was a gentleman.
This integral part of the plot was made to seem an ad hoc invention of the actors and practised on a random audience member. The worlds outside and inside the play were seamlessly connected.
Sly was taken away to be dressed in fine clothes and the youngest of the actors ordered to dress as a woman and pretend to be his wife.
Sly was brought out in a chair and awoke in his new clothes still drunk and called for small ale. He shouted about being Christopher Sly of Bermondsey who drank at The Anchor on Park Street, which is real pub in a real street just around the corner from the Globe.
He was offered fine food and drink and the others held up paintings. One of these was an empty frame in which one of the huntsmen tried to look like its subject, the mythological figure of Daphne.
When the Page returned as his wife, Sly started to grope him. The frustration caused by the rebuttal of his advances led him to comment “Ay, it stands…”.
Tucked away at the end of the play’s induction came the first element in the production’s subliminal engineering of the audience’s reaction.
The messenger told the duped Sly that his players had come to perform a play for him. Instead of the text’s “Is not a comonty a Christmas gambol or a tumbling-trick?” addressed back to the messenger, this Sly turned to face the audience and asked “Is there a fool in it?”
His precise tone of voice in phrasing this question indicated that he already knew the answer. Simon Paisley Day, soon to change from Sly into Petruchio, had been given an invented line whose sole purpose was to seed the idea that the main play we were about to see was the story of a fool: name Petruchio.
Though interestingly, Simon Paisley Day was only credited as Petruchio. As far as this production was concerned, Sly did not exist as a separate character: Sly was Petruchio.
Sly and his “wife” walked down the slope at the front of the stage and joined the groundlings at the stage left front of the yard.
In the first scene of the play proper we were introduced to Lucentio (Joseph Timms) and Irish-accented servant Tranio (Jamie Beamish) (1.1). As Paduan scholars sat in their black outfits by the stage left pillar, Tranio counselled his master not to work too hard. This advice to enjoy the craic was apt coming from an Irish character.
Seeing Baptista’s group enter, they retreated to the Globe balcony and observed him reminding Bianca’s suitors that she could not be married before Kate had found a husband.
The dotard Gremio (Michael Bertenshaw) walked with the aid of a stick and almost fell into yard. This comic turn paved the way for the entry of Kate (Samantha Spiro) who growled and waved her fists in fury at her tormentors.
When Hortensio (Rick Warden) contradicted her she snarled and grabbed him by the hair. Interestingly, Kate’s hair was black and had a Medusa-like quality to it that suited her character’s female rage. By contrast Bianca (Sarah MacRae) was blonde, tall and pretty.
Having heard Baptista (Pip Donaghy) ask whether any of Bianca’s suitors could supply her with tutors, the others exited through the centre doors. Kate was shut out and cried “I may go too, may I not?” She banged on the door, ran at it and then knocked both leaves to the ground before walking over them.
This was an initial dose of cartoonish unreality that served to distance us from Kate as a real person: crucial to making her final surrender palatable.
Gremio said “Farewell” to Hortensio who went to leave, but he returned when he overheard Gremio talk of finding “a fit man to teach her”. Not wanting to be outmanoeuvred, Hortensio picked up the idea and said he would do the same. They agreed among themselves to get a husband for Kate and thereby release Bianca.
The love-struck Lucentio received a reality check from Tranio, who announced with great comic timing that his master’s plan to woo Bianca in the guise of a schoolmaster was “Not possible”.
Hitting on the idea of swapping identities so that Tranio could woo her in loco Lucentio, the pair got almost fully undressed onstage to change clothes. Tranio shifted out of his Irish accent when pretending to be Lucentio. This great device was used throughout the play, and also meant that at moments of great stress Tranio would slip back into Irish.
At the end of the scene, Sly and his wife down in the yard commented on the play and left through the piazza doors. After a quick change, Simon Paisley Day returned as Petruchio (1.2).
Petruchio was tall and middle-aged. Yet despite being possessed of a confident manner, he was by no means a ladies’ man. There was a hint of comedy behind his amorous pretensions and obvious neediness. This characterisation added to the sense that he was not a serious threat to Kate.
Petruchio’s servant Grumio (Pearce Quigley) was lugubrious and sarcastic. This sarcasm was particularly pointed and served to undermine Petruchio further in the eyes of the audience. The production subliminally suggested that Petruchio was a fool, and Grumio’s persistent needling of his master was a major component in this.
This could be seen when Grumio cottoned on to the actual meaning of Petruchio’s request “Knock me here soundly”. The proverbial light bulb went on, whereupon Grumio repeated “Knock at the gate!” as if suddenly discerning the sense in the utterance of a child or an imbecile.
Given Petruchio’s advancing years, Grumio guffawed when his master referred to himself as one of the “young men”.
On each of the three occasions that Petruchio referred to the death of his father, Grumio loudly kicked a bucket, apologising for the disturbance immediately afterwards.
Petruchio’s principal ambition was to find a wife and he descended the slope to point at a female groundling as if asking her to be his bride.
He was taken aback at Hortensio’s promise that he had a rich wife lined up for him. Hortensio began to praise Kate’s good features, but when he got to “Her only fault” he paused and the audience began jeering with laughter. Hortensio looked at us jokingly.
They were joined by Gremio and Lucentio disguised as a scholar pretending to be acting for Gremio. Petruchio attempted to reassure Gremio that he would be able to marry Kate and free up Bianca for him, saying that Kate’s scolding would not intimidate an experienced soldier such as himself. But this sounded like bravado. His pretensions to bravery had been comically undercut by his age and Grumio’s mockery.
All was not well when we saw the Minola sisters for the second time. Bianca had been blindfolded and tied up by Kate, who now took down the blindfold demanding that her sister tell which of her suitors she liked best (2.1). Kate was very rough and violent towards Bianca, at one point headbutting her. This made Kate very unsympathetic.
The sisters ended up fighting. But when Baptista arrived, Bianca fell to the ground crying and immediately got her father’s sympathy. Kate stormed off in disgust at this gross unfairness.
The suitors entered with their gifts of books and a lute. Baptista was understandably thrown by Petruchio’s description of Kate as “fair and virtuous”. When presenting Hortensio, Petruchio paused before “mathematics”, indicating that this was a spur of the moment addition to his skills. Gremio, presenting Lucentio/Cambio, similarly paused before “mathematics” as if matching Petruchio’s bid.
As Petruchio and Baptista discussed marriage arrangements, shouting and banging was heard off stage. Hortensio returned with his glasses askew and shortly afterwards a lute with a hole through it was thrown out from the offstage classroom.
Petruchio was left alone and Kate sent to meet him. She looked at her new suitor as if he were mad. This was perhaps justified by the way Petruchio proceeded to move around her as he began his paean of praise to her.
The couple traded barbed insults with Petruchio acting out some of the bawdy wordplay to make its meaning obvious.
He knelt when asking her to sit on him and assumed a dominant sexual position when saying “I will not burden thee”. He then faced Kate and spread his legs when he described her as “light”.
Describing herself as “heavy as my weight should be”, Kate placed her foot on his crotch as if taking back control of the female part that he had mocked.
Despite her barbs, Kate was very impressed with his wit; particularly so in her reaction to his “tongue in tail” joke.
She struck at him but he held her, warning that he would cuff her if she struck again. This she did. He caught her hand, but she wrestled him to the ground, pinning him saying “So you may lose your arms”.
This latter remark was not wit from a physically overpowered woman, but a threat against Petruchio’s arms pinned to the ground. This was important in establishing them as near equals and showing that Petruchio’s physical dominance was not unquestioned.
Petruchio reversed like a crab when that creature was referred to. The audience laughed when Petruchio said “I am too young for you”. We had already got into the habit of finding his claims to youth and vigour comical.
The pair ended up sprawled on the ground as Petruchio spoke of making her a “Kate conformable”. Baptista and the others saw this apparently cosy scene from a distance, lending credence to Petruchio’s subsequent claim that Kate had been won and was only curst for appearances.
Petruchio grasped Kate’s hand and she struggled to get free. Baptista took hold of them both to seal the arrangement, at which Kate could only look on aghast.
After Petruchio and Kate had left, Baptista auctioned off Bianca between Tranio/Lucentio and Gremio. The audience expressed its sympathy for the defeated Gremio with ‘awws’.
The scene with Bianca’s Latin lesson (3.1) had Bianca take Lucentio down onto the slope to prevent Hortensio overhearing them. She concluded by telling him to “despair not”.
On the day of her marriage, Kate stood around in her white wedding dress fuming that Petruchio had not come (3.2). The audience cheered Biondello (Tom Godwin) at the end of his exhaustive speech describing the dishevelled appearance of Petruchio and his sickly horse.
When he finally arrived, Petruchio wore a jerkin with pantaloons, one boot top folded down, a stuffed codpiece and had a copper saucepan on his head. A carrot was just visible, wedged inside the pan next to his head. Grumio held a bit in his mouth and used coconuts to make a clopping noise like a horse.
Petruchio eventually stripped off his outer clothes so that he was dressed only in a pouch codpiece and boots. This looked ridiculous and further undermined his credibility.
Grumio tried to speak but the bit meant he could only make a gargling sound. Petruchio took the carrot from the saucepan and stuck it in Grumio’s mouth.
In a final humiliating act, Petruchio turned and walked away to reveal his bare behind. Truly this play did have a fool in it.
Forgetting his assumed role for an instant, Tranio switched between Irish and English accents mid-speech when Gremio returned with his description of the riotous wedding.
Once the wedding party had returned, Kate asserted her independence by refusing to leave with her new husband. Petruchio’s response was simple: he packed her onto Grumio’s back and they set off with Grumio bearing her like a horse.
Bianca said that her sister was “madly mated”, inspiring Gremio to make an additional joke by saying that Petruchio was “Kated”, but the witticism fell flat.
After the interval, antlers were hung from the Globe balcony to represent the interior of Petruchio’s house (4.1). A sky blue curtain across the upper gallery marked the bedroom.
A large dining table was set out and the servants gathered to sing the bawdy song Cuckoo’s Nest. After this lusty introduction to the second half, Grumio came clopping in and began disciplining the staff (including Christopher Keegan as Nathaniel).
Grumio used cutlery and plates to tell story of their disastrous journey. Kate was represented by a ladle, Petruchio by a spoon. Metal plates were bashed together to indicate how Grumio had been struck. Curtis (Tom Anderson) picked up the spoon standing for Petruchio when describing his master as the real shrew.
Grumio’s references to his horse were modified to “my real horse”, a necessary distinction as he was acting like one. This slight playfulness with reality formed part of overall atmosphere of the production.
Petruchio and Kate arrived at the end of their journey, he with his jacket on and she in a mired white dress, still looking confused.
There was something slightly Basil Fawlty about Petruchio ordering his servants around. Lots of nice food was laid out on the table. Kate was sat at the stage left side almost ready to tuck in, when Petruchio threw away a bowl of water, blaming the servant that had brought it.
Kate ended up at other end of the table just as Petruchio declared that the food was burnt and set about throwing it all to the ground before taking a perplexed Kate away.
They went upstairs to his bedchamber behind the hanging. We heard Kate screaming “Yes, yes, yes” suggesting that the marriage was being consumated.
Curtis stood at the gap in the curtain and reported that Petruchio was making “a sermon of continency to her”, a point immediately underlined when Petruchio could be heard contradicting her saying “No”.
Petruchio spoke about his “reign” over Kate from the slope in a speech full of falconry terms.
Tranio brought Hortensio to show him Lucentio and Bianca kissing up on the balcony, now decorated with a different curtain to represent the house in Padua (4.2).
Hortensio despaired, removed his beard disguise and gave up on his pursuit of Bianca. The others then enlisted the Pedant (Patrick Driver) to stand in for Vincentio.
Back at Petruchio’s house, Grumio refused to give grapes to Kate, throwing them instead into the yard where they were caught by a groundling (4.3).
When she begged for food, another cartoonish piece of humour occurred (at least in this preview: the staging was changed for the main run).
Grumio set out a table and chair and sat Kate down before handing her a menu. He stood like a waiter ready to take her order. Each delicacy with which he tempted her was itemised as if on the menu. To complete the impression, Grumio’s accent changed into that of a posh foodie waiter. Kate beat him for his insolence.
Petruchio brought a fine roast chicken, but would not let Kate have it until she said thanks. She complied, saying “I thank you, sir” through gritted teeth as if she was forcing the words out against her will. But Kate was insufficiently sincere and all the chicken went to Hortensio, obliging her to watch him eat it.
Kate’s humiliation continued when Petruchio took the elegant cap brought the Tailor (David Beames) from her head and stood on it. Kate tried to pull the cap from under his feet. The gown was modelled comically by Grumio. Petruchio pulled off one of its sleeves and looked through it comparing it to a demi-cannon.
Because Grumio was actually wearing the gown himself, the joke he made about taking up his mistress’ gown for his master’s use suddenly acquired a new comic angle.
Petruchio dragged Kate away still in her tattered clothes. His speech about jays and larks, adders and eels sounded ridiculous. She looked at him as if he were insane.
In a foreshadowing of their argument on the road back to Padua, Kate contradicted Petruchio’s opinion about the time of day. He looked exasperated, saying she was “still crossing it”.
The fake Vincentio presented himself to Baptista and slowly and deliberately recited his prepared speech (4.4). The others stood behind Baptista and encouraged their stooge, prompting him using mime when he forgot his lines. But the subterfuge worked and the marriage of Lucentio and Bianca was arranged.
Petruchio and Kate made their way from the yard up onto the stage with an entire party of servants (4.5). Wearied by the long journey to Padua they were attempting to raise their flagging spirits by singing a comic song and expected Kate to complete each line with the word “pig”. She did so twice but then passed out, spread-eagled on the ground making no reply.
Still disobedient to Petruchio’s demands, Kate refused to say that the sun was the moon. This caused the servants to get annoyed at her intransigence. They were tired from carrying the luggage for the pair and any delay prolonged their discomfort.
Here again the production skilfully drew the audience into seeing Kate’s actions as reasonable and not the result of Petruchio’s sadism.
Firstly, the song game created a playful atmosphere. Secondly and crucially, the moans from the servants at her refusal to play the game and agree with Petruchio meant that her eventual surrender could be seen as much as kindness to them as it was obedience to her husband.
He contradicted her once again, and her line “What you will have it named… And so it shall be so for Katharina” was accompanied by a sincere look of acquiescence. Seeing that she had been won, he gazed at her lovingly and held her hand.
Satisfied with her response, he yelled “Well, forward, forward!” ordering the party to move on, both physically on their journey and also to suggest the onward progress of their marriage.
The pair came across the real Vincentio (David Beames again). Kate willingly collaborated with Petruchio’s joke at the old man’s expense, referring to him as a maid at Petruchio’s suggestion and then correcting herself when Petruchio backtracked. This was all a playful game between a loving couple rather than further bullying.
Picking up on the good-natured wit of their game, Vincentio himself played along by referring to Kate as “sir” and Petruchio as “my merry mistress” as if getting in the spirit of things.
The large confluence of characters outside Lucentio’s house gave rise to the comic sequence in which the real Vincentio was rebuffed by the fake Vincentio on the balcony (5.1). Petruchio and Kate went off to watch the ensuing chaos from the yard.
Having discovered his servant’s deception, Vincentio wrestled with Tranio as they both rolled a short way down the slope at the stage front.
Further disorder was prevented when Lucentio explained what had happened. When Gremio realised his hopes of marrying Bianca had been dashed there were more “awws” of commiseration for him from the audience. But Vincentio and Baptista, although relieved, were still annoyed at the deception.
Witnessing her father’s distress, Bianca realised that this clever scheme was flawed and had a look of thunder on her face. Lucentio asked her not to look pale, an instruction that prompted her to slap Lucentio on the face.
This set her up nicely as a froward wife in the final scene. Her character has an interesting trajectory: she must initially seem a good girl compared with Kate, but by the end of the play she has to be a bad match for one of the sped husbands. The slap here was a neat, clearly noticeable way of underlining that transition.
Kate seemed sheepish when Petruchio wanted her to kiss him in the street. But when he asked if she was ashamed of him, his scolding was clearly jocular and half-hearted, as if only returning to previous form for old-times’ sake.
They kissed, but only after Petruchio gestured at Grumio to turn and look the other way. This implied that Petruchio possessed some of Kate’s sensitivity about public kissing, again emphasising their similarity and the health of their relationship.
But Grumio had the last laugh by getting out a mirror, breathing on it to polish it, and then positioning it to observe the kiss.
This comic disobedience of Petruchio’s request was another instance in which his authority was undermined, making him once again into the butt of the joke.
Lucentio’s house was prepared for the feast in the final scene (5.2). Candles were lit in chandeliers which were hoisted above the stage. An onstage servant pretended to pull the rope and tie it up, while the offstage technicians did the actually lifting.
Chairs were placed and rugs set out to allow Petruchio to sit stage left with Kate on the ground next to him, rather like a “household Kate”.
When the Widow (Helen Weir) implied that Petruchio had married a shrew, thereby warping his view of other marriages, Petruchio and Kate combined to rebuff her.
The frowardness of the Widow and Bianca was emphasised by way they both spoke from centre stage in a powerful position. Petruchio wagered the others that Kate was a better wife than those two, and soon a table was burdened with large amounts of gold coin as stakes were placed.
The women went to the balcony. Biondello was dispatched to fetch them in turn, and reported back their various excuses. To everyone’s surprise (except Petruchio’s) Kate came when called and appeared on the balcony.
Kate escorted the other two to the main stage and her final speech was delivered from the stage front slope, addressing the women in the yard.
Having delivered her homily on submissiveness with complete sincerity, she went back up the slope and put her hand on the ground.
Petruchio knelt before her and held her hand instead of treading on it, a gesture which led into a final kiss. The performance ended on Petruchio’s triumphant claim that the other husbands were “sped”.
Why had Kate abased herself? In the absence of any psychological realism, the production did not concern itself with providing an answer to that question.
Instead of grappling with ways to deal with such problems or to make the play’s difficult subject matter palatable, the production chose instead to render the play into a harmless comedy stripped of anything that might make it perplexing.
That this was possible was fascinating in itself. Dissecting the subtleties of its technique proved to be the icing on the cake.
Henry V, The Globe, 22 June 2012
Musicians played soothing tunes before the start of the Globe’s midnight matinee performance of Henry V. But these docile players were soon replaced by drummers thumping out martial music as the Chorus (Brid Brennan) appeared. They circled round her, the energy of their drumming charging her up before she launched into her prologue.
Canterbury (Paul Rider) and Ely (Brendan O’Hea) took turns on a commode while discussing the bill they wanted stopped (1.1). The Chorus sat stage left and held out a bowl for them to wash their hands in afterwards. This was a clever if distracting way of making entertainment out of tedious politics.
The King (Jamie Parker) swept into view and his court sat in an arc of chairs with Henry at the stage right end (1.2). Canterbury was effusive and obsequious outlining the justification of Henry’s claim to the French throne. After this slightly cut but still rambling speech, he evoked laughter when he said that the ramifications were “as clear as is the summer’s sun”.
All the while Henry sat in his chair and rubbed the fingers of his hand together, the outward expression of his inward trouble. When he asked if he was justified in making the claim everyone enthusiastically cajoled him into making war. Canterbury held centre stage with his rhetoric about bees.
Henry stood up and, as if from nowhere, summoned from within the resolve to bend France to his awe or break it all to pieces.
The French ambassador was summoned and Montjoy (Giles Cooper) duly appeared in his French blue tunic with gold fleur-de-lys. He paused when saying “the dukedoms that you… claim…” sarcastically casting aspersions on Henry’s demand.
The consignment of tennis balls was merely examined by Exeter (Nigel Cooke) and not bounced all over the stage. Only one white ball was removed, which Henry bounced and caught in his hand as if batting it away. His repeated word “mock” was emphasised each time with a bounce of the ball.
The Chorus set the scene for Southampton before going to sit stage right. The elderly Nym (David Hargreaves) looked forlorn as the sound of sexual congress came from the tiring house (2.1). Mistress Quickly (Lisa Stevenson), in the company of Pistol (Sam Cox), was shouting an historically accurate and therefore comical “Yea! Yea! Yea! Yea!” from offstage.
Nym wandered for a moment before frustratedly drawing his dagger on the Chorus who defended herself with her own dagger. Outward aggression turned inward as Nym drew his finger across his throat, saying “Knives may cut”, implying the possibility of suicide.
Bardolph, played by Paul Rider, who had just changed from portraying Canterbury, tried to console him. With his Compo hat, Nym looked like a character from Last of the Summer Wine.
Nym referred to holding out his iron, but the usual reference to a dagger or sword was instead given a bawdy twist as Nym seemed to be alluding to his penis. This made his subsequent remarks “it is a simple one… it will toast cheese” very funny.
The entry of Mistress Quickly prompted Nym’s “and there’s an end”, as he expressed his sorrow at losing her and having to hear Pistol enjoying her.
Pistol swaggered wonderfully, telling the musicians to stop playing before he continued. At frequent intervals he would make a pistol gesture with his fingers, which became his trademark.
Pistol argued with Nym, showing his backside to him when referring to Nym’s “nasty mouth”. He responded to Nym’s challenge with his pistol gesture, saying that the “cock is up, and flashing fire will follow”. Once they had drawn daggers, Bardolph separated them.
The Boy (Olivia Ross) spoke of Falstaff’s grave illness: at this point the absence of Roger Allam’s character was keenly felt.
The traitors sat on chairs while Exeter and Westmoreland (James Lailey) talked about them (2.2).
Henry strode through the centre opening, with their commissions tucked into his belt. There was a hint of premeditation in Henry’s order to Exeter to free a prisoner that made it look like the start of a ploy.
He called the traitors forward onto the promontory and handed them their commissions. Once they had read them, they immediately tried to escape but were wrestled to the ground and dragged back screaming. After their arrest, Grey (Giles Cooper again) snivelled pitifully on the ground.
Having dealt with them, Henry told his lords to set sail for France. As he said this, the body of the dead Falstaff was being lowered down from the balcony to the ground and carried away. Henry lingered alone and looked at the audience with a troubled expression as his one-time companion made his final exit.
Henry’s forlorn look seemed to suggest both that he had not yet freed himself from his riotous past, and also that he felt doubtful about the future. This self-doubt was also registered later in the performance when Bardolph was executed, and in response to the long list of French dead after Agincourt.
The Eastcheap crew reminisced about the dead Falstaff (2.3). Pistol gave a long hugging kiss to Quickly and then invited others to do the same. They formed an orderly queue. Bardolph puckered up and closed in; the Boy gave her a peck and walked away looking deliciously sheepish. But when Nym moved in, Pistol drew his sword and warned him off.
Pistol delayed moving his trunk out of the way as the French throne was brought onstage for the next scene, to give David Hargreaves time to change into the French King.
The French King had the same lost look as Nym, almost like a man in the early stage of dementia (2.4). His eyes were wide and staring, and was obviously relying on his son the Dauphin (Kurt Egyiawan) to run the shop. His phrase “black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales” sounded like a repetitive stumbling over words. His poor health hinted that the French were going to lose.
The messenger entered but was held back so that the King could continue his speech. This implied that the frail monarch was being humoured in his dotage.
Exeter entered and unfurled the long pedigree at the King’s feet. In face of this evidence, the King merely gazed with a feeble expression.
The Chorus set the scene for Harfleur and right on cue explosions shook the stage, chambers swung down from the heavens to fly back and forth emitting smoke, as Henry and his men charged bloodied from the tiring house (3.1).
Henry knelt on the promontory for his “Once more…” speech, amid a really convincing evocation of mid-battle excitement. He descended the steps into the yard to point at a groundling he identified as a “good yeoman”. The Globe space lent itself perfectly to this kind of connection between actors and audience.
For some reason he said “The game is afoot” with no elision.
In a glorious piece of audience participation, “God for Harry, England, and Saint George” was broken into three and each bit was repeated by soldiers down in the yard after Henry’s initial cry, encouraging us to join in. We became in effect the English army at Harfleur. This succeeded up to a point, but was most effective when observed from the galleries rather than as a participant.
The heroism of this moment was immediately undercut by Bardolph’s parody. He came up the steps from the yard exhorting us, amongst other things, to “stretch out your greyhounds” (3.2). Demonstrating the success of the English charge, Pistol stood with his foot on an escaping wounded man.
These soldiers were urged onwards by an excellent moustachioed Fluellen played by a half-Welsh actor (Brendan O’Hea again) who was able to supply an authentic accent.
Gower (Matthew Flynn) and Fluellen discussed the mines as the dirt-mired miners came out the trap door. Macmorris (James Lailey again) had an Irish accent but the Scottish Jamy (Chris Starkie) was deliberately incomprehensible, a joke that produced murmurings of discontent from some of the Scots in the audience.
Fluellen inched his way towards Macmorris, requesting a discussion about the Roman wars. The Welshman relished the poetry of his utterances in stark contrast to the indistinct blather coming from Jamy.
Now set before the walls of Harfleur, Henry reminded the Governor (Roger Watkins) up on the Globe balcony of the dire consequences of resistance (3.3). As the town gates were opened, Hal paused and stared at his gloves, a man evidently troubled by the gory threats he had just made.
In the English lesson, Katharine (Olivia Ross again) copied the exaggerated gestures deployed by Alice (Lisa Stevenson again) when translating words for parts of the body (3.4). Sound and gesture were learnt by Katharine as a package.
When Katharine remarked that “foutre” and “con” were not words to be said before the “seigneurs de France”, she bowed before some imaginary French lords. The lesson was interrupted by the sound of drums and trumpets offstage heralding impending conflict, after which came the interval.
At the start of the second half, the French were surprised at the fervour of the English: “Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull” (3.5). Given the soggy weather so far that summer, the answer was absolutely yes. The French King spoke his long list of French nobles from the promontory to give it extra emphasis.
Gower and Fluellen’s conversed about the bridge (3.6), and Fluellen’s thoughts on the vagaries of Fortune had a fitting poetry.
Fluellen and Pistol argued about Bardolph, resulting in Pistol giving him the fig gesture.
When the two Welshmen met, Fluellen was keen to impress his compatriot King Henry. He sang out “The Duke of Exeter is master of the pridge” in great excitement, but no one was particularly moved by his enthusiasm.
Henry broached the subject of the battle dead. Fluellen said there were none apart from Bardolph who was due to be executed. Henry looked troubled and he stuttered out his “We would have all such offenders so cut off”, obviously upset about the impending death of his former drinking companion.
This showed that he had not fully cast off all his old friends. His initial project, to seem more worthy having comprehensively rejected them, was faltering. Henry’s next words giving “express charge” against looting and bad behaviour were angry, but this was because of losing Bardolph and not displeasure about the offence.
Henry continued to be bitter with the French messenger Montjoy. He joked about three Frenchmen equalling one Englishman. He was sarcastic about his new taste for bragging being caused by the French air. Nevertheless, there was a persistent tinge of sadness in his demeanour. He looked down at the ground as if not entirely convinced by his own bravado.
The night time scene with the French preparing for battle was given extra realism because of the late hour (3.7).
The Chorus introduced the corresponding night scene with Harry talking with his troops (4.1). Henry borrowed a cloak from Erpingham (David Hargreaves again) and used it to disguise the coat of arms on his jacket. Identifying himself as Harry le Roy, Henry was assumed by Pistol to be Cornish, but swiftly adopted a Welsh accent.
We had seen throughout the performance how Henry had been troubled by his position and harboured grave misgivings about his actions. His long exposition about sleep and ceremony here, seemed to summarise and give complete expression to his disquiet.
He knelt and prayed to his sword for success in battle and agonised over this father’s usurpation of Richard. There was real desperation in his voice when he said that everything he did was “nothing worth”. This was another indication of the pressure on him and not a comment on his father’s fault.
After a brief scene showing the French readying themselves for battle (4.2), Henry rallied his downhearted troops (4.3). His claim to be the most offending soul alive with coveting honour seemed slightly insincere. In the light of his previous misgivings there were grounds not to trust his sudden enthusiasm.
Henry went onto the promontory for his Crispin’s day speech. There was something quiet about his manner, which was not hectoring but came instead from somewhere calm within him.
Montjoy appeared again with an offer of ransom, which was rejected. Henry was surprised at York’s request to lead the vanguard.
The battle got underway with longbowmen firing volleys of arrows, which were gradually aimed lower as the enemy approached (4.4).
A French soldier (Giles Cooper again) in armour hobbled across the stage pursued by Pistol who demanded a ransom. When told via the Boy interpreter that the captive was willing to pay, Pistol comically announced “my fury shall abate”.
The always ominous remark about the luggage “there is none to guard it but boys” was followed by a sequence in which Henry and a formation of his men wielded halberds in a series of stylised movements representing the continuation of the battle.
A short scene showed the French bloody with defeat (4.5). All was “perdu”.
News came of the battle dead, as well as a puzzling order from Henry to kill the prisoners (4.6). Pistol was visibly annoyed at having to kill Le Fer instead of ransoming him.
The killing of the Boy took place onstage, his neck cut with a knife by the French (4.7) before being carried off. His body, with blood visible on his neck, was then brought back by the English.
The horror of this sequence was directly followed by the comedy of Fluellen’s comparison of Macedon and Monmouth in praise of Henry.
Henry was spitting angry at the slaughter of the boys. He looked up at the Globe galleries to see the “horsemen on yon hill” and shouted “bid them come down…” But this proved unnecessary as Montjoy gave him the day.
Henry broke down and cried at this news. Fluellen cajoled him with his anecdote about Edward the Black Prince and leeks, to which Henry responded by bowing his head as if overcome with speechless passion.
The Welsh contingent in the audience cheered at the mention of Henry’s indelible Welsh blood.
Everything that Fluellen did was informed by an enthusiastic joy, which formed a stark contrast with Henry’s ponderous mood. It seemed inevitable that when these two were brought together that the height of Fluellen’s rhapsody should accompany the depths of Henry’s despair. There was also the possibility that the life-affirming jollity of his compatriot was the trigger that released the King’s pent-up emotion.
After Henry’s reunion with Williams (Chris Starkie again) and the soldier’s abject apology for challenging his king, Henry had serious matters at hand (4.8).
On reading the list of the dead he had requested, Henry was severely affected by the disparity between the numbers of English and French who had died.
He stuttered out the news that ten thousand French had been killed. His order not to boast of the death toll looked like contrition for having caused such slaughter.
His final words in the scene “Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men” looked like an insincere misstatement of his mood. The literal jollity of his words was undercut by his subsequent blank stare at the audience as the Chorus entered for act five.
The Chorus took us to England and back to France again.
Sparks began to fly when Fluellen, wearing a leek in his helmet (5.1), met Pistol who imitated his Welsh accent when talking of “Cadwallader and all his goats”. Not taking this insult lightly, Fluellen headbutted him to the ground and struck him to make him eat the leek.
Pistol tried to spit it out, but Fluellen made him swallow it. But he did in fact keep most of the leek in his mouth, as we saw when he spat it into Gower’s tankard at the end of the sequence.
For the final scene, Henry wore a coat of French blue (5.2). The two parties lined up either side of the stage as Burgundy (Paul Rider again) made an incredibly eloquent speech about the peace accord.
The doubling of Canterbury and Burgundy was significant. Whereas the play had begun with a speech by the archbishop fomenting the war, this speech by the Frenchman formed a counterpart extolling the virtues of peace.
These two speeches by the same actor bookended the production.
After slyly arranging to be alone with the object of his affections “Yet leave our cousin Katharine…”, Henry tried to move close to her. But her chaperone Alice stood between them, her face like thunder, insisting “non!” Alice was indignant in her explanations of the princess’s words.
Katharine was not at all enthusiastic. Henry tried to kiss her lips, but she protested. Alice says said that she did not know how to translate “baiser” into English. For some inexplicable reason, at this point she became surprisingly keen on Henry and allowed him to pursue Katharine unhindered.
He eventually embraced and kissed Katharine. Only one person in the audience made a catcall but everyone else watched in respectful silence. This was an odd reaction quite unlike the cheers that often accompany such moments in the theatre.
But everyone laughed at Henry’s hasty retreat at “Here comes your father”. In his hurry, Henry put his cloak on inside out so that the lining was on the outside, which he swiftly corrected.
Burgundy was knowingly sarcastic when asking Henry about teaching English to the princess. The King of France consented to the marriage and all ended well.
Brid Brennan’s Queen Isabel took off her hat to revert instantly to portraying the Chorus, making Queen Isabel’s last speech calling for God’s blessing on the match the conclusion of the play, not the usual epilogue about Henry VI.
As with all Globe productions, this one ended with a hearty jig with Henry and Katharine stamping at each other’s feet.
This production emphasised the uneasiness with which Henry wore the crown and his horror and self-doubt at his own actions.
His trauma at Bardolph’s death showed that his plan to use and abandon his Eastcheap companions came at the cost of caring about those people.
But the depth of Henry’s character built up during the war scenes suddenly disappeared under the weight of the concluding love story.
The Globe to Globe festival lasted six weeks and comprised thirty-seven Shakespeare productions, each in a different language. Theatre companies from around the world presented a wide variety of interpretations of Shakespeare in a range of theatrical styles.
The individual characteristics of these productions proved endlessly fascinating. But some common features emerged from this disparate collection of drama.
Productions from a wide variety of cultures took characters written as male outsiders and recast them as female tricksters.
The Māori Troilus and Cressida had a female Thersites. Her tied-back hair and thin angular features were complemented by a shrill nasal voice that she used aggressively to mock everyone around her.
In the Hindi Twelfth Night the often dour figure of Feste became a sprightly young female whose mockery had none of the sad emptiness that comes to a peak in Feste’s concluding song.
The clownish Bottom became an old woman herb collector in the Korean Dream. She was transformed into a pig with a taste for mushy peas, jellied eels and fish & chips.
The Bangla Tempest continued the pattern with a regendered Trinculo, played as a clown with a swaggering walk and exaggerated gestures.
Autolycus in the Yoruba Winter’s Tale was yet another female trickster. She was duped by the Young Shepherd, stealing what she thought was a full purse, which turned out to be a decoy stuffed with paper.
Adam and Jaques were both played by women in the Georgian As You Like It. Whereas Adam merely came across as a faithful retainer who happened to be a woman in male attire, Jaques was a more intriguing prospect. She had an androgynous look, wore male attire with trousers, a grey coat, her short black hair swept down on one side.
The female Moth in the BSL Love’s Labour’s Lost and Mardian in the Turkish Anthony and Cleopatra were essentially sexless figures and often played by women in English language productions.
The figure of Christopher Sly was changed in the Urdu Shrew into Ravi: an all-purpose narrator and played the fake Vincentio, the Tailor and the imam conducting Petruchio and Kate’s wedding.
The trend was repeated in the German Timon of Athens, where Flaminius was a woman. As that character is Timon’s secretary, this gender switch made sense in a modern context. The compassion that Flaminius showed throughout, and particularly at the end when flying the paper butterfly over Timon’s dead body seemed appropriate to the regendering of the character.
The production also had a female Apemantus who wore a set of false noses stuck to her face. This and her general demeanour meant that Apemantus was portrayed as a female trickster figure rather than the more usual characterisation of a solemn, male philosopher. She began to look somewhat like Lear’s Fool.
Such was the prevalence of this transformation across the range of cultures represented in Globe to Globe, to produce female tricksters in particular, that it began to look as if English theatre culture was the odd man out for not having this character type as a regular feature.
Some of the theatre companies in this festival sprung out of performance traditions rooted more in storytelling and street theatre than in standard UK theatre practice.
As a consequence they featured narrators practised in holding the attention of the audience attention, lest they wander in search of other entertainment.
This was true of Archan Trivedi’s Laffabhai (Lafeu) in the Gujarati All’s Well That Ends Well. Despite the language barrier, his stage presence gripped the audience.
The South Sudan Cymbeline sprung from a street theatre culture. Throughout this performance the cast had engaged with the audience in a compelling manner, something that seemed to come naturally to actors who need to grip the attention of outdoor daytime audiences.
A long speech by Belarius in particular had proved compulsive listening. The actor Victor Lado Wani spoke in bursts, punctuated by slight pauses. These momentary silences had formed a subliminal hook that drew in the attention.
This sophisticated oratory was much more compelling than the efforts of many UK trained actors.
These observations point to an illuminating historical parallel.
The first Globe had in its day been just one developmental step up from the traditional English street theatre of touring companies performing in market squares, their income coming from passing round a hat rather than getting spectators to pay in advance.
These companies would have undergone a period of adjustment from playing in markets and inns to performance in the new amphitheatres.
Seeing a contemporary street theatre company adjusting to the modern Globe provided an insight into how that historical transition might have proceeded.
3. History repeating itself
Three productions had endings that mirrored their beginnings.
The final moments of the National Theatre of China Richard III saw Richmond crown himself wearing a yellow robe of state and take his place on the throne to the sound of ominous droning music. This was an exact replay of the coronations of both Richard and also that of Edward right at the start.
In the German Timon of Athens, Timon repeatedly welcomed both onstage actors and the audience to his party. After Alcibiades’ coup, the bullish general adapted the phrase and invited all and sundry to his party in a deliberate echo of the production’s opening.
King John in Armenian ended with Hubert taking the crown from the dead king’s head. He then turned to the messenger and said the first word of the production “Chatillion…” as whole story appeared to restart at its first moments.
These productions conveyed a cynical attitude to revolution and change.
4. The audience mix
Globe to Globe performances could be sorted into two categories, those with a minority of production language speakers in the audience and those where the clear majority were fully in tune with the production.
Many companies actively scanned the audience looking for their compatriots or at least speakers of the same language.
With the Yoruba Merry Wives, the general silence of the audience was punctuated by patches of shrill laughter from those getting the jokes, but for the most part the performance was foreign language Shakespeare being presented as a curiosity to a majority English audience. The performance became an object of scrutiny rather than immersive appreciation.
However, with something like the Gujarati All’s Well, the clear majority of the audience were fully in tune with the language, making non-Gujaratis the taciturn outsiders in the middle of a jubilant celebration of Gujarat culture.
The narrator announced the interval to his fellow Gujarati speakers and then as a kind afterthought looked down at some bewildered non-Gujarati groundlings, put an imaginary cup to his lips and said “cup tea, coffee!” This was a touching concession to make us feel more at home.
Audience participation by native speakers was quite common, and sometimes quite vocal, ranging from shouts to running commentaries on events. But the Māori Troilus and Cressida took this to another level.
After the cast had performed their closing haka, a contingent of Māoris in the yard began their own haka in a variant used to convey congratulations. The actors on stage watched and listened. A pause in the yard haka gave the cast an opportunity to respond, so that the two groups entered into a haka dialogue.
The intimacy that the Globe space fosters between cast and audience thus became in many instances an opportunity to observe some interesting forms of interaction.
5. Kiss my stage
Three productions paid homage to the reconstructed Globe as the embodiment of the spirit of the original and thereby placing it at the heart of the Shakespearean world.
At the end of his Richard III, Zhang Dongyu kissed the Globe stage, conferring on its boards the status of Shakespeare’s spiritual home.
This gesture was also repeated by the cast of Othello: The Remix a week later.
Before the start of this Urdu production, actor Salman Shahid gave an entire speech in English about the ‘sacred ground’ of the Globe stage and the great honour of performing there.
Embodying continuity with the past gives the Globe a unique character, one to which these visiting companies responded with accolades.
The Globe can build on this status and in future play host to more foreign-language productions, so that Globe to Globe can have a lasting legacy.
Hamlet, The Globe, 3 June 2012
The last Globe to Globe production was by no means the least of Shakespeare’s plays. The honour of closing the festival fell to Meno Fortas who brought us their Lithuanian Hamlet.
First performed in 1997, the original was four hours long. So this truncated two-hour version perhaps did not show the production at its best. But even the long version did not include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were also absent here.
The stage was littered with rusting ironwork and suspended above was the large blade of a circular saw.
In the first scene, Barnardo and Marcellus saw an invisible ghost and looked up towards the saw, striking at the thin air around it.
The Danish court had Claudius (Vytautas Rumšas) and Gertrude (Dalia Zykuvienė-Storyk) sat on chairs either side of the stage, each with a servant crouched next to them like a dog. Hamlet (Andrius Mamontovas) and Laertes (Kęstutis Jakštas) stood in the middle, watching the grotesque Claudius, an odd man who laughed coarsely through gold teeth.
Laertes sat on his case, which looked like the keel of an upturned boat to lecture his sister Ophelia (Viktorija Kyodytė). She smoked a pipe and clapped vigorously with her hands when saying farewell to him.
The use of stage properties shifted to another level during Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost of his father.
The Ghost (Vidas Petkevičius) sat behind a screen and took his coat off. Hamlet was blindfolded while the Ghost placed his coat on top of the saw blade suspended above the stage. Hamlet peeped through and then removed his blindfold to catch sight of his father’s ghost for the first time.
The Ghost prompted his son to revenge his murder by clasping Hamlet’s hands into fists and kissed them in blessing.
A large block of ice was produced on which Hamlet tentatively stepped with his bare feet. But the real coup de théâtre came when the block of ice was smashed into pieces to reveal a dagger inside. As if to demonstrate his desire to use the weapon, Hamlet drew the dagger along the tip of his tongue with relish.
Hamlet’s dalliance with Ophelia saw them rolling around on the ground. She began to flap like a fish out of water, at which point Hamlet tried to revive her. But he was overkeen in his affections, causing Ophelia to tell Polonius (Povilas Budrys) what had happened.
The Players (Margarita Žiemelytė, Algirda Dainavičius & Vaidas Vilius) entered rolling on logs like they were a circus act. They chattered like birds as if they were tame caged creatures. Hamlet placed some black dust on a sheet of paper and blew the dust into their faces, symbolising the lines he wrote to amend their play into The Mousetrap. His inspiration became in this instance an exhalation.
When the dumbshow was acted out, the entire court joined in. Their faces were smeared with black dust marking their inclusion in the cast and by extension their absorption of Hamlet’s inspiring exhalation. The Player King was swapped at the last minute so that the Ghost took his place, underlining the subterfuge.
The pressure on Hamlet caused by the king’s anger against him was symbolised by Hamlet crouching sideways inside a metal box in which a pressure plate bore down on him.
This looked like a clumsy and heavy-handed way of conveying the character’s situation. Original stagings can sometimes be enlightening, but this was lacking in subtlety.
The production’s unfortunately tendency towards ponderous, unsubtle symbolism was taken up a gear at the start of the second half.
Hamlet was reminded of his father and his need to revenge his death, not by a visitation during his confrontation with Gertrude, but by the arrival of his father standing upright on a wheeled platform, from which height he attached an candelabra made of ice to the saw blade still hanging above the stage.
Vidas Petkevičius visibly shuddered as the tall trolley lurched across the boards of the Globe stage. Far from looking ghostly and meaningful, this moment seemed more like an impromptu piece of repair work.
Hamlet delivered his “To be or not to be” speech looking up at the ice chandelier, which at least meant that his words were focused on an object that had a direction connection with the revenge he was contemplating.
Claudius sat a table with a very large glass of liquid and ice as he contemplated his crimes. In his anger he smashed the ice chandelier. This gesture decoded: an object intended to focus Hamlet’s thoughts on his father was attacked by the usurper because it was somehow also perceptible to him as a reminder of his murderous rise to power.
Hamlet crept up behind Claudius with a large glass of liquid, and began to pour its contents onto his back. But after this slight trickle, he decided not to press home his attack and withdrew.
Instead he took the liquid and poured some of it onto a cloth to use like chloroform to abduct and interrogate Gertrude.
Polonius’ killing was a truly bizarre sequence in which he hid inside a trunk from which he extended a breathing tube. Hamlet then dunked the end of the tube in a glass containing poison, similar to that he had almost used against Claudius. Polonius breathed through the tube producing bubbles in the liquid. After the stream of bubbles had stopped, Hamlet turned the trunk upside down and then opened it to reveal Polonius dead.
After Hamlet was dispatched to England, Laertes returned to Denmark, and was soon recruited by Claudius to murder the swiftly returning prince. Claudius strapped foils to Laertes’ arms so that they became extensions of his limbs.
Ophelia descended into madness, again clapping her hands, and was applauded for so doing by the entire court who gathered to watch her.
Hamlet and Horatio (Simonas Dovidauskas) appeared just before Ophelia’s burial. Hamlet was shocked to discover Yorick’s skull, which was represented by a coconut. The coconut ended up in Gertrude’s lap. Hamlet addressed it in that location: a psychologically suggestive piece of staging.
The fight between Laertes and Hamlet saw the pair initially behind a small black sheet. They then climbed over the top and slid down the front as if descending into the black innards of the grave.
The final duel had Hamlet and Laertes holding foils while a flute played a tune. Both faced the audience and swished their foils back and forth in the air as if accompanying the tune. When Hamlet fell, he rapped on a drum. After Hamlet declared that the rest was silence, the Ghost appeared as Fortinbras to close Hamlet’s eyes.
This particular performance was the last of the run of the production and consequently the last performance of Globe to Globe. After taking several curtain calls, Andrius Mamontovas held his hand into a loose fist and flexed his fingers to make it resemble a beating heart, which he then kissed and threw at the audience. This was a touching image on which to end the festival.
While the production managed to tell the story of Hamlet, the use of visual imagery to convey meaning tended to spell things out with too little subtlety. The characters tended to take second place to the metalwork.
But looked at another way, this feature worked to the advantage of non-Lithuanian speakers because it made apparent what would normally only be suggested by the language, which for many in the audience was opaque.
Timon of Athens, The Globe, 1 June 2012
Everyone loves a party, particularly one that starts with a hearty welcome. “Willkommen bei Timons Fest!” repeated our genial host (Michael Meyer) as he wandered the stage in tailcoat and sandals greeting the arriving audience as his guests. At his behest, Flaminius (Erika Spalke) scurried around offering people free programmes.
This major reworking by the Bremer Shakespeare Company in modern German began by making the audience complicit in the ensuing action. We were the throng of festive invitees that would enjoy Timon’s hospitality but eventually abandon him.
This, more than any other factor, gave the production contemporary relevance. The performance was not even a comment about the Eurozone crisis: with the whole audience complicit, it was about the immediate present.
His principal guests on stage also wore tailcoat and sandals. They drew on what looked like champagne corks as if they were cigars. This clever substitution saw one high-life accessory represented by another item with identical connotations.
A large artwork was being prepared by the Artist, painted onto a plastic sheet stretched over a large round object, which later turned out to be a trampoline.
As the party got underway, Timon tried to give an opening speech to complete his welcome, but was constantly interrupted by new demands on his generosity.
Ventidius (Gunnar Haberland) entered in shackles, which Timon examined closely before saying he would pay the man’s bail. Flaminius muttered under her breath that he should not disburse the sum. She moved around the stage lying flat on a trolley, sliding through people’s legs and under the trampoline.
When questioned about his finances, Timon assured: “I have the money, if not I’ll take out a loan – just joking.” His “we are born to do benefits” was translated as “wir sind dazu geboren Gutes zu tun” and became his catchphrase when questioned about his lavish philanthropy.
An old man complained that his daughter wanted to marry a poor man. Timon said he would make the man’s wealth equal to the daughter’s dowry.
Reacting to these constant interruptions to Timon’s opening speech, he complained “Can I finish it for once?”
Actors at the Globe often have to contend with aircraft noise; this night was no exception. But the roar of engines was turned to advantage as Flaminius enquired “Friends of yours, Timon?” implying that the sound resulted from some of his rich guests arriving by private jet.
The production had a female Apemantus (Petra-Janina Schultz) who wore a set of false noses stuck to her face. This and her general demeanour meant that Apemantus was portrayed as a female trickster figure rather than the more usual characterisation of a solemn, male philosopher. She began to look somewhat like Lear’s Fool.
The artwork was removed to reveal the trampoline underneath. Timon and his guests jumped up and down on it. The Artist (Peter Lüchinger) presented his show, moving gracefully in a white face mask to the sound of piano and strings. At the end of the show he fluttered a paper butterfly on a wire rod so that it skipped around Timon.
Alcibiades (Frank Auerbach) was a soldier in a military overcoat, engaged, not in a war, but in a stabilisation operation. The adaptation built on the original’s meat allusion, in which Alcibiades replies to Timon’s reference to a “breakfast of enemies” by saying “…there’s no meat like ’em”, and provided this Alcibiades with a meat fixation.
His conversation revolved around a lengthy description of a recipe involving marinating meat. This fascination and visceral hunger for flesh was a sideways comment on his profession.
Two prostitutes (Erika Spalke and Petra-Janina Schultz again) arrived for one of the guests. They went off stage with their client and moans were heard. Timon reacted calmly saying that the assignation would not take long.
A change of pace in the production came when Apemantus used a megaphone to rumour that Timon had no money. The others walked in a circled and grumbled about Timon’s bankruptcy before using their jackets to hit the trampoline on which Timon stood and then move it to the centre of the stage.
In an attempt to make Timon understand his precarious situation, Flaminius placed her trolley on her lap and flipped open its lid, which bore a pear logo parodying Apple’s iconic logo. She referred to an unseen spreadsheet.
Timon proposed selling some of his land, but was told it had already been sold and that he was bankrupt. This prompted a comic exchange in which Timon said Flaminius was talking nonsense, which his steward immediately gainsaid: in German “Quatsch. Kein Quatsch. Quatsch. Kein Quatsch.”
Flaminius walked on the spot on the trampoline to represent her trip to raise funds from Timon’s friends. His potential benefactors lined up across the stage.
Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” played as a man in pink chiffon draped himself around a pillar (in the original 2010 production he pole-danced); another sat with a blood pressure gauge around his arm and then his neck; one took a swing with a golf club, while yet another posed with a riding crop. The overall effect was to show them as idle wasters. Their responses were provided by a series of voiceovers in which Timon’s so-called friends refused to come to his assistance.
By way of summary, Apemantus sang the introduction to the Beatles “Help!” to the tune of her banjo, offering Timon another sarcastic insight into his situation.
Alcibiades returned and was promptly banned by three of the tailcoated Athenians. This was necessary for plot purposes, but in the context of this contemporary adaptation it looked slightly clumsy.
Timon threw another party and promised his guests a surprise. An old German song on the subject of friendship from the 1930s “Ein Freund, ein guter Freund” played in the background, but the record stuck so that the title words repeated themselves over and over again.
Timon just closed his eyes and listened without correcting the fault.
He had promised his guests a surprise and it came when he turned a pressure washer on them and doused them with water, before chasing them underneath the trampoline. Once the confused partygoers were all huddled behind its transparent plastic skirt, Timon threw some very large rocks at it. They bounced off the thick plastic making a terrific noise.
The guests shrieked with fear at this assault, and were eventually chased out through the yard by Timon brandishing a rock. The trampoline was turned over so that its legs jutted into the air, at which point the interval came.
The second half began with Timon stood by one of the tiring house doors, a spot which served as his seaside cave. At the stage right edge of the thrust, the Artist sat working away at some project. Soil was thrown from behind the tiring house door onto the upstage right corner.
Timon began to rant at the world. He tore off all his clothes and wandered around naked for some time. He tried to eat the soil, but instead of food, he found an ingot of gold within it. A dark back cloth at the back of the stage was pulled away to reveal a bright gold cloth underneath, suggesting the ubiquity of the precious metal.
Flaminius took pity on Timon and folded his discarded shirt into a loincloth that she wrapped around him.
Alcibiades entered in the company of his two courtesans (the two female actors again). One of them nonchalantly threw an instant tent to the ground that automatically unfolded, and after making themselves at home, they flounced around.
Timon encouraged the courtesans to infect as many of their clients as possible. He smeared their faces with the soil as if to symbolise the diseases they carried. But they simply withdrew and sealed themselves up inside the tent.
Offering Alcibiades gold to fund a war against Athens, Timon gleefully encouraged the soldier to spare no one.
Apemantus sat on the balcony with a megaphone and banjo singing “Yesterday” and, true to her trickster characterisation, could not stop laughing.
She used her megaphone to start a rumour that Timon had found gold people came sniffing it out. In this adaptation the bandits were indistinguishable from his former friends. One of them collected gold ingots in a bucket and then tried to lift it, but it was too heavy. Timon sat on top of the bucket to prevent the people from emptying it of its gold.
The passage where Timon speaks of Apemantus’ “beastly ambition” was turned into a series of appearances by characters wearing animal masks, introduced by Timon. He constantly reminded us that “Der Mensch ist ein Tier/Man is an animal”. A lamb was chased away by a big bad wolf, a lion was proclaimed the king of the beasts and a fox stood and nodded his head from side to side in time with the jaunty music, followed by a tiger and a snake.
Timon called on the audience to help themselves to his wealth. Responding to this appeal, a man in the front row of the middle gallery tried to climb over the balcony. With one hand he grasped the wooden railing; with the other, a plastic beer glass. Lucullus Ventidius (or was it Gunnar Haberland breaking out of character?) came forward and said he wanted to use the gold to buy the man. As the adventurer climbed back behind the safety of the railing, Timon commented that he had now found the audience’s level.
The Artist rose from where he had been sitting all this while and intervened to address the audience. He told us that we were meant to be creative and handed out paper and pencils. He talked of making a social sculpture, a concept which Apemantus mocked by striking a ballet pose and commenting that she made herself into a social sculpture.
Alcibiades entered through yard with a shopping trolley, which he carried up the steps on to the stage. He set up a barbecue and, true to his meat fetish established on his first appearance, began to cook meat on it. He recruited Ventidius to turn the meat and also waft the barbecue, at which Ventidius protested “But it’s an electric grill”.
Apemantus sat in her habitual spot on the balcony and mocked Ventidius for multitasking. She spoke the words “Die Welt is kalt/the world is cold” into the megaphone’s memory and played them in a loop until Ventidius shot her.
Alcibiades threatened Athens, which surrendered. A new order was established in which the soldier extended a greeting to everyone and welcomed us all to Alcibiades’ party. History was repeating itself with a new ruler echoing the words of the old order, a theme common to several Globe to Globe productions.
The soldier sat upstage with his cronies as they all ate the freshly barbecued meat, and doled out government jobs to them.
Timon died on the top step of the centre stairway as Flaminius, touchingly devoted to the end, flew the paper butterfly over him.
The onstage presence of a large trampoline and other facets of the adaptation brought an element of comedy to Timon’s downfall. His consequent self-imposed exile was characterised by anger and bitterness and, as events became ever more absurd, culminated in his death. But despite all this, the production did offer glimpses of a better world.
The Artist reminded us that we could make beautiful things instead of making war. The final image of the production with Flaminius flying the Artist’s paper butterfly over the dead Timon, emphasised the gentleness of compassion rather than the destructiveness of greed.
Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe, 1 June 2012
Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien began with a very drunk Borachio (François de Brauer) sweeping the stage with a broom. The audience quietened in anticipation of the play, but was rewarded with nothing more than Borachio’s bemused expression at the hush he had caused.
But there was not long to wait before the action got underway with Leonato (Jean-Claude Jay) talking on a mobile phone, hearing of the arrival of Don Pedro (Matthieu Marie). Beatrice (Alix Poisson) grabbed the phone from his hands to talk to the informant and asked whether Benedick (Bruno Blairet) had returned from the wars.
On her first appearance, Beatrice wore trousers, her hair was short and dark, and she smoked a pipe. This made her look almost but not quite like a 1920s lesbian. Her sarcastic barbs were delivered in a quirky voice and with exaggerated gestures.
This was an interesting way of portraying her, because it seemed to imply that her disdain for romantic love was the result of a lack of femininity. No aspersions were cast on Benedick’s manliness for displaying an analogous attitude to women.
Benedick was first seen sporting a matador jacket, kilt and a long wispy goatee.
The sartorial distinctiveness of Beatrice and Benedick was the product of a creative energy that also fuelled their furious clash of wits. But the fact that they shared this distinctiveness also hinted at the similarity of temperament that would ultimately unite them.
Don John’s (Nicolas Chupin) long dark coat matched his grim expression and ponytail. When plotting with Borachio he looked up mockingly at the balcony where people had gathered for a party and raged with such anger that he ran at the audience.
Claudio (Laurent Menoret) was tall, bald and in conversation with Benedick broke into song to make his declaration of love for Hero, which the audience applauded.
Beatrice continued to be on good form before the ball, clowning her way through her moan about leading apes in hell and performing a mocking impression of Hero’s (Suzanne Aubert) alleged submissiveness.
At the ball itself the couples danced in pairs wearing skull facemasks, with the speaking couple coming downstage for their dialogue. Antonio (Raphael Almosni) was a priest, which made Margaret (Aurélie Toucas) rubbing herself against him quite comical.
When it was Beatrice and Benedick’s turn to take centre stage, they faced forward and talked while performing side-steps in step with each other. However, her withering putdown of Benedick caused him to falter and became out of step.
Don Pedro assured Claudio that he had wooed Hero on his behalf. Interestingly, his metaphor about making a bird sing and restoring it to its rightful owner was spoken in Hero’s presence, which prompted her to flap her hands and twitter sarcastically. This indicated that some of Beatrice’s barbed sense of humour had rubbed off on her.
The gulling scenes saw Benedick and Beatrice using the stage pillars to hide from their taunters. Margaret and Hero praised Benedick by imagining having sex with him and faking loud orgasms.
Thinking Beatrice to be in love with him, Benedick smartened himself up. Continuing the Scottish theme, he wore tartan trousers and a faint trace of face paint. He tried to hide his newly shaved chin behind his hands. But Don Pedro put a glass of water on Benedick’s head, then dropped it, so that Benedick’s instinctive reflex to catch the glass caused him to reveal the results of his shaving.
Dogberry (Raphael Almosni again) made a big impression on his first appearance up through the trap door. The brightness of his yellow helmet complemented the exaggerated aggression of his movements and his wild staring eyes.
Borachio simply walked up to Dogberry and Verges (Nicolas Chupin again) and explained how he had tricked Claudio into believing that Hero had been unfaithful, and he was detained below the trap.
Beatrice, now wearing a feminine dress, helped Hero on the morning of her wedding. The pair looked into an imaginary mirror at the edge of the stage.
Dogberry and Verges caught up with Leonato. The first French Dogberryism provided some mirth for the francophones in the audience. He told Leonato of “une confidence qui vous consterne de près”.
This particular French Dogberryism was more apt that its English original. Whereas the English version has Leonato partaking of a confidence that discerns him nearly, in French Leonato becomes “consterné” or “dismayed”, which turned out to be an understatement.
The wedding itself took place immediately after the interval. Margaret sang at the start of the ceremony. Claudio dressed all in white, briskly but gently cast Hero aside before denouncing her, whereupon she fainted. Hero left her gloves on the ground, giving Benedick the opportunity to pick one of them up.
The staging provided a very powerful image of Leonato stood over Hero with a dagger in his hand on the point of committing an honour killing.
Beatrice also cut a strong figure standing downstage right and looking out at audience to request of Benedick “Tue Claudio”.
Dogberry and his “dissemblé” informed us that he and his men had “contrebandé” [smuggled] an offender. He was very put out to be described as “un âne” and asked whether Borachio had “suspect pour moi”. The poor officer of the watch was so distraught at the end of the scene that he hugged some of the groundlings to console himself.
A saxophonist up in the gallery played a doleful tune as Leonato expressed his sadness at the fate of his daughter. In keeping with his calm, poetic nature, Claudio had no sword to offer violence when challenged by Benedick, who entered with Hero’s glove on the hilt of his sword.
Later, Benedick entered through the yard trying to write a poem. After trying out some odd rhymes, news of Hero’s innocence was conveyed by Margaret from the middle gallery.
Don Pedro’s plan came to fruition as Beatrice and Benedick skirted round the topic of their affection for each other. Beatrice at first confessed and then backtracked on her love for him. But Benedick was single-mindedly and comically effusive in his protestations of undying love when saying he would follow her to see her uncle.
After a brief scene in which Claudio sang his words of remorse on the balcony before Hero’s tomb, the performance moved to its conclusion with the masked wedding.
Hero showed more of her rebellious spirit, symptomatic of Beatrice’s influence, when she was unmasked. She tussled briefly with Claudio in frustration that he had believed her capable of infidelity.
The long-overdue kiss between Beatrice and Benedick sealed their relationship. Benedick embraced her strongly enabling the enraptured Beatrice to lift her feet from the ground.
Don Pedro was told to get himself a wife as he left through yard, and the performance ended with a joyous dance.
This Compagnie Hypermobile production took a slightly quirky Beatrice and turned her into a marriageable woman, which had faint traces of The Taming of the Shrew. However, if Beatrice was in any way tamed into marrying Benedict, we had at least some consolation in seeing some of Beatrice’s fight rub off on Hero, who did not meekly accept Claudio’s mistrust.
The Comedy of Errors, The Globe, 31 May 2012
This was the production the Taliban had not wanted us to see. Rah-e Sabz or The Path of Hope had been obliged to rehearse in India rather than strife-torn Kabul to escape the threat of violence from militants who would have objected to the simple presence of men and women on stage together, let alone the crossed-dressed maidservant offered in this Dari Persian version of Shakespeare’s early comedy.
The production was set in modern-day Afghanistan, which became apparent when Egeon was arrested in the yard by an Afghan police officer and questioned by the Emir. Egeon had been separated from his wife and children in a sandstorm, which was a clever piece of adaptation.
The out-of-towners were from Samarqand, a city in Uzbekistan. They looked pleased to have arrived in Kabul. Antipholus posed while his Dromio took a photo of him with a groundling. The Kabul merchant gave them local clothes to try on, which led into a comic sequence in which they both stepped into a single pair of outsize trousers and other outlandish garments until the merchant helped them out.
The initial confusion with the Kabul Dromio being mistaken for his Samarqand brother led into a scene where dinner was being set by Luce, played by a man in drag. She laid out a carpet on which was served a large plate of egg risotto, which looked very appetising.
In order to establish the relationship between the Kabul Dromio and Luce, which was later to become a comic nightmare for the Samarqand Dromio, we saw the Kabul Dromio sit and flirt with her, stuffing her mouth with egg. Luce hurried off when Adriana and Luciana entered, allowing Dromio to report that Antipholus would not come to dinner.
Samarqand Antipholus beat his own Dromio when he returned, but paused when the call to prayer sounded. Adriana danced for Antipholus with a seductive wink and wrapped her leg around him, which his Dromio had to unwrap by hand twice. Not surprisingly he went along with the idea of dining with her.
A carpet was held up to serve as the door at which the Kabul Antipholus knocked and failed to enter. He tried to run at the door, but was held back by the Goldsmith who asked him to think of his reputation. He decided to maintain his reputation by going instead to visit the Courtesan.
Samarqand Antipholus held his hands over Luciana’s eyes in a playful attempt at seduction. They ended up on the ground with Antipholus lying almost on top of her. Reluctant Luciana tried to slide out from beneath him.
More fun and games were in store when Luce mistakenly chased Samarqand Dromio around the pillar before catching up with him, taking off his trainer and sucking his toe, her hand reaching up his trouser leg, before chasing him into the yard. Back on stage, he hid among the musicians. Luce passed by searching for him in vain, flirting instead with one of the band. Dromio and Antipholus decided to flee Kabul, but as they left Antipholus was given a gold chain to hang about his neck.
The role of the Merchant was cut so there was no subplot involving the chain of debt between Antipholus, the Goldsmith and the Merchant. The Kabul Antipholus entered drunk and dishevelled from seeing the Courtesan, brandishing a bottle of strong alcohol. He had to put his top clothes back on again.
Antipholus demanded the chain from the Goldsmith, who in turn presented his bill. The Goldsmith paid an ANP officer to arrest the Kabul Antipholus, which in context looked like bribery.
The Officer was a flautist who rose from among the band and “arrested” Antipholus by playing his instrument: each note made the imaginary handcuffs around his wrists tighter. The flautist’s notes controlled Antipholus, moving him into position as a prisoner.
Dromio was given the key to fetch bail money and debated returning to Luce: the interpolated scene showing her pursuit of him had already made us aware of the force of this dilemma. The conversation between Adriana and Luciana was also interrupted by a call to prayer, which served in this production to mark the passage of time instead of the striking of clocks.
The implied stage direction in this scene calls for the striking of one o’clock, which in a Kabul setting was localised with these calls to indicate that the action of the play was taking place within a day.
Samarqand Antipholus entered with clothes draped over his arms as he marvelled at the gifts given to him in the street. Dromio mistakenly brought him the gold, and they were interrupted by the Courtesan.
A vision in tight jeans, long hair and sunglasses, the Courtesan sashayed on stage and asked for her ring back. She danced provocatively, causing them to flee for fear that she was some kind of devil. She vowed to speak to Antipholus’ wife, at which point the interval came.
The second half began with the Kabul Antipholus under arrest. To his dismay, his Dromio returned with a rope and the pair were led away by the police officer.
The entire Doctor Pinch sequence was cut, so we next saw the Samarqand men burst in with sticks and pick a fight with the Goldsmith outside the abbey, represented by the tiring house doors. Adriana, Luciana and the Courtesan caught up with them, causing the terrified pair to run inside.
There followed an interpolated scene of Luce looking for Dromio.
The Abbess emerged and told Adriana that her husband’s madness was caused by her jealousy. Adriana decided to call on the Emir, who turned up with Egeon in tow. Having escaped from the police, the Kabul pair ran in brandishing sticks. Antipholus pleaded with the Emir, who was unable to puzzle out the conflicting stories.
Egeon was very moved to see his son. He grasped Kabul Antipholus’ hand in both his hands and massaged it. But Antipholus disdainfully extracted his hand from the stranger’s grasp as if it had been stuck in a letterbox. The Kabul Dromio did not recognise Egeon either.
The staging of the final reunions was one of the best parts of the production and proved to be an extremely heartrending and emotional version of the scene.
The Abbess appeared with the Samarqand men. There was an immediate flash of recognition when she and Egeon caught sight of each other. Normally theirs is the final reunion, but in this production the elderly couple’s meeting was placed first, making it the touching centre around which all the other reunions revolved.
The estranged couple walked slowly towards each other until they met centre stage. The story of the sandstorm was told and she collapsed at his feet. After this, they sat close together with eyes only for each other.
The two Antipholuses recognised each other, causing Adriana to ask with whom she had dined that afternoon. She was reunited with her husband. The Kabul Antipholus slapped his Samarqand brother for putting the chain round Adriana’s neck as that was his privilege. The money was returned to its rightful owner and the Dromios were also brought together.
All this while, the central couple had been unaware of the joyous reunions taking place around them. They finally stood up and with tears in their eyes recognised their children, with Emilia seeing all four of them for the first time in many years.
The effect of the staging was to stagger the reunions into three separate stages, with the most tearful and poignant reunion of parents with children kept until last, by which time there was not a dry eye in the house.
Once the Emir had worked out the sequence of events, he no longer required Egeon’s ransom to be paid and everyone was invited into the abbey. The Dromios were the last to go. As Luce called out to them from offstage, they compared how fat they were and went in hand in hand.
The audience was also very interesting. A group of Afghan women behind me were shushed when they started talking, but soon a man further back began calling out in a clearly audible voice, providing something approaching a running commentary on events. It quickly became apparent that he was much more engaged with the play than any of the non-Dari speakers.
Immune to stares, he continued to contribute to the ambiance of the performance by helping the rest of us to imagine how this production might be received in its native country.