The Best Cleopatra

Antony & Cleopatra, The Globe, 1 June 2014

The decorative tiring house of the Globe was covered in upright planks of wood painted red. The stage pillars were left untouched, while the luxuriousness of Cleopatra’s court was suggested by blankets and cushions ready on stage for the first scene.

But it was the long pre-show with its increasingly frenetic dancing that created the required atmosphere of decadent exoticism into which wandered the upright messengers from Rome.

As the play proper began (1.1), the messengers commented on how Antony was in thrall to Cleopatra, something the audience soon saw for themselves as the Egyptian queen (Eve Best) entered wearing knee-length trousers and a man’s shirt, brandishing Antony’s sword with the air of a pirate. Antony (Clive Wood) wore a loose-fitting gown topped off with a floral coronet. The two of them scampered around wearing each other’s clothes, something that would be referenced later in the text.

There were bored groans for her entourage when the messengers from Rome were mentioned. Cleopatra continued her skittish sarcasm about the latest instructions from Caesar.

Antony’s sense of fun continued to assert itself. When he commented that “The nobleness of life is to do thus…” he kissed Cleopatra passionately, demonstrating that his idea of true nobility was rather more Egyptian than Roman.

He approached the messengers and snapped to attention causing them to respond obediently in kind, before undermining the martial rigour of the moment by insisting in a camp voice “Speak not to us” followed by a swift, tripping exit with a delighted Cleopatra.

The Soothsayer (Jonathan Bonnici), his face painted blue, told both Charmian (Sirine Saba) and Iras (Rosie Hilal) that they would outlive their mistress (1.2). This prediction would not prove accurate for Iras who would in fact die before the queen.

Cleopatra entered with a sheet wrapped round her, indicating that she and Antony were in mid act when he had left her after being struck by “a Roman thought”. Once he entered, Cleopatra and her women turned and left in a tight group, pointedly and slightly comically looking away from Antony as they passed him.

Antony learnt from the second messenger that his wife Fulvia was dead.

Phil Daniels’ lugubrious Enobarbus greeted the news of Fulvia’s death by looking on the bright side with his smock/petticoat analogy, while a still pensive Antony sat on the steps down into the yard.

Eve Best portrayed a wonderfully petulant Cleopatra making her pretend sickness, a game at Antony’s expense, much more than a silly girl’s prank (1.3). She doubled over in feigned illness when Antony appeared. Her sarcasm and bitterness about Fulvia were an expression of her assertiveness rather than a indication of weakness.

Cleopatra’s satisfaction on hearing of Fulvia’s death was instantly replaced by her complaint that Antony had not wept for her. Her restoration to health with the words “I am ill and quickly well” was both comical but also a positive demonstration of her ability to adopt moods and conditions as and when it suited as if by royal prerogative.

The first scene set in Rome (1.4) showed the Romans in vaguely Jacobean costume. Caesar (Jolyon Coy) was young-looking with well-groomed blond hair. His neatness of appearance indicated a certain puritanical asceticism.

Back in Egypt, servants used ropes to pull a platform from the tiring house (1.5). On the platform was a bed on which Cleopatra lounged, her white outfit matching the white sheets of the bed. The servants who had brought the bed on stage then pulled on ropes that caused fans in the stage to canopy to waft back and forth. Cleopatra lay on her stomach and asked Mardian (Obioma Ugoala) to stop singing before joking with him about his affections.

She envied the “happy horse” that might at that moment have been bearing Antony’s weight in her place. She imitated Antony mockingly when she imagined him asking “Where’s my old serpent of Nile?” adopting a vaguely working class London accent. Her delivery of the following phrase “For so he calls me” was equally telling because it showed that Cleopatra loved the fact that Antony had this particular name for her. This fitted well with Cleopatra’s subsequent praise for Antony’s “well-divided disposition”.

Pompey (Philip Correia) and the pirates learnt that Antony had joined the other Romans and was coming after them (2.1).

For the big meeting in Rome the SPQR banners were unfurled from the tiring house (2.2). A long table was placed across the stage with Caesar and Antony taking up opposing positions at either end. The distance between the two rivals along the length of the table matched the frosty atmosphere.

Octavius claimed that Antony had ignored his letters and had thus “broken the article of your oath”. This accusation was the trigger to release Antony’s suppressed anger: he lifted up his end of the table and banged it down forcefully and noisily onto the stage in response to his honour being questioned.

Enobarbus commented cynically that the opposing parties could feign friendship and then return to their dispute afterwards.

Agrippa (Daniel Rabin) proposed that Antony should marry Caesar’s sister Octavia, and she appeared on stage so that we could see her cold disposition. But despite the apparent amity engendered by the forthcoming marriage, Antony made it plain that he still harboured a grudge. When Caesar offered his hand to seal the deal, Antony gripped it powerfully and pulled Caesar forcefully towards him before moving away. What could have been a gesture expressing amity and impending familial connection became instead a power play hinting at future conflict.

Enobarbus was left behind with Maecenus (Ignatius Anthony) and they began to talk about life in Egypt. Maecenus asked if the rumours of their gargantuan feasts were true, to which Enobarbus replied that they had had “much more monstrous matter of feast” in a coarse, suggestive tone that hinted at sexual activity in addition to the gourmandising.

Enobarbus’ famous description of Cleopatra beginning “The barge she sat in…” was wonderfully delivered and, coming from Phil Daniels, brought home how this most poetic and majestic of descriptions was written to be spoken by a simple soldier who is otherwise earthy and cynical.

Octavia (Rosie Hilal) demonstrated her cold-blooded nature by refusing to kiss, so Antony bade her goodnight by patting her hand (2.3). Antony asked the Soothsayer “whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or mine?” Underling the foreboding nature of the prediction, when the Soothsayer replied “Caesar’s” the SPQR banners lining the back wall all fell to the ground simultaneously.

Antony realised that he should return to Egypt. His instructions to Ventidius were cut, allowing scene 3.1 to be cut later.

Scene 2.4 was cut allowing Antony and Cleopatra to stand on stage next to each other as the end of 2.3 overlapped the start of 2.5. This allowed the production to dramatise the strong connection between these two eponymous characters.

They spoke alternate lines: his ending of 2.3 “I will to Egypt.. I’ the east my pleasure lies” followed by her start to 2.5 requesting “music, moody food of us that trade in love”. Although dramatically separate, Cleopatra leant towards him as if able to smell him, pointing to her more sensuous and instinctive nature, another difference between Rome and Egypt.

Cleopatra fancied a game of billiards with Charmian, but she passed and suggested the queen play with Mardian (2.5). Cleopatra warmed her hand and was just about to put it down Mardian’s trousers, when she changed her mind fearing he might “come too short” all of which indicated an ulterior meaning behind the intended “play”.

The queen fancied fishing instead and, continuing the theme of games as sexual metaphor, looked around the front of the yard for likely men. She held out her crooked finger like a hook with which she was angling, before descending the steps to kiss one saying “Ah, ha! You’re caught!” She commented on some cross-dressed fun she had had with Antony in which he wore “tires and mantles” and she wore his “sword Phillipian” which we had seen at the start of the performance.

This playful frivolity set the tone for the sequence with the messenger from Rome.

On seeing the Messenger (Peter Bankolé) approach, Cleopatra panicked that this meant that Antony was dead. She gratefully offered the Messenger gold when he reassured her that this was not so. The gold she offered was in form of her own bracelet and anklets, which she removed and piled on a stage pillar ledge as a visual reminder of her generosity.

Her reaction to the Messenger’s caveat “But yet…” was as wonderfully comic as could be expected. When he finally divulged that Antony had married Octavia she slapped him hard on the face with an audible crack, then slapped him with her hands some more. She forced him down onto his back and pulled on his head to hold him upright as she promised him riches if he said Antony was not married. When he confirmed Antony indeed was, she threw him backwards to the ground and then grabbed a fruit knife to threaten him. The terrified Messenger ran off and Cleopatra would have pursued him had she not been restrained by Charmian.

The still angry Cleopatra wanted the Messenger to return. She checked herself and realised that she had to put on a pretence of calm. She offered a not very convincing “Though I am mad, I will not bite him”. She dug her knife into the stage but Charmian found this insufficiently reassuring. Cleopatra subsequently acquiesced and handed it over.

Apprehensive

Charmian escorted in the apprehensive Messenger who threw himself prone on the ground. She once more resented hearing his bad news and scared him away, but gave Alexas (Kammy Darweish) instructions that the Messenger should be employed to report back on Octavia’s appearance.

The Romans agreed a peace with Pompey and arranged a feast to mark their concord (2.6). Menas (Sean Jackson) thought that the marriage of Antony and Octavia meant a firm alliance between Antony and Caesar, but Enobarbus concluded that Antony had “married but his occasion”.

The staging of the party scene took advantage of the large expanse of the Globe stage (2.7). A big vat of drink was brought out and the men danced vigorously in a circle to the tune of the text’s “Cup us till the world go round”. Caesar sat at the side refusing to join in the festivities.

Antony once again showed his contempt for Caesar. He spoke drunkenly to the reticent Caesar ostensibly on the subject of Egyptian agriculture. But at the phrase “scatters his grain” Antony’s supposed imitation of the grain scatterer was clearly a wanking gesture, which then at “comes to harvest” culminated with a mock ejaculation directed at Caesar’s face.

Menas, critical of the peace deal, drew Pompey aside and the pair conversed while Antony drunkenly described a crocodile to Lepidus (James Hayes). This action froze allowing Menas to tempt Pompey with the idea of killing the three triumvirs. But while Pompey would have applauded the assassinations had they been carried out without his prior knowledge, he could not in good conscience give prior approval for them.

The riotous company had been drinking healths to all and sundry, especially to Lepidus who became so drunk that he had to be helped away. They now turned on Caesar chanting his name repeatedly to cajole him into some revelry. Despite their warm enthusiasm, he replied coldly “I could well forbear it” to which Antony wearily countered “Be a child o’th’ time”.

Antony then roped Caesar into the next drunken dance that ended with Caesar being carried on their shoulders as they chanted his name. But they stumbled and Caesar was sent sprawling onto the floor, an indignity that he did not appreciate: he protested angrily “What would you more?”

This brought the festivities to an end. Pompey was so reconciled to Antony that he was able to feign aggressive indignation at Antony’s seizure of his father’s house but then assure him with joshing familiarity that they were now friends.

As Enobarbus departed, he announced “There’s my cap” putting his tankard on his head to show it was empty.

The brief scene showing Ventidius and Silius in victory was cut (3.1).

After the farewells and departure of Octavia and Antony from Caesar (3.2), the action returned to Egypt (3.3).

Cleopatra’s messenger, again afraid to enter her presence, lay prone on the ground. The queen had been working on a sampler and as she stood to listen to reports of Octavia’s appearance the sampler became a stress toy on which she vented her anxieties, particularly after hearing that her rival was only 30.

She stood downstage facing the audience looking over her shoulder to enquire after Octavia, foregrounding both herself and her fretful sewing. She paused for a particularly long time and sewed extra nervously before asking about Octavia’s age.

But she was able to put her worried behind her when she exuberantly greeted the messenger’s account of Octavia’s unattractiveness.

Antony and Octavia agreed that she should return to Rome to make peace between her new husband and her brother (3.4).

Eros told Enobarbus that Lepidus had been taken prisoner by Caesar after having outlived his usefulness in the war against Pompey (3.5). Lepidus was marched in chains across the stage, down into the yard and outside to illustrate this plot point.

Caesar’s complaints about Antony and Cleopatra’s behaviour in Egypt were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Octavia on the stage right walkway (3.6). Caesar regretfully informed her that her new husband was not, as she had assumed, in Athens but had taken advantage of Octavia’s absence to return to Cleopatra in Egypt.

At end of the scene Antony and Cleopatra processed out through the tiring house centre doors in magnificent ceremonial costumes and proceeded down into the yard where they were showered with gold confetti by audience members on the front row of the middle gallery (who had found envelopes containing confetti and bearing instructions on their seats when arriving in the theatre). The gold theme linked back to the reference in Caesar’s speech at the start of the scene describing them as sitting “in chairs of gold”.

This spectacular display of pomp heralded the interval.

The second half of the performance was preceded by a pre-show. The Soothsayer muttered incantations to himself as he cut open a dead goat and examined its entrails, the smoke of incense wafting about him. He evidently foresaw trouble: he became agitated by what he read in the entrails at which point Caesar and Antony appeared and faced off against each other as if dramatising his forebodings.

A tattered map unfurled on the back wall showing the Mediterranean as the Egyptians laid plans (3.7). Ready for battle, Cleopatra wore an armoured breastplate, the same one worn by Frances Barber in the Globe’s 2006 production.

Antony insisted on fighting at sea against Enobarbus’ recommendation to fight on land. Cleopatra became bored with Enobarbus’ insistence and leant against a stage pillar and ho-hummed. A Roman soldier allied to Antony remarked that they should fight by land and that the Egyptians should be left to “go a-ducking”, which produced an outraged look from Cleopatra. She drew close to Antony, who was defensive of her.

The two opposing armies appeared side by side so that the very brief successive scenes 3.8 and 3.9 could be run together with Antony giving battle orders immediately after Caesar.

The sea battle took the form of two men bearing the flags of the armies swinging around on ropes, the centrifugal force of their rotation separating them as they were lifted high above the stage (3.10). As they descended the SPQR flag fought off the Egyptian banner: a woman representing Cleopatra left the stage and the bearer of the Egyptian banner followed . This was a schematic and balletic way of representing a sea fight, and certainly a better solution than using model ships.

The scene ended with a verbal description of how Cleopatra had left the battle and Antony had followed her.

A downcast Antony spoke to his men and told them to take his gold and flee (3.11). Cleopatra nervously observed at the side with her entourage before speaking with him. He was angry at her, but they kiss and make up.

The Ambassador to Rome (James Hayes) requested that Antony be allowed to live a private man (3.12). Caesar refused but was willing to be lenient with Cleopatra if she handed over Antony. Caesar sent the Ambassador back and also dispatched Thidias (Jonathan Bonnici) to win Antony from Cleopatra.

Hearing of Caesar’s refusal from the Ambassador, Antony sent message back that he wanted to fight Caesar (3.13). During this scene Enobarbus stood far over on the stage left side separate from the others so that his cynical asides became the justifications of an outsider for his subsequent defection to Caesar.

Cleopatra agreed to accept Caesar’s terms as conveyed by Thidias. She offered her hand for the envoy to kiss. He went down on one knee to do so, where he was caught in flagrante delicto by Antony. The jealous Antony flew into a fury and had Thidias taken offstage to be whipped. Antony furiously berated Cleopatra for her alleged inconstancy.

Thidias was brought forth with vicious bloody stripes on his back, which Antony made a point of striking to exacerbate the pain. This callous act was even more shocking than the unseen offstage whipping.

Cleopatra looked in sorrow at her companion and asked dolefully “Have you done yet?” In those few words Eve Best managed to convey the idea that the game was indeed up. Cleopatra’s reticence was not just a comment on this immediate situation and Antony’s outburst, but showed that she realised that Antony’s reaction to Thidias was a symptom of his weakness not a demonstration of his strength.

This episode meant that their power was finished: Caesar had effectively won. Cleopatra had the insight to realise that the bright day was done and they were for the dark, as Iras would subsequently put it. She had seen that Antony was weak, because, like Leontes, only a weak man is capable of that kind of jealousy.

Cleopatra protested that she was not cold-hearted towards Antony in her flowing, eloquent speech about the discandying of poisoned hail. The force and evocative imagery of her assurances caused Antony to be reconciled with Cleopatra and he folded his hands around her. Cleopatra remembered that it was her birthday and they agreed to have a party. Enobarbus meanwhile decided that he definitely had to leave them.

A brief return to Rome saw Caesar decide to fight against Antony (4.1). But his resolution to make war was undercut by the plaintive tone in which he whined “He calls me boy”.

Antony gathered servants, who stood in a line as Antony bade them a kind of gloomy farewell (4.2). Denying his sorrowful mood only made Antony seem more morose.

The night before the battle some soldiers heard music under the stage (4.3).

Cleopatra helped Antony strap on his armour, but mistakenly attempted to fasten his wrist guard round his ankle (4.4). He kissed her warmly before going off to battle.

Antony heard that Enobarbus had deserted to join Caesar and sent his treasure after him (4.5). As Antony ruminated on his absent comrade, Enobarbus made an early entrance for the following scene turning his presence in this scene into a vision experienced by Antony. This also meant that Antony’s cry of “Enobarbus” was directed at him.

Caesar made ready and ordered that those who had fled from Antony should be at the front (4.6).

Enobarbus emerged from the back and was left alone to rue his treachery. His sense of wretchedness worsened when a soldier informed him that Antony had forwarded his treasure to him. Only a ditch was good enough for him now.

The second battle also involved the flag bearers (4.7). The soldiers of the two armies ran back and forth at each other, but then the stage cleared leaving the flag bearers once again to spar at each other. The SPQR colours were eventually chased away by the Egyptian standard. The schematic representation of the battle contrasted with the attention to detail in its aftermath as soldier Scarus (Obioma Ugoala) sported, exactly as he described, a scar on his arm in the shape of an H.

Antony celebrated victory with Cleopatra, who emerged from a party within the tiring house in a white dress and floral garland (4.8). In a comic touch commensurate with their upbeat mood, Antony made his soldiers turn away before he kissed her.

Enobarbus appeared by himself with no guards or soldiers observing his final moments (4.9). This increased the power of the scene because Enobarbus seemed more helpless for dying alone and unobserved.

When he called on Antony to forgive him, his former master appeared from the stage right side door and walked like a ghost in a straight line right past Enobarbus without acknowledging him, then off at the other door. The appearance of Antony to Enobarbus here mirrored Antony’s earlier fevered vision of Enobarbus. The staging of this vision was made more credible by there being no one else on stage. The soldiers only appeared once Enobarbus had collapsed to carry him away.

The armies of Antony and Caesar appeared side by side on the large stage enabling the two brief scenes 4.10 and 4.11 to be delivered rapidly before the armies headed off.

Battle

Another battle of the flag wavers resulted this time in victory for the SPQR banner as the Egyptian flag was dropped (4.12). Antony declared “All is lost” at which point the map of the Mediterranean that had adorned the back wall all this time fell ominously to the ground.

Cleopatra walked up the stage left slope in a long white dress, her eyes full of tears, but left after Antony roughed her about, blaming her for the defeat.

Cleopatra and her women headed for the monument and she instructed Mardian to tell Antony that she had killed herself (4.13).

Antony hinted to Eros (Peter Bankolé) that he wanted to die (4.14). When Mardian brought news of Cleopatra’s supposed death, this only encouraged Antony further in his desire to “overtake” her.

He asked Eros to strike at him with his sword. Preparing for the fatal blow, Antony shielded his face with his arm. This enabled Eros to draw his own sword, but then at the decisive moment he drove it into his own stomach.

Antony was full of admiration for Eros’ noble action and tried to follow his example by dying on his own sword. He cut at his stomach with the blade, but the movement was drawn out and jagged, not swift and decisive.

He crouched looking despondently at his stomach waiting for the blood to spout, but nothing much happened. He had injured himself, but at this rate death would be a long time coming. Antony waved his hand in front of the wound as if inviting the blood to issue forth. This looked like the impatience of an actor at a failed special effect, but was in fact Antony’s frustration at his poor handiwork, the quality of which was confirmed when the guards entered and Antony told them “I have done my work ill, friends.”

Alexas, not Diomedes, told Antony that Cleopatra was still alive. As he took in the news, he glanced down at his wound and laughed, before turning skywards to shake his head at the heavens in scorn. He asked to be carried to Cleopatra.

The main stage was used to represent the monument rather than any of the upper spaces above the stage (4.15). This had the advantage of keeping the action of the scene close to the audience.

Cleopatra, dressed in white, gathered with her women to observe Antony being carried by his soldiers through the yard. He was deposited just below the top of the stage left ramp. This enabled the final ascent into the monument, often involving a direct vertical lift, to be staged by having a rope attached round Antony with Cleopatra and her women dragging him the final few metres onto the main stage.

This was an ingenious way of having the scene take place on the main stage, but using ropes to drag him such a short distance up a shallow ramp looked odd. However, this was preferable to a more realistic staging that would have then positioned the couple somewhere in the tiring house gallery.

Once on the stage, Antony repeated that he was dying. But his immediate request “Give me some wine” felt comically inappropriate for someone near death.

Any questions about the staging were soon forgotten as the production went on to deliver one of its most powerful effects.

Cleopatra’s tight embrace of the bleeding, dying Antony meant that her pristine white dress became smeared with his blood, creating garish stains which would remain distinctly visible for the remainder of the play.

Antony died, slumping lifeless in Cleopatra’s arms after a final audible exhalation just as she reached the word “melt” in her summary phrase “the crown of the earth doth melt”. But she was soon on her feet holding her women close by her exclaiming “Ah, women, women! Come, we have no friend/But resolution and the briefest end” with a plaintive expression that lent the moment an air of poignancy. The scene ended with the dead Antony being dragged offstage by Cleopatra and the others.

Although the seizure of Antony’s sword by Decretus was cut from 4.14, he now brought this sword to Caesar who eulogised his dead opponent (5.1). Caesar sent Proculeius (Sean Jackson) to accept Cleopatra’s surrender and to arrange for her to be brought to Rome.

The stage was set for the final scene with the entry of Cleopatra’s golden throne (5.2). It was wheeled in from the tiring house on a platform. Its eagle’s wings were so wide that they folded back to pass through the tiring house doors and unfolded to their full impressive dimensions once the platform was in position.

Proculeius met with Cleopatra, who was washing her hands in a bowl to clean off Antony’s blood. He was all diplomatic unctuousness, giving her vague assurances that Egypt would be given to her son as she wished.

But then the ambush was sprung: other soldiers rushed in, one descending by rope from the tiring house in the equivalent of a special forces raid and took her prisoner despite her attempt to flee.

Cleopatra grabbed a knife and gestured with it at her wrist and then towards her stomach, but was disarmed. She would rather die in a ditch than be carried to Rome and have Octavia laugh at her.

Sat on the throne plinth talking with Dolabella (Philip Correia), Cleopatra went into a rapturous description of Antony, which was delivered very effectively. Dolabella admitted that Caesar intended exhibit her in Rome like so much war booty.

Caesar entered stage left, prompting Cleopatra on the far right side of the stage to crouch in obeisance face down on the ground together with one of her women, while the others crouched similarly stage left. Caesar could not distinguish which of these identically dressed bowed figures was Cleopatra, prompting his question “Which is the Queen of Egypt?” She eventually revealed herself by tentatively raising her hand while still facing downwards.

Caesar was polite but warned her of the dire consequences for her children if she killed herself. She looked appalled at this prospect, which Caesar noticed and quickly reassured her that her compliance would ensure their safety: “To that destruction… [Cleopatra panics], which I’ll guard them from…” This minor detail should be born in mind when admiring her nobility at the end. Acquiescing in her capture, she accepted that she would become a “scutcheon” for Caesar to display.

Interestingly, the entire sequence involving Cleopatra’s list of treasures as well as the false testimony and fake outrage of her treasurer was cut. This removed a relapse into levity from the final movement of the production so that a sense of impending tragedy was maintained. The lines from roughly 5.2.135-185 were cut.

Caesar departed offering more reassuring words.

In view of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse transfer, Iras’ line:

Finish, good lady. The bright day is done.
And we are for the dark.

began to look like something deliberately designed to take account of the late-afternoon indoor playhouse gloom. It certainly did work late on an early summer evening at the Globe.

Cleopatra did not whisper to Charmian, so that Iras’ request that she “finish” interrupted Cleopatra’s preceding complaint about Caesar, silencing her with a gloomy image invoking the twilight of their glory and pacifying her annoyance at being “boyed” by Caesar.

Dolabella confirmed that Caesar intended to send Cleopatra and her children away in three days. She imagined out loud what their capture would look like. She looked down at the groundlings when referring to the “mechanic slaves” that would breathe over them, a delightful nod to the constituents of the original audience. The reference to “some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness” was another reminder of the original performance conditions.

She asked Charmian to fetch her best attires. But this only involved her serpent crown and cloak.

The snakes were brought by the simple rustic man (James Hayes) who provided some comic relief with his user guide to “the worm”.

Cleopatra donned her robe and crown adjusting it on her head. She looked up into the air as she wistfully uttered that great line “I have immortal longings in me” and then “I am fire and air” etc. She kissed Iras who immediately collapsed in her arms and fell to the ground dead roughly stage right.

The queen feared that Iras would meet dead Antony first, so hastened to the throne and put the asp basket in her lap. She sat upright and clasped the asp to her, in a very subtle and delicate sequence that in a large outdoor theatre was not particularly grandiloquent, but which would have been ideal for a smaller indoor venue where such small-scale actions would be easier to observe.

No second asp was applied to her arm. After just the one asp bite, she sat bolt upright with her hands rigidly placed on the arms of the throne and died remaining firmly in position without slumping. Her eyes stayed open until Charmian shut them.

Her dead figure was still wearing the dress stained with Antony’s blood, which added something earthy and real to the gilt spectacle of her own suicide. She wore the stains like a badge of her attachment to her dead lover.

The guards discovered that “Caesar hath sent… too slow a messenger” as Charmian took the asp herself and died stage left.

The guards, Dolabella and then Caesar discovered the grisly scene. Caesar paid his final tribute to the Egyptian queen.

At the start of the production’s run there was no concluding jig, just curtain calls. But the jig was included later on, but with Clive Wood not taking part.

Conclusions

The production managed to evoke a sense of Antony and Cleopatra’s world falling apart, with Cleopatra recognising in sorrow that Antony’s whipping of Caesar’s messenger was a symptom of his impending downfall.

Eve Best made a welcome return to the Globe stage and managed to combine Cleopatra’s uber-femininity with sufficient steeliness to suggest a warrior queen. She was flighty but also fighty.

With the production subsequently transferring to the indoor candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, viewing it outdoors became an exercise in spotting moments that did not quite work in the Globe and would be played differently indoors.

If the Globe’s Titus was a clanging empty vessel, this was a production of lasting substance.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse transfer, 31 August 2014

The production transferred into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for two performances on 31 August and 1 September 2014.

The staging of the battles had to be altered which meant that the performances lost some of the aerial work that looked so impressive on the outdoor stage. On the other hand, exploring the indoor space offered new staging possibilities that enhanced some moments in the production.

The lighting scheme was initially simple with six candelabras at the standard height of 8ft with the shutters closed for the whole of the first half.

The preshow was fitted onto the smaller Playhouse stage with the advantage that Charmian and Iras were now able to dance in the pit aisle and flirt was audience members there, while still being connected to the onstage action. This was not practical on the Globe stage, where the party was kept firmly on the main stage.

Antony and Cleopatra entered through the pit aisle onto the stage as they engaged in their horseplay. Cleopatra jumped over the balustrade into the front row of the lower gallery and then stood on the balustrade for her first lines. These opening moments demonstrated that there is great scope for audience interaction in the Playhouse.

That the Playhouse audience is so easily accessible by the actors both in the galleries at the side and in the pit, makes the Playhouse a better space for audience interaction than the Globe where steps into the yard are not always present and the distance involved in making a trip among the groundlings is that much greater.

Another instance that demonstrated this point was when Cleopatra sat on a spare seat in the pit and looked at Antony like an expectant spectator as she ordered him to “play one scene of excellent dissembling” by crying for Fulvia and pretending his tears were for her.

The cast also used handheld candles for practical and symbolic purposes. Cleopatra used a four-candle handheld when reading her book; Octavia carried a single candle for her silent walk around the stage front, introducing her character when Antony’s marriage to her was first suggested.

Cleopatra occasionally played with candles in sconces, an action which made her appear skittish and playful. This was an instance of Playhouse fittings providing an opportunity for character exposition.

For practical reasons the large banners that adorned the back of the Globe stage were completely absent.

Pompey and his associate appeared in the musicians’ gallery for their first scene and the rear two candelabras were raised to their highest level in order to illuminate them.

Cleopatra fished for a lover in the pit and found a somewhat reluctant fish.

The big party scene was crammed onto the comparatively small Playhouse stage. Caesar was still born aloft on the shoulders of the revellers and dumped onto the stage despite all the candelabras remaining in their standard position just 8ft off the ground.

The first half ended with the same gold glitter shower as Cleopatra and Antony paraded out the pit aisle.

Keeping to the pattern of the Globe staging, the Soothsayer and goat were on stage as the audience returned for second half.

The back four candelabras were raised to their highest position for the first battle. The front two ascended for the night-time watch scene (4.3), with the guards carrying handheld sconces.

The battles were reduced in scope. There was no aerial work for the first battle. The opposing flags were waved at each other to represent the fight. Interestingly, the part in which the siren lady representing Cleopatra circled around the flag bearers and led away the Egyptian flag appeared clearer in the Playhouse because the action was tightly focused.

Antony’s admission of his final defeat “All is lost” did not trigger the collapse of the absent banner, so their submission was indicated solely by the troops collapsing to the ground.

Enobarbus had Luna on the Playhouse roof to address when imploring the Moon (4.9).

The back four candelabras were lowered for the monument scene (4.15) and they were all lowered for the arrival of the throne minus its wings (5.2).

The main stage of the Playhouse was used to represent the interior of Cleopatra’s monument just as in the Globe. Antony was brought through the pit aisle to the stage front and shoved up onto stage, then dragged across it a short distance.

The soldiers that seized Cleopatra rushed on to the stage from the aisles of the adjoining lords boxes. None of them abseiled down on to the stage.

Disappointingly, the lighting did not reflect the supposed darker conditions in an indoor playhouse towards the end of an afternoon performance. This meant that “Finish, good lady…” was one of the production’s brightest moments rather than being a nod to the fact that gloom was descending.

The presence of candlelight allowed Cleopatra to look up at the candles when remarking “our lamp is spent” (4.15).

The smaller, at times slightly cramped, Playhouse stage caused a slight problem for Eve Best as she approached the throne for the play’s climatic suicide sequence. Iras had collapsed dead on top of the end of Cleopatra’s train, which meant that when Eve Best started on her final steps, she was obliged to tug on the train in order to free it. She tripped and fell back onto the throne knocking it slightly sideways, the angle of the throne detracting somewhat from the geometric simplicity of Cleopatra’s upright, still figure.

Eve Best

Macbeth directed by Eve Best

Macbeth, The Globe, 22 June 2013

The historically authentic Globe stage was given a radical makeover. A ragged palisade of near-vertical planks, mostly white but splattered with dirt at the bottom, covered the front of the tiring house. The planks slanted inwards towards the centre and the two side doorways set within the palisade followed this slant to form disconcerting parallelograms. The upper gallery was obscured by a white net curtain, while the stage pillars matched the white/dirt scheme of the palisade.

Ten minutes before the start of the performance a costumed member of the cast placed a solitary tea light in a metal holder on the stage right pillar ledge. This light was not used in the production and was not a prop. It remained in place untouched until minutes after the stage had emptied following the last curtain call, when the same individual solemnly and silently removed it.

The entire cast emerged through the centre doors carrying drums to stand in formation looking blankly at the audience. At first they performed some tai chi style movements in silence before picking up their drums and banging out a fast, rhythmic sequence. The force of the drumming contrasted with their initial composure and tranquillity.

The drumming suddenly stopped and the cast dispersed and exited, apart from the three witches, who began the first scene before the stage had cleared of the other actors (1.1). This kind of overlap was repeated and became characteristic of the production’s rapid pace.

In context the drumming could be seen as the hurlyburly of battle to which the Weird Sisters referred. The witches (Moyo Akandé, Jess Murphy & Cat Simmons) emerged from the body of actors on stage and were at first indistinguishable from them, as they were all wearing vaguely Jacobean costume.

After arranging to meet with Macbeth, they stood on steps fixed to the stage pillars to observe Duncan (Gawn Grainger) and his entourage in the aftermath of battle (1.2).

Duncan was elderly and weak. It was therefore understandable that he would have to rely on battlefield reports rather than witnessing the conflict at first hand. The Sergeant and Malcolm (Philip Cumbus) emerged from the yard. Malcolm introduced the Sergeant dismissively as if snobbishly ashamed of being rescued by a social inferior.

The Sergeant looked out towards the crowd as he described the events leading up to Macbeth and Banquo’s victory. He mimed the nave-to-chops upward stroke with which Macbeth had slain Macdonwald. The sprightliness of his re-enactment faded as the Sergeant wilted into a faint, making evident his need for “surgeons”.

Ross (Geoff Aymer) related the defeat of Cawdor, acting out the “point against point” thrust of battle, before tossing a written report of the victory to the king. Hearing of Cawdor’s treachery and allocating his title to Macbeth, Duncan displayed the affability of age rather than tyrannous cruelty.

The witches reappeared with twig coronets (1.3). The first witch took off her green coat to reveal her lighter-coloured dress underneath, and applied lip makeup with her finger. This change out of a civilian disguise hinted that the witches were implementing their schemes by blending in with the others, just as they had done during the drumming at the start.

Describing her adventures, the first witch showed the pilot’s thumb wrapped up in a cloth. The tall third witch solemnly announced the approach of Macbeth and Banquo. They joined hands centre stage to chant “The Weird Sisters, hand in hand”. One of them gestured as if throwing the spell into the air as she concluded “the charm’s wound… up.”

They took up their positions. Two of them sat on footholds protruding from the stage left pillar, while the first witch, her lips alluringly red, stood behind them, her arm nonchalantly stretched out along the edge of the pillar. The sexual nature of their trap made them reminiscent of sirens.

Macbeth (Joseph Millson) and Banquo (Billy Boyd) entered stage right, Banquo being the first to notice the witches on the other side. The sisters placed their fingers on their lips, but they were too feminine to justify Banquo’s disparaging comment about their beards.

Macbeth did not respond to being hailed as Scotland’s future king. Banquo queried why they did not speak to him, which prompted them to rise and approach him for their prophecies about his future.

Banquo mingled among them so that when the witches hailed both warriors, Banquo mirrored their posture, arms outstretched to the sides: he appeared momentarily to be one of them. This hinted at the truth behind the witches’ equivocation, that Banquo was the truly favoured one.

The witches exited off the stage left steps into the yard when Macbeth tried to get them to stay. Macbeth began to laugh, gesturing in the direction the witches had departed, and Banquo joined in as they mocked the ridiculousness of the prophecies. But their jollity was extremely forced, suggesting that it was the expression of deep-rooted fear rather than genuine amusement.

They joshed with each other, still laughing at the idea that they were destined for greatness. They were interrupted by the arrival of Angus and Ross; the latter hung Cawdor’s pendant of office around surprised Macbeth’s neck.

Macbeth stood at the far left edge of the stage to speak to the audience about his dilemma regarding this “supernatural soliciting”. He craned his neck to look up at spectators in the far corner of the upper gallery nearest the tiring house, people normally unacknowledged by performers. This was either indicative of Joseph Millson’s desire to reach out to all sections the audience or Macbeth’s desperation to seek help from as wide a group as possible.

Macbeth appeared shaken rather than grimly determined to murder, an impression that did not change when he was drawn from his reverie by the others.

As the next scene began, Duncan and his party rapidly swapped places with Macbeth as we heard of Cawdor’s execution (1.4). Macbeth and Banquo arrived to greet the king.

Whether out forgetfulness or genuine gratitude, Duncan abandoned strict royal protocol and bowed to Macbeth, who, keen not to breach the rule that a subject’s head should not be higher than that of his sovereign, lowered himself until he was almost kneeling on the ground to ensure that he did not look down on the king.

Macbeth’s strict obedience to protocol seemed not to be the workings of his guilt, but a genuine response that spoke of his innate desire to conform to the rules. Banquo was confronted by the same dilemma but went about maintaining decorum with less obvious fuss.

Malcolm, who had loitered at the stage right side, became the centre of attention when Duncan pronounced him as his heir, dubbing him the Prince of Cumberland with his sword. Macbeth spoke of Malcolm being “a step on which I must fall down, or else overleap” but he still seemed frantic and dazed rather than confirmed in his purpose.

Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) strode in through the centre doors clutching her husband’s letter as she passed him on the way out (1.5).

Whereas Macbeth had been characterised by fear, his wife exuded a brittle determination that could be read in her furrowed expression as she critiqued his character. He had indeed displayed all the frailty she described.

On hearing that Duncan would be arriving that night, she knelt centre stage and called on the spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty”. She stood up and called on “thick Night” to disguise her knife’s blow and spun round to embrace the newly-arrived Macbeth as she appropriately cried “Hold, hold!”

They hugged each other forcefully in their joyous reunion. Hearing that Duncan intended to leave the next day, Lady Macbeth immediately leaped to the murderous conclusion “O! Never shall sun that morrow see!”

Their initial reunion had been warm and physical, but now Macbeth withdrew from her with a look of concern as he realised that she had already decided that Duncan should die. This made sense of her subsequent comment that Macbeth’s face was a book “where men may read strange matters”, even though this was ostensibly part of her instruction to dissemble.

The brevity of Macbeth’s response “We shall speak further” indicated his lack of enthusiasm. It was clear that Lady Macbeth had already contemplated the murder in her mind and was keen for her husband to play his part.

Dunsinane

Duncan and his followers entered through the yard and up the stage left steps as they approached Dunsinane (1.6). They gathered facing the audience as Lady Macbeth appeared behind them through the centre doors and coughed to draw attention to herself. She curtsied politely before leading Duncan and company in to dinner.

A curtain was drawn over the doorway and candlelight flickered behind to represent the feast as Macbeth entered via a side door (1.7).

He wanted the deed to be “done quickly” and spoke to the audience as if pleading for our sympathy, listing the many reasons why he should not kill Duncan. He seemed particularly perturbed by the prospect of “judgment here”. He paused before saying that nothing spurred him other than “vaulting ambition” as if admitting to a fault.

The dynamic of the scene changed when Lady Macbeth came in from the dinner. Macbeth insisted firmly that they would “proceed no further”. She spat out her response about his “drunk” hope and goaded him about his fear and cowardice. She was quite right to ask why he had first broached the idea if he did not have the courage to go through with it.

Macbeth’s face was truly horrified when she said that she would kill her own child if she had sworn to do so. This horror fed into his frightened question “If we should fail?”

Having already war-gamed the entire project in her mind and psychologically prepared herself, Lady Macbeth regarded this doubt with incredulity. As she explained her plan, Macbeth went to sit on the stage right pillar step to listen. She used this exposition to comfort him. At the end he took her hand, drawing her closer as he praised her “undaunted mettle” and exhorted her to have only male offspring.

Fortified by his wife’s assurances, Macbeth pronounced “I am settled”.

Banquo had obviously trained Fleance (Colin Ryan) well (2.1). He offered his sword to his son and fought him with his short knife, which Fleance swiftly whipped out of his hand. Banquo watched the blade fly to the back of the stage and grudgingly offered “Take thee that too”.

When Macbeth arrived, Banquo jokingly grabbed Fleance and forcefully led him offstage, overpowering him physically where he had not be able to do so by dint of skill.

Banquo presented a red jewel, which he described as a diamond, that Duncan had offered to Lady Macbeth. After they had briefly skirted around the subject of the weird sisters, Banquo left Macbeth to his thoughts.

Macbeth sat on a step on the stage left pillar and eventually noticed the “dagger of the mind”, which he clumsily clutched at. He pawed at his head in frustration, blaming the vision on his “heat-oppressed brain” and then fearfully drew his own dagger as if it could offer some defence. But in so doing he merely prepared himself to follow the now bloodied vision, which appeared above him, leading Macbeth to the centre doors and off towards the sleeping Duncan.

Macbeth came downstage and crouched touching the ground. He looked at the audience when asking the “sure and firm-set earth” not to hear his steps. The bell rang. He rose and turned to leave through the centre doors as Lady Macbeth, now in a white night dress, entered after completing her part of the task (2.2).

A loud shriek momentarily shook her from her explanation that she had drugged Duncan’s grooms. She spoke frenetically as befitted the tension of the moment. As Macbeth re-entered, her terrified cry of “My husband!” expressed an anxiety equivalent to his own.

Macbeth was not splattered with blood, but there was enough gore to indicate that he had perpetrated those horrors that now terrified him. Lady Macbeth snapped at him when he referred to the “sorry sight” of the crime scene. His fevered imagining of a voice crying “sleep no more” was met by his wife with exhortations not to think “so brainsickly things”.

Not wanting to replace the daggers with the grooms, Macbeth bluntly stated that he was “afraid to think what I have done”, which Lady Macbeth countered with more hectoring.

The knocking at the gate was made against the outer yard door. While Lady Macbeth replaced the daggers, Macbeth pondered whether the ocean could wash the blood from his hand, reaching down into the yard as if it contained that bulk of water.

Lady Macbeth returned with her hands bloodied and ushered her husband away. The knocking at the door still reverberated as Macbeth looked back at its presumed location at the rear of the yard, wishing that it would wake Duncan from death.

The effect of this sequence was to show us that Macbeth’s fears, made very plain in the run-up to the murder, had been exacerbated by the actual deed and were now running out of control.

The Porter (Bette Bourne) climbed slowly out the trap door (2.3). Once he was fully emerged we could see that he had a red nose and painted face, and that his outfit was composed in part of items of female clothing. His louche, slurred speech as he welcomed imaginary visitors to hell gate matched his dishevelled appearance, so that when he told Macduff (Stuart Bowman) that he had been “carousing till the second cock” his statement was entirely credible.

The audience laughed when the Porter put nose-painting at the top of his list of things provoked by drinking on account of his unmissable red nose. His description of the effects of drink was accompanied by subtle hand gestures, holding his wrists limply downwards and shaking his fingers from side to side to indicate detumescence.

The two visitors helped the drunken porter down the trap door again and he grumbled to himself as he disappeared.

Macbeth spoke to Macduff in a curt but unemotional manner before taking him to see Duncan.

Macduff appeared at the top of the palisade, looking out over the stage and the rest of the theatre to proclaim the horror he had witnessed. A cacophony of bells and drums sounded, over which Macduff’s gruff, determined voice could still be heard exclaiming about murder and treason.

Lady Macbeth entered through the centre doors as the household and its guests assembled on the main stage. Macduff still had a croak in his voice when he informed Malcolm and Donalbain (Colin Ryan again) that their father had been murdered. But he became firm and insistent when asking Macbeth why he had killed the grooms suspected of the killing. Macbeth’s answer was insistent but emotionally blank.

Lady Macbeth collapsed wailing on the ground and was carried out still screaming. Her genuine look of horror indicated that this was no feigning artifice but the beginning of her revulsion at what they had jointly undertaken.

The strength of Macduff’s, Banquo’s and Macbeth’s determination to act disconcerted Malcolm and Donalbain to the extent that they decided to flee.

Gawn Grainger reappeared immediately as the Old Man who spoke to Ross describing the horrific events of the night (2.4). Banquo was to make a similar disconcerting reappearance after his death later on. Macduff informed them that Macbeth had gone to Scone to be crowned.

Macbeth and his wife, backed by the rest of the court, processed through the centre doors in their regal white robes, crowns freshly placed on their heads, as the Kyrie was chanted in Greek (3.1). Its first words in English “Lord, have mercy” were quite apt.

Lady Macbeth had a look of blank horror as she stepped forward next to her husband. Banquo broke through the middle of the formation to address us directly with his fears that Macbeth had gained all by playing “most foully for’t”.

Macbeth was carrying a silver bowl which he drank from and offered to his wife as they celebrated their coronation. The king came forward and descended the stage steps to offer groundlings the chance to kiss his ring of office, demonstrating his nascent megalomania.

His questions to Banquo, seeking to establish his itinerary, were transparently malevolent, particularly when asking if Fleance was accompanying him.

After Macbeth had ordered the murderers to be brought to him, he tore the crown from his head, glancing at it as he moved agitatedly, spitting out “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”. Banquo had to die to ensure Macbeth’s safety.

The king tried to convince the murderers that Banquo was their enemy, talking like a classic political manipulator as he recruited them. But the large purse of money Macbeth then gave them made such incentivising superfluous.

Unquiet

Lady Macbeth’s question as to whether Banquo had left the court barely concealed her concern that her husband was plotting against his friend (3.2). Her unquiet looks made perfect sense of her conclusion that “Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”.

Macbeth spoke to her of the “scorpions” that filled his mind, with his frantic speech turning into aggression towards her. She asked him what he meant by the imminent “deed of dreadful note”. He clasped her close, an embrace she found unnervingly scary.

As he spoke of the “bloody and invisible hand” of Night, he paddled the fingers of his hand across her clavicle. Continuing his thinly-veiled description of the impending murder, he grasped her by the neck in a choke, saying “but hold thee still”. He led her away with his hand pinching her at the back of the neck, so that “So, pr’ythee, go with me” was an order not a request.

Macbeth had been transformed from coward into tyrant in a way that suggested that these were two sides of the same coin.

Three murderers gathered to surprise Banquo and Fleance (3.3). They occupied the stage while their intended victims approached from the yard via the stage left steps. Banquo was stabbed, but Fleance managed to escape the onslaught, an outcome for which his previous prowess when fighting his father had prepared us.

Sealing his villainy, the first murderer killed the other two in order to keep the whole reward for himself. This made sense of his initial objection to the presence of the third murderer.

A banquet table covered with a cloth was set up across the stage (3.4). The guests sat behind it facing the audience. A stool remained vacant at the stage right end, with Lady Macbeth facing it from the other end. She had a bloody mark on her face, which was possibly a sign of further offstage violence against her by Macbeth, but this would have been better indicated by a bluish bruise rather than a red mark.

Macbeth spoke stage left with the murderer and received the news of Fleance’s survival with the same agitated wariness that characterised the rest of his speech.

Banquo’s ghost appeared, still bloodied from his murder, and sat on the stage right stool causing Macbeth to retreat from him in fear. Lady Macbeth remonstrated with him as Banquo left the table, pointing out “your noble friends do lack you”.

Macbeth gingerly sat in the seat vacated by Banquo’s ghost. He perched on the edge as if sharing it with him, scared that he might reappear at any instant. This added a note of comedy and ridiculousness to Macbeth, which was amplified by the patent insincerity of his wish that Banquo would join them.

Banquo reappeared stage left, his face sullen and accusatory, which caused Macbeth to rise from his seat. Lady Macbeth tried to calm the appalled guests, who rose and stood back from the table, while Banquo climbed onto it. Macbeth did the same at the stage left end resulting in a confrontation with Banquo in the centre. The king shouted that whatever form Banquo might take “my firm nerves shall never tremble”.

Despite his uncompromising words, Macbeth collapsed onto the tabletop and curled into a foetal ball as he wailed at the “horrible shadow” to depart.

Macbeth composed himself and saw that the ghost was no longer there. Still on top of the table, he grabbed at the cloth and lifted it to see if there was a bogeyman underneath. His childlike fear soon reverted to violent anger as he lifted the end of the table and let it fall with a bang to the ground, as he spoke of the “sights” he had beheld.

Ross worriedly questioned Macbeth “What sights, my lord?” before Lady Macbeth hastened the guests away. Lennox’s (Harry Hepple) wish that “better health attend his majesty” seemed comical in the context of their incomprehension.

Macbeth spoke quietly with his wife, expressing his discontent at Macduff and saying he would visit the weird sisters again. After Macbeth left, she whimpered quietly alone, looking at the table before slinking away disconsolate, at which point the interval came.

Scene 3.5 was omitted, as the character of Hecate was removed from the production, so that the second half began with Billy Boyd, playing “another lord”, meandered onstage busy whittling wood (3.6).

This was the second time that an actor playing a murdered character had reappeared as a minor character immediately after their death. The surprise and recognition this provoked in the audience was analogous to that experienced by Macbeth when he saw Banquo’s ghost.

Lennox spoke to this lord to deliver the catch-up exposition about Fleance’s escape and how suspicion had lighted on the fled Malcolm and Donalbain, while the Lord spoke of Macduff’s mission to England to recruit Malcolm.

The witches entered, now with white paint partly covering their faces, and began to brew their cauldron (4.1). They threw invisible ingredients onto the closed trap door on the stage promontory, up through which smoke began to filter to create a subtle cauldron effect.

They waved their hands rhythmically over it to make it bubble. The second witch drew an invisible object from her mouth which she identified as “fillet of a fenny snake”. The tall second witch broke off from the cooking to announce “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” at which point Macbeth entered via the stage left steps.

Macbeth demanded answers to his questions and surprisingly threw them a money bag, offering them a fee just as he had hired the mortal murderers. Even more surprisingly, the witches eagerly picked up the bag and examined its contents with an unusually worldly interest. Witches are commonly presumed either not to need money or to be capable of producing it themselves alchemically.

Macbeth had also brought with him the silver bowl from which he and his queen had drunk in celebration after their coronation. The witches gestured at it and insisted that he hand it over.

When Macbeth said he would rather hear answers from their masters, they gestured as if binding his wrists together and he found that an unseen force prevented him from separating them. As he struggled, another witch made a cutting motion which caused blood to flow from Macbeth’s hands, which was then collected in the bowl.

The witches made Macbeth drink his own blood, which under their influence had become a potion. He writhed and grimaced for a while. One of the witches channelled the first apparition, who told him in a squeaky high-pitched Scottish voice to “beware Macduff”.

After making Macbeth drink again, one of the witches made an insistent crying noise like a baby while the tall witch brought him an invisible baby cradled in her arms. The second apparition spoke in a child’s voice to tell him that “none of woman born” would harm him.

A witch held her hand up with her fingers spread like a tree to tell Macbeth the Birnam wood prophecy.

Macbeth insisted on knowing if Banquo’s descendants would rule and, ignoring the witches’ warnings, eagerly drank down the remainder of the potion and threw the bowl to the ground. The “show of eight kings” appeared to him as visions somewhere out in the audience. As these visions were described by Macbeth himself, nothing was lost by them not being visualised on stage.

The witches vanished after confirming that the vision showed Banquo’s issue ruling the country.

Macbeth greeted Lennox with his wrists still bound, but suddenly discovered that the force binding them had dissipated, enabling him to separate them in time to speak to Lennox with some dignity.

Lennox told him that Macduff had fled to England, prompting Macbeth’s resolution to kill Macduff’s family.

Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) busied herself with washing clothes as Ross warned her that her husband had fled (4.2). She asked her son (Colin Ryan yet again), sat on the ledge of the stage left pillar, what he would do now his father was dead. Their witty exchange cleared the air of menace long enough for the messenger’s warning of impending danger to cause alarm.

Soon the murderers were in the room. Her son fought against them and was brutally stabbed in the back while lying face down on the ground. Lady Macduff was unharmed on stage, but was led away to an unspecific fate by the knife-wielding killers.

Clarity

The staging of the meeting between Malcolm and Macduff brought gratifying clarity to what is often a confusing and dull scene in performance (4.3).

In response to Macduff’s insistence that he was not treacherous, Malcolm pointed out “But Macbeth is” with the certainty of someone determined to root out a possible plot. He observed that Macduff has abandoned his family as if uncovering an indication of his insincerity. At this point, he was completely honest in voicing his suspicions.

The second element in Malcolm’s test was to be pretend to be unfit to rule. Here, Malcolm gave a slight squint to his eyes and enough clues to the audience that he was playing a game, but not so excessively that it was impossible to imagine Macduff falling for the subterfuge.

Macduff’s gruff answers, voicing his despair at Scotland’s fate and disbelief that Malcolm could be worse than Macbeth, brought the trace of a smile to Malcolm’s face as he realised that Macduff was genuine. Malcolm’s iteration of his faults was a sufficiently obvious ploy to us, but Macduff continued to fall for it to the point that he reacted violently: “Fit to govern? No, not to live.”

After this outburst Macduff knelt in sorrow on the ground, as Malcolm, satisfied that his work was done, pointed at Macduff as if drawing attention to his greatness. He mouthed “Macduff” before praising the man’s “noble passion, child of integrity”. Malcolm’s admission that he had invented his worst faults and, far from being goatish was “yet unknown to woman” was no surprise to the audience, but obviously a revelation to Macduff.

The success of the scene dramatically relied on the audience being in no doubt as to Malcolm’s hidden agenda while Macduff remained ignorant of it. Macduff was consistently portrayed as a simple man of action, suggesting that he lacked the sophistication to see through Malcolm.

The sequence with the Doctor was cut so that the action continued with the entry of Ross bringing bad news from Scotland. He looked on Macduff with real concern, and his statement that Macduff’s wife and children were well and “at peace” when he left them, was compassionately equivocating.

Macduff guessed at the bad news and stood facing the audience, growling questions at Ross over his shoulder and hearing in response that his children were dead as well.

Macduff had come across as fierce and determined even before this provocation gave him reason to press home his revenge against Macbeth. Fired by this awful news, Macbeth’s fate seemed sealed.

Lady Macbeth walked through the centre doors carrying a candle and was observed by the Doctor and Gentlewoman (5.1). She knelt in the centre of the stage and rubbed at her hands as if washing them. Her eyes were wide and her teeth slightly gritted as she relived and acted out her part in her previous traumas.

She kept trying to wash one particular finger and became frustrated that it did not become clean, the frustration of this eventually expressed itself in a loud howl. She retired to bed, directing her ‘to bed, to bed, to bed” at the groundlings.

The soldiers of the approaching army appeared at various points in the galleries (5.2). They called out to each other, informing us of their plan to meet the English near Dunsinane and that Macbeth was fortifying his castle.

Macbeth burst confidently through the centre doors dismissing incoming reports and convinced that he was invincible (5.3). After rebuffing the nervous “cream-faced loon”, he found himself dealing with Seyton (Jonathan Chambers), who was calm and unemotional and dared to contradict him, saying of Macbeth’s demand for his armour “’Tis not needed yet”.

The flipside to his confidence could be seen in his depressed conviction that his old age would not involve the usual “troops of friends”, and also in the angry way he spat “throw physic to the dogs” at the Doctor who could not cure his wife.

The stage cleared briefly for the combined English and Scottish forces to meet and receive their instructions to cut down trees to disguise their numbers (5.4).

Macbeth strode out again and fixed a belt round his waist from which two battle axes hung. He issued more instructions before a howl, very similar to that made by his wife during her sleepwalking sequence, shattered the air (5.5). Seyton recognised it as the cry of women and on returning told Macbeth equally dispassionately that Lady Macbeth was dead.

Macbeth looked out to the audience to deliver “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”. The speech was unremarkable except for its ending. Macbeth noticed a messenger in attendance and rolled his eyes at his own poetic self-absorption, thereby mocking his own seriousness. He restored his attention on the pressing matters at hand by saying drily “Thou com’st to use thy tongue; thy story quickly”.

This Macbeth displayed a profound distaste for his own philosophical musings.

The messenger stuttered out the news that the wood was moving towards the castle. After branding him a “liar and slave”, Macbeth rushed across the stage and grabbed him by the throat, pressing his fingers into the frightened messenger’s cheeks. Macbeth promised him dire consequences if he were lying, before dashing off to join the battle.

The soldiers entered through the yard and carried bare branches of trees on to the stage, which they deposited by standing them upright in holders at the foot of the stage pillars (5.6).

Macbeth rushed on stage and was soon confronted by Young Siward (5.7). He was so confident of his invincibility that he took him on without brandishing either of his axes. The soldier drew his sword and pointed it at Macbeth, but the king simply dodged the blows, grasped the sword and disarmed him with little struggle.

Given that Macbeth was not actually living under a lucky charm, this must have been a case of his confidence making his luck for him.

He threw the sword back at the soldier, who attacked once more only to be similarly disarmed. This time Macbeth showed he was in more earnest. He forced Young Siward to the ground and pointed the snatched sword at his opponent’s throat, demonstrating the ease of his victory, before discarding the sword.

His self-assurance meant he would not even bother to dispatch a defeated enemy and made sense of his subsequent comment “But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn”.

Young Siward, however, drew a dagger and moved threateningly towards Macbeth. This was a provocation the king could not so easily ignore. He grappled with Young Siward, eventually restraining him from behind. As he increased his hold, he forced the dagger at the soldier’s own neck before plunging it in, announcing “Thou wast born of woman”.

Macduff entered looking for Macbeth, who eventually appeared stage right (5.8). He turned to leave only to be called back by the furious Macduff.

They fought intensely with Macbeth’s axes battling against Macduff’s weapon, at one point two opposing axes locked with each other producing a tug of war struggle. Each gradually lost their weapons so that they fought hand-to-hand.

Macbeth held his axe locked around Macduff’s neck, saying that he was charmed and could not be killed by a man born of a woman. Macduff told him the bad news about the caesarean, causing Macbeth to falter to one side, lay down his axe and vow not to fight any more.

However, he attacked once again, but Macduff overpowered him and snapped his neck, upon which Macbeth fell to the ground centre stage.

Towards the end of this sequence the three witches appeared again and carried Siward off the stage. This enabled the doorway to be cleared in preparation for Malcolm’s entrance.

Simplifying the final scene (5.9), Macduff stayed in place overlooking the dead Macbeth and hailed Malcolm as king when he entered through the centre doors.

“Th’usurper’s cursed head” was not severed from his body. Macduff merely gestured at it synecdocihally. Malcolm created Scotland’s first thanes and invited everyone to see him crowned at Scone.

The performance ended with something resembling a warm-down. One of the witches appeared on the stage right side and played a dirge on the violin. The cast went into a formation and performed more tai-chi style movements, mostly with their hands, mirroring the start of the performance and stylistically bookending it.

This merged into a happier jig with dancing music provided by bag pipes in the gallery above that accompanied Highland dancing and pairs of characters cavorting with each other. The conclusion to this signalled the audience to applaud, which they did at great volume.

Conclusions

In this, her professional directing debut, Eve Best acquitted herself incredibly well. She will doubtless be invited to direct at the Globe again.

The production was an enthralling experience with many fine, thought-provoking points that witnessed a close reading of the text. While the acting was at times characterised by broad brush strokes rather than fine detail, this suited the Globe environment which favours the bold gesture over the subtle.

The production emphasised Macbeth’s initial reluctance and fear, which were subsequently transformed into megalomania and madness, suggesting that they were two sides of the same coin.

Eve Best and the cast should be congratulated for the lucid staging of the key Malcolm and Macduff scene, whose inner workings are not always clarified in performance.

The mystery of the tea light that remained on stage throughout this first performance remains unsolved.

Macbeth stage - tea light not yet in position

The Respect Agenda

Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe, 21 July 2011

A second look at the Globe’s Much Ado (soon to be followed by a very necessary third view) provided another example of cast bravery in the face of torrential rain besides that recently displayed on a very wet Sunday by the cast of All’s Well.

The weather was fine up until the interval, but in the second half, just around the point where Hero was rejected at the altar, the rain bucketed down with such intensity that the cast looked up at the sky in wonder.

The staging required the Sexton to sit on a stool far beyond the protection of the heavens. He looked at the spot where he was supposed to sit with his ledger, saw it being scoured by the downpour and reluctantly sat under the torrent. A wave of sympathy went out to him both from the audience and the cast under the canopy.

Eve Best, whose Beatrice was perhaps the production’s main attraction, had a superb moment where she turned meteorological adversity into theatrical greatness.

As she raged against Claudio and his despicable treatment of Hero, she rushed to the front of the stage and, countering the storm with some storming of her own, punched the air screaming “I would eat his heart in the market-place”.

The furious passion of her speech, made even more dramatic by being delivered in the teeth of torrential rain, drew loud cheers from the audience.

This performance also provided an example of an unfortunate downside of the Globe yard: noisy spectators.

The Globe is a theatre and also, by dint of its location on the Southbank, a tourist attraction. The absurdly cheap £5 yard tickets, while a boon for the majority, foster an attitude among an element of the audience that the theatre is a trifling, low-cost amusement rather than a serious theatrical undertaking.

On this occasion a tourist from western Europe, who had previously drawn attention to himself by trying to jump the queue into the yard, insisted on talking loudly almost continuously through the performance. Cast members occasionally went to the side of the stage nearest to his location and shouted their lines at him in attempt to snap him out of his conversation.

But the most galling part was when he decided that the performance was of so little interest to him and his chat with his friend of such greater importance that he attempted to talk over the top of the cast, drowning out the performance like it was extraneous noise.

It takes all sorts. But a rise in the price of the Globe’s dirt cheap yard tickets could generate a greater degree of respect for the venue and the valuable, high-quality work it produces.

Carry on Messina

Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe, 2 July 2011

It was a sight almost impossible to behold without cracking a smile. The Globe stage, extended out into the yard along most of its width, looked extremely pretty with its water pools, flowers and overarching orange branches. Real birds singing under the heavens added a realistic touch that made the wait for the play to start very relaxing.

If the intention had been to create a laid-back Mediterranean feel, then it had succeeded.

The performance began with a messenger entering on the stage right walkway and handing a letter to Ursula, who was washing clothes in one of the pools. She took the letter through the centre doors to Leonato offstage, who then entered announcing its contents.

Beatrice and Hero looked concerned at what the arrival of Don Pedro might herald. But Leonato emphasised the words “A victory” in his third speech, causing the two women to rejoice at the news. Beatrice, looking relaxed with a sun hat hanging nonchalantly on her back, had her arm around Hero indicating their closeness. She sipped occasionally at drinks served with straws emphasising the leisurely pace of life at Leonato’s house.

Eve Best’s Beatrice was witty, confident and inwardly content. Her word play turning “a good soldier too, lady” into “a good soldier to a lady” and the slightly ribald joking about “stuffing” showed her to have a good sense of humour, but a generous rather than a bitter one. She moved around the stage and dominated the first scene both physically and verbally.

Don Pedro’s soldiers entered on the stage left walkway. Attention naturally focused on Benedick, who seemed quite affable.

When the argument between Beatrice and Benedick began, the pair went off to opposite corners downstage. Their first exchanges were lengthy and conveyed complex ideas.

Then the dispute rapidly shifted gear. The exchanges became shorter and more quick-fire. As their words became more terse they met each other nose-to-nose centre stage.

There was nothing jovial about this part of the spat. It was, within the context of light-hearted romantic comedy, a quite scary exchange of words.

Beatrice exited shaking her skirt causing Benedick to cough as if choked by the dust thrown off.

Don Pedro announced that he and his men were going to stay at Leonato’s house for at least a month, which caused Claudio to punch the air in victory and shout “Yes!” This indicated his happiness at having an extended opportunity to woo Hero.

Benedick talked with Claudio about Hero, but despite his earlier air punch, Claudio was unsure about how to proceed. His nerves were indicated by his constant twirling of a tassel on his doublet.

This production’s Hero was played by a black British woman. For reasons of sensitivity, Benedick’s reference to her being “too brown” was cut.

Benedick’s abhorrence at the concept of marriage was emphasised by his inability to even pronounce the word “husband” without choking on it.

These speeches in defence of his bachelor status must have been trotted out on many occasions before. He moved stage right to explain various instances of his thinking on the issue. When he got to the part about being put in a bottle and shot at like a cat, with the best archer being called “Adam”, they all mouthed along to his words as if wearily familiar with the sentiment.

Eavesdropping

Don Pedro talked with Claudio about his plan to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. Behind the grille of the centre doors we could see Borachio with an incense burner perfuming the room, as he would later describe to his accomplices. He overheard Don Pedro’s entire speech outlining the scheme.

We caught a brief glimpse of Antonio on the upper stage gallery. The old man’s head popped up long enough to hear Don Pedro mention his intended wooing of Hero (roughly 304-306), but not the part about acting on Claudio’s behalf. He left the gallery in disgust after eavesdropping on this brief snippet.

This neat staging demonstrated one of the readings of the play title: that the action revolved around “noting”, while also providing coherent grounds for why different rumours about Don Pedro were in circulation.

This then segued into 1.2 where we saw Antonio run to his brother Leonato to recount what he had just overheard. In the text Antonio refers to his information coming from a member of his staff, but here he bumbled over references to this being “overheard by a man of mine” as if hastily concealing his own espionage.

Our first extended look at Don John in 1.3 allowed him to talk at length about his seething discontent, cementing his black-hearted villainy firmly into our awareness.

Don John was a very interesting character within this production. He was portrayed as a bug-eyed Scottish sociopath dressed entirely in symbolic black. He managed to tread the border between menace and comic villainy without crossing over.

Borachio came with the news he had just overheard. Seizing on this opportunity for mischief, Don John asked him who was getting married. Borachio’s “your brother’s right hand” was accompanied by a wanking gesture indicating his disdain for Claudio. This nasty sentiment set the tone of villainy for the entire group of conspirators.

The start of act two offered the more pleasant sight of Beatrice and Hero relaxing with Leonato and Antonio.

Beatrice paddled her feet in a pool and jokingly moved her hands like gabbling mouths to mock the absent Benedick. When explaining her extended witticism about the curst cow being sent no horns, she wrapped a scarf around her head as if emphasising its lack of protuberances.

She pointed at Antonio as an example of a man with a beard who was “more than a youth” and not for her, but then pointed at a groundling as an exemplar of someone “less than a man”.

Beatrice immediately realised that she had made an insensitive faux pas. She held her hand in front of her mouth and apologised in embarrassment. This looked like Eve Best breaking out of character and apologising as herself to an audience member. But it was obviously a scripted part of the performance.

This was really clever because it exploited our impression that we were seeing the “real” Eve Best, insensitive and gaffe prone, and not her studied performance of the character of Beatrice, which was the only reality actually being presented to us.

She redeemed herself by pointing at men in the upper gallery when referring to sitting with the bachelors in heaven.

Party

Some of the centre boards on the stage extension were lifted and a fire lit in a shallow recess to set the scene for the party. The masked dancers revelled.

Margaret established an aspect of her character by flirting outrageously with Balthasar, eventually kneeling suggestively in front of his crotch. Antonio put on a French accent to evade detection by Ursula.

Crucially, Beatrice seemed to recognise Benedick as himself. If this was the case, then her willingness for him to hold her close as the spoke was very telling. They both faced the audience with Benedick stood tightly beside and behind her, their hands enmeshed.

Don John swooped on Claudio to dispense his bad news about Hero. Claudio was angry when concluding that he had been duped by Don Pedro. Benedick mirrored Claudio’s displeasure by being indignant at Beatrice’s labelling of him as “the prince’s fool”.

Arriving with Claudio in tow, Beatrice looked piteously as Benedick suddenly requested to be dispatched on a mission to some far flung place.

Don Pedro picked up on this continuing tension and suggested that Beatrice had lost Benedick’s heart. She responded to this with a tender speech, hinting at their past romantic involvement, saying that “he lent it me awhile”.

It took the presence of the orange branches hanging overhead for me to finally cotton on to Beatrice’s civil/Seville pun.

Claudio was dumbstruck to hear that Hero was actually his, requiring Beatrice to prompt him with his “cue”. He and Hero kissed to audience cheers.

In what looked like a repetition of Eve Best/Beatrice’s previous embarrassing moment with the groundling, she messed up her attempted flirt with Don Pedro. Beatrice’s denial that she was interested in him was too emphatic and dismissive, causing him to take offence and Beatrice to look mortified at suggesting he was not attractive. This ineptitude and gaucheness had touches of Miranda Hart about it, particularly when she snorted out a laugh like a gauche boarding school girl.

Describing the hour of her birth, Beatrice paused when getting to the poetic “but then there was a star danced” which made for a poignant moment.

Leonato sensed that she had dug herself into a hole and offered her a way out, asking to check up on some unspecified matters. His ensuing remark to Don Pedro that Beatrice “mocks all her wooers out of suit” was a reference to her dismissal of him.

Claudio was excited about his forthcoming marriage, which, Leonato reminded him, was a “sevennight” away.

Don Pedro conspired with the others to arrange for Beatrice and Benedick to be brought together.

Sinister

The brief scene 2.2 saw a more sinister plot being hatched with Borachio explaining to Don John how he would trick Claudio and the others into thinking that Hero had been unfaithful. The “term me ‘Claudio’” variant was used.

Benedick called on Margaret, not the Boy, to fetch a book for him at the start of 2.3. He took off his shoes and paddled in the stage left pool before hiding behind the stage left pillar as the gullers entered.

As Balthasar played “Sigh no more” Benedick slowly beat his head against the pillar in frustration at its romantic lyrics.

The gullers got into difficulties trying to make up stories for Benedick to overhear. Both Leonato and Don Pedro had problems, which were only resolved when Don Pedro cried out “How, how, I pray you?” whereupon they all went into a huddle and then broke out of it having ostensibly shared a secret as Don Pedro exclaimed “You amaze me!”

Benedick and his gullers swapped sides of the stage. He tried to overhear their conversation more closely by putting on a hat and using a hoe to pretend to be weeding the ground, shuffling ever closer to them.

At this point, Margaret re-entered with the book Benedick had requested. He tried to shoo her away, mouthing “fuck off” under his breath. This was done with sufficient clarity for the words to be clearly understood by the audience, who hooted with laughter.

By this time the gullers had moved back stage right. Margaret took Benedick’s hat as he returned stage left, which meant that the gullers suddenly caught sight of Margaret standing in the same position and in the same hat that Benedick had previously adopted.

Benedick climbed up a ladder stage left which was propped up against the pillar under some orange branches. The ladder was promptly taken away by the workers who had originally placed it there. He ended up with one foot in a loop of rope and one on the pillar. He let an orange fall to the ground as the gullers passed close beneath him.

After the gullers had gone he descended on the rope loop to the ground and moved centre stage to address the audience. He was convinced of the truth of what he heard to the effect that Beatrice secretly loved him.

Beatrice herself entered stage right with a large bell, one of the bells used at the Globe to announce the imminent start of a performance. She walked across the stage to where Benedick stood and rang the large bell very loudly close to him for some considerable time. The aggression in play here underscored that she had been sent on this errand against her will.

Benedick was comically inquisitorial when asking her if she took pleasure in the message. This was beginning of his attempt to read double meaning into her words.

Sheet

The gulling of Beatrice in 3.1 saw a washing line being hung between the two stage pillars and a single sheet folded across it. Beatrice ran onstage and hid behind it as Margaret and Ursula began to talk about her. She then pulled the sheet along the line to the other end. She peered over the top, and then after a while pulled it to the middle, at which point she hid under the fold in the sheet.

Beatrice heard the others criticise her character and huffed audibly with enough breath to make the sheet billow slightly.

At the end of this gulling, Beatrice emerged chastened by the criticism she had heard of herself. She went to the edge of the stage and singling out a female groundling, had a heart to heart moment with her, holding both her hands and then hugging her. It was as if her generalised address to the audience had become focused on one particular woman with whom she had a girly moment.

Benedick appeared for the next scene 3.2 with his shirt open to his chest, like a medallion man without a medallion, and with a small piece of paper over a recent shaving cut. Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato teased him about alleged signs that he was in love.

When Don John appeared and began to set Claudio up to be duped, some in the audience began to hiss at him. The close bond between cast and audience in this Globe production meant that spontaneous reactions to onstage events were positively encouraged by the dynamics of the theatre space.

This coupled with Don John’s constant sneering, more or less guaranteed that he would be booed and hissed. His description of Claudio’s fiancée as “every man’s Hero” was a red rag to the groundling bull.

This effect was clearly one that the production had foreseen and was counting on. Because the staging had a response to the hissers.

Claudio and Don Pedro were willing to believe his version of events. They exited expressing their dismay and outrage. Don John watched them leave and his parting words to them “O plague right well prevented!” rhetorically matched what they had said.

He then remained onstage alone grimacing at the audience, who responded with more hisses.

The production played its masterstroke. Don John spoke his final sentence in the scene, one normally spoken to the others and not directly to the audience.

His scripted line directed mostly at us hissing groundlings was: “So will you say when you have seen the sequel.” He exited and the interval came.

Stunning

I was absolutely stunned at the brilliance of this: goading the audience into booing and hissing the villain and then using words in the text itself as a riposte. There were no intervals in the original performances, but it is possible that this line was used in a similar way and directed at the audience as a piece of pre-emptive writing.

The second half of the performance began on a comic note as Dogberry, a short man, entered with Verges, a very large man, inches behind him. Verges carried the watch’s lamp, holding it above and in front of Dogberry. Their coordinated steps and apparent fusion into a Dogberry/Verges creature drew instant laughs from the audience.

Dogberry punctuated his lines with nervous tics borrowed consciously from Carry On star Jack Douglas.

Seacoal entered via the stage right walkway when beckoned and was handed the lamp, causing Verges to look disconsolate. The audience saw his crestfallen expression and aahed in sympathy.

The whole watch lined up on stage for their instructions. One of them had a completely blank face which did not flicker when Dogberry waved his hand in front of it.

Another watchman interrupted Dogberry’s instructions to ask a series of questions. Each time he spoke, he placed his bill on his shoulder, stamped his foot and raised his hand. This repetitive sequence of movements became a running gag as each question was put.

Dogberry’s convoluted image involving a ewe, lamb and calf was spoken hesitantly as if he was making it up on the spot. Verges’ supportive comment about its sagacity was therefore very funny.

Dogberry and Verges exited briefly. On his return, Verges was carrying a lantern, one much larger than before. Dogberry reminded the watch to be “vigitant” and turning to exit banged his head on Verges’ lantern, staggering off in a zig-zag.

Shelter

Borachio was drunk when he entered with Conrade. Taking a swig from a hip flask, he spilt some liquid down his front, looked at it and encouraged Conrade to take shelter under the “penthouse” to escape the “rain”. As the watch tried to follow them, they circled the stage right pillar at close proximity without the two groups making contact.

As the watch looked on stage left, Borachio explained how he had tricked Claudio and the others. He performed a lewd mime to demonstrate what he had done with Margaret, culminating with a thrusting movement that caused drink to spurt suggestively out of his flask. Having seen Margaret’s flirtatiousness at the dance, we could believe what Borachio was illustrating.

The watch moved to arrest the pair, but at first they simply laughed at the comical bunglers. The intervention of the more determined Dogberry and Verges allowed the watch to overpower them.

Dogberry was holding a very small lantern and he eyed Verges’ larger one jealously. He made his companion take the smaller one and kept the larger for himself, clutching it to his chest. After a brief instant, Dogberry screamed as the hot lantern began to burn him.

Hero prepared for her wedding at the start of 3.4, assisted by Margaret and Ursula. She wore a tire decked with flowers. She was nervously insecure at the mention of the Duchess of Milan’s gown and her “O, that exceeds, they say” was fretful rather than congratulatory. Hero obviously had a bad case of pre-wedding nerves.

Beatrice appeared stage left carrying a pillow and snuffling with a cold. Her pronunciation of “H”, the letter than began hawk, horse and husband was “Ach” expressing a degree of contempt for the idea of being sick for a husband.

Standing stage right, Beatrice responded strongly to Margaret’s provocative mention of the “benedictus” cure.

Ursula came to fetch Hero to the church and after a short delay Hero screamed hysterically as the reality of the situation caught up with her.

Dogberry and Verges prepared to talk to Leonato (3.5) by practising a mendicant bow in proffering a hand to receive a reward.

At first Dogberry talked to the door, but soon realised that Leonato was addressing him from the gallery above. The old man was busy with the wedding preparations, but eventually came down to stage level to talk to the two watchmen.

Leonato quickly dealt with their news by telling the men to examine the “aspicious persons” themselves.

Verges fainted after Leonato went in, presumably with the tension of meeting such an important person. Dogberry tried to revive him. He fetched water from a pond cupped in his hands, but it all drained away. He tried to drag the huge Verges towards the water, but he was too heavy. He then used his hat to collect water and the soaking revived his colleague, who instinctively swam backstroke in order to save himself.

Wedding 1.0

The crucial wedding scene that began act four saw Hero and Claudio kneel downstage. Beatrice stood in the background looking moved and supportive of Hero. She and Benedick were responsible for the rings, and their momentary meeting centre stage as they placed them on a stool behind the couple proved slightly embarrassing for them both.

Claudio’s “No” produced gasps as it looked like he was directly refusing to marry Hero. Relief came as the verbal quibble was explained. Benedick came up behind Claudio to comment on the “interjections”.

Claudio became angry and stood up to question Leonato. He threw Hero to the ground before saying “There Leonato, take her back again”. Hero, although shocked, got up again and remonstrated with Claudio. Leonato and Don Pedro joined in. Benedick’s “This looks not like a nuptial” got a laugh.

Hero fell to the ground sobbing and was comforted by Beatrice. As Claudio and the others left, the stool with the rings was overturned casting them to the ground. Don John crowned his triumph by throwing some loose change contemptuously at Hero implying the cheap price at which she could be bought.

Leonato continued to rail at Hero, while Benedick hovered in the background. The Friar intervened with his plan to fake Hero’s death, to which Leonato consented saying that “the smallest twine” could lead him.

Beatrice and Benedick were left alone to make their declarations of love for each other. Benedick blurted his out; Beatrice was caught off guard, reciprocated, but then backtracked in confusion shaking her hands as if trying to rid herself of her doubts.

The audience laughed when she insisted that Benedick “Kill Claudio”. Benedick did not seem to take her seriously either which prompted a tirade from Beatrice ending with her shouting about Claudio that she would “eat his heart in the marketplace”. This was all excellently paced and emotionally authentic.

The Sexton sat on a stool near the stage right walkway at the start of 4.2 and wrote his report as Borachio and Conrade were examined. Dogberry did not appreciate the complexity of the procedure and tried to leave just after presenting the accused men, forcing the Sexton to call him back and produce their accusers.

The watchmen’s accusations were confirmed as the Sexton held up a piece of paper with the details, including news of the death of Hero. On hearing this, Borachio knelt in repentance, still clutching the purse of reward money in his hand. This detail was particularly pleasing and effective in performance.

The Sexton exited and Dogberry tried to find him by looking under the cushion on the stool where he had been sitting. Conrade called Dogberry an ass, prompting his long self-aggrandising speech, accompanied by brief mimes outlining each of his good qualities.

Fight

Act five began with Leonato telling his brother Antonio how he was convinced that Hero had been wronged by Claudio. So when Claudio and Don Pedro encountered them sparks were bound to fly. As Leonato accused him, Claudio reached for his sword and hastily put it up again. But after some goading, Claudio pushed Leonato to the ground before turning on Antonio.

Antonio’s rage at Claudio forced the young man to draw his sword, but his gesture offering to fight was only half-hearted: he held his arms open, emphasising how ready he was to meet Antonio’s aggression. Finally Claudio threw his sword to the ground. Antonio went to pick it up, but was dissuaded by Leonato.

Having dealt with unserious challenges from Leonato and Antonio, Claudio then faced a determined Benedick, who although not outwardly aggressive, did signal a serious intent to confront Claudio in a formal duel.

Claudio did not take Benedick seriously, causing the latter to make a wanking gesture telling Claudio “your wit ambles well”. This and Benedick’s persistence finally got the message through to his opponent.

The watch entered and Dogberry was so nervous of Don Pedro that he did not fully articulate his sentences. He only half spoke them with the last part trailing off as he swallowed his speech.

Borachio, still contemplating the death of Hero, looked distraught. He only gained slight relief from his lengthy confession to the assembled company.

Leonato entered and scorned Borachio, but also turned his wrath on Claudio, who offered his sword to Leonato saying “Choose your revenge yourself” as if inviting Leonato to strike him with his own blade.

There was a slight ripple of audience laughter when black Leonato mentioned that his brother, the white Antonio, had a daughter who looked exactly like Hero and that Claudio could make amends by marrying her.

Dogberry and Verges bowed obsequiously before Leonato, were rewarded, but continued to bow and comically ingratiate themselves.

Benedick showed Margaret his love poem to Beatrice (5.2) but she could only laugh at it. Her witty, bawdy wordplay with Benedick was fully in keeping with the earthiness of her character.

He sent Margaret to fetch Beatrice, and tried singing while waiting for her. He stood stage right and tunelessly intoned his song.

Once together, the pair were hesitant in their declarations of affection. Beatrice’s biting wit returned to dig at him. Benedick’s “Serve God, love me and mend” was more like a witty riposte than an invitation to intimacy.

Benedick did reveal his true feelings for Beatrice at the end of their encounter. Beatrice invited him to go hear the news of Hero’s betrayal. His reply drifted off into living in her heart, dying in her lap and being buried in her eyes. But then he hastily corrected himself and responded to the matter in hand.

Hero was carried in on a bier for 5.3. Flowers were placed in her (presumed) dead hands and Claudio read his epitaph to her. He placed the paper he had been reading from next to her. At the end when all those not in the know had left, Hero got up from the bier and the Priest gave her a thumbs-up to indicate that the subterfuge had worked.

Wedding 2.0

The final scene (5.4) saw the ladies being given hooded veils to disguise themselves. Claudio’s line referring to “an Ethiope” was cut for reasons of sensitivity.

Claudio and Don Pedro joked around with Benedick, with Don Pedro clenching his fists and landing them on Benedick’s head like cuckold’s horns as Claudio taunted him.

The women blindfolded Claudio and spun him round a few times. Hero was brought forward and placed beside him, still hooded. She took off her hood to speak to Claudio before removing his blindfold, so that his surprise at seeing her was instant. They kissed to great audience applause.

Benedick undercut the romance of the moment by swiftly donning a blindfold, holding it slightly away from his eyes and entreating the Friar to tell him which of the hooded women was Beatrice.

Beatrice revealed herself and they both swiftly realised that their only real assurance of the other’s feelings had come from their friends.

Their cool, sarcastic mockery of each other was punctured when the love poems each had written about the other were produced in evidence of their underlying affection.

Beatrice and Benedick each obtained the other’s work and posed centre stage brandishing the offending lines at each other like weapons ready for a duel. They stood apart to read the poems, at one moment laughing in scorn, then nodding in admiration at something pleasing.

Leonato’s line was given to Benedict who stopped Beatrice’s mouth with a kiss to audience cheers.

Don Pedro sat slouched on the stage left walkway, prompting Benedick’s advice to him to get a wife.

The performance ended with a jig, the most notable feature of which was the return of Don John. Don Pedro slapped him, but then shook hands to make up, so that his errant brother was a full part of the celebratory dance at the end.

Conclusions

This production came as welcome relief after the overpriced and slightly tacky production on offer at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Its main advantage over the Tennant/Tate production was the presence of Eve Best who delivered an excellent and fully rounded Beatrice.

This Much Ado was well worth additional viewings. It further cemented the Globe’s reputation for producing thoroughly enjoyable Shakespeare comedies that take full advantage of the venue’s intimate cast-audience bond.

The striking redirection of a Don John line at the hissing audience before the interval demonstrated that there are always exciting new possibilities to be discovered in a Shakespeare text.