This Wooden O2

The opening of Shakespeare’s Globe in 1997 marked the start of a revolution.

The revolution was against the then firmly entrenched idea that actors and stages should be lit, while audiences were required to sit pacified and unengaged in darkness.

These were not the conditions in which popular theatre in this country had begun and not the conditions for which Shakespeare had written most of his plays.

The revolution was intended to restore these original conditions of performance.

This is a different concept to what became known as original practices, where costume and all-male casting attempt to recreate some of the visual detail of Elizabethan performances.

The original conditions of performance are recreated by the basic physical architecture of the reconstructed Globe theatre, its lighting and acoustic. These conditions apply regardless of whether an individual production is original practices or modern dress.

The manifesto of this revolution has been proclaimed in different ways by different people during the Globe’s history, but perhaps the most succinct expression of it is currently right there in the Globe’s description of itself on its website.

The Shakespeare’s Globe website About Us page describes the theatre as: dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work and the playhouse for which he wrote.

This phrase neatly summarises how the recreation of the original performance conditions that existed in the playhouse for which he wrote has always been integral to the Globe’s exploration of Shakespeare’s plays.

The environment of the original Globe theatre was the essential framework that shaped the playwright’s dramatic works.

He wrote most of his plays for daylight and the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe was purpose-built to recreate that experience. This simple fact was the core of the Globe experiment.

As an article in The Economist put it in 1999:

Actors and audiences are discovering anew the real conditions for which Shakespeare wrote—a daylit outdoor amphitheatre, with a thrust stage and no stage lighting to mark a division between them.

This was a revolution directed principally against stage lighting and lighting design because these things played no part in the creation of Shakespeare’s plays.

The experiment yielded results. Practitioners and audiences alike discovered how shared light made a difference to how the plays worked in performance. This growing body of knowledge was incorporated into the curriculum that Globe Education imparted to students.

It rapidly became apparent that the recreation of the original Globe environment and the shared light uniting stage and audience unlocked a quality in Shakespeare’s plays that otherwise remained hidden.

Shared light created a powerful bond between actors and audience to the extent that the spectators became an integral part of the performance rather than passive bystanders.

Audiences were able to appreciate the Henry IV plays in which Falstaff used shared light to make the spectators part of his gang. Shared light enabled King Henry V to address the assembled horde of groundlings as the English army, effectively making the whole theatre yard part of the performance space.

Shakespeare’s dramatic works had finally returned to their natural habitat. And they flourished.

This season’s introduction of stage lighting and sound amplification is consequently problematic.

In the same way that original musical instruments are used to recreate authentic sounds in an orchestra, so the Globe was seen as a reconstruction of the original instrument for which the music of Shakespeare’s plays was written.

This explains why one founding donor of the Globe, having seen Emma Rice’s production of Dream, was quoted as comparing the use of lighting design in the theatre to “screwing an electric pickup to a Stradivarius”.

The parallel was a precise one and the comparison of Shakespeare’s Globe with a Stradivarius violin was deliberate and telling.

Shakespeare did not write for lighting design or megawatt sound systems. The introduction of this technology defeats the purpose of building the Globe in the first place.

The Globe management would not get away with removing the candles from the candlelit Playhouse next door, because its mode of lighting is obviously integral to its function and purpose.

In Sam Wanamaker’s vision for the main Globe theatre, daylight (and artificial daylight for evening performances) was considered equally essential and non-negotiable.

If audiences want to see Shakespeare performed with stage lighting and sound amplification, they can do so anywhere in the world. The Globe has spent nearly two decades offering something different and more authentic, true to its founder’s vision and proud of its revolutionary distinctiveness.

Emma Rice described her changes as “a bit of TLC” – tender loving care. To which many people have reacted “Love? Her affections do not that way tend.”

How can anyone claim to love the Globe when they are undoing what makes it truly special?

It was quite saddening to see an actor in the subsequent Wonder Season production of Shrew spotlit on the Globe stage trying to connect with an audience he mostly could not see.

Using lighting to tell an audience where to look instead of having actors earn audience attention is a disservice to both audience and actors, as shared light advocate Ralph Cohen of the American Shakespeare Center has explained.

Where once shared light created a democratic space binding actors and audience together into one unit, now lighting design separates the two in a way Shakespeare would not have recognised.

Sound amplification was also used in Shrew to absurd effect. All the musicians in the gallery were miked up, so that when two of them played down on stage during the preshow, the music appeared to be coming from the giant speaker stacks and not from their instruments.

Musicians at the Globe have never needed amplification, indeed the Globe to Globe Festival in 2012 had positively encouraged all the visiting companies to bring their own musical instruments, which most of them did and they all worked perfectly without amplification.

How can these new developments be described as progress?

Sam Wanamaker was a revolutionary and what is being touted as progress is in fact a reactionary step backwards.

Globe has been a success because it has offered something different. It has spent the past 19 years building an audience and a brand based on its founding principles with continuity across two artistic directors who both accepted the basic outline of the Globe project.

That consensus has now been ruptured.

Dispensing with Sam Wanamaker’s vision for the Globe is not a good place for them to be as they approach their 20th anniversary in 2017.

Next year will provide an opportunity to look back at the project’s achievements.

Does the Globe want to celebrate that anniversary by terminating the experiment to whose fulfilment Sam Wanamaker devoted decades of his life?

Now that there’s a gap in the market for a replica Elizabethan theatre devoted to exploring Shakespeare in original conditions of performance, will someone, a visionary, have the courage to build one?

Or are we expected to acquiesce in the transformation of ‘this wooden O’ into ‘this wooden O2’?

woodeno2

Update: On 25 October 2016 Shakespeare’s Globe announced that Emma Rice would be leaving the post of artistic director in April 2018 and reasserted the primacy of Sam Wanamaker’s original shared light project

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/uploads/files/2016/10/statement_regarding_the_artistic_direction_of_shakespeare_s_globe_final.pdf

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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

Not boring

Titus Andronicus, The Globe, 25 May 2014

This revival of the 2006 production replicated its key features: a fabric roof was stretched over the yard; the tiring house and stage pillars were covered in identical dark cloth. Billows of smoke generated under the stage and meant to intensify the atmosphere, quickly dissipated into the air.

Extensive use was made of the yard for scenes like Titus’ (William Houston) triumphant return to Rome with his Goth prisoners. Steel towers on wheels were deployed to create mobile stages for sequences such as the attempting hanging of Aaron (Obi Abili).

The towers were wheeled rapidly into position, careering around the yard, forcing groundlings to move out of their way, their crew occasionally dousing those below with water. At other times the framework was struck repeatedly to create a loud metallic din.

While some of this worked, the overall impression was of a production that didn’t understand the Globe space. With good acting and direction the colourful tiring house melts into the background and is unobtrusive despite its gaudy decoration. Attempts to cover it up actually draw attention to it and away from the actors to the detriment of the overall experience.

The production added a character “Bacchus, a Roman drunk” (David Shaw-Parker) who joked with the audience in modern English and who was eventually killed in a clumsy attempt to recreate the shock of Polonius’ death in Hamlet. This also jarred with the professed intention to create a dark abattoir atmosphere.

The reveal of the mutilated Lavinia (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) was played too far upstage and would have been better in a prominent position at the stage front. The moment was also slightly spoilt by some people choosing to laugh at the spectacle of Lavinia thrashing around under a net before the reveal.

Tamora (Indira Varma) at times verged towards the comedic, with a similar vibe coming from her partner in crime Aaron. This tended to counteract the darkening of mood purposed by the space redesign.

But all was not completely bleak.

The stage towers did work well as an alternative to the main stage for the threatened hanging of Aaron. The use of actors to portray hunting dogs was very nice. A net temporarily slung down into the yard to serve as the pit was an ingenious solution, but involved much herding of groundlings.

The concluding dinner scene was excellent, particularly when Tamora gestured approvingly at the pie and continuing to tuck in. She met her end with her face thrust down into the pie and stabbed. Saturninus (Matthew Needham) had his head banged down onto the same table and was also cut.

But the most pleasing moments in the production came when the actors’ skill and the text’s momentary brilliance became the focus of attention, rendering the play’s attention-seeking wrapper superfluous. This hinted that directorial design concepts were alien to the original staging and equally have no place on a recreated Elizabethan stage.

Conclusions

The trend for refashioning the Globe interior reached its absurd peak in the 2010 Macbeth production. Since then there has been a move away from such remodelling. This revived production took us back to a time when such alterations looked like progress.

A satisfied customer was heard to tell a companion that this production proved that “not all Shakespeare is boring”. This was indeed a loud, banging, crowd-pleasing spectacle. But most of the writer’s dedicated fans are glad he eventually moved on from being “not boring”.

Absolute beginners

Hamlet, Middle Temple Hall, 19 April 2014 & The Globe, 26 April 2014

Before setting off round the world, the Globe’s touring production of Hamlet played at two very different venues: Middle Temple Hall (tickets £50) and The Globe itself (tickets from £5).

Middle Temple Hall is one of only two extant Shakespearean performance spaces, the other being Hampton Court Palace, so any performance of Shakespeare there is a special event.

The basic touring set was implanted in both spaces: a backcloth hung from a metal framework together with packing cases and planks. At Middle Temple Hall it was performed on a wooden platform. When transferred to the Globe, the outline of this platform was marked on its stage. All of this was good practice for the various conditions they would encounter on their journey.

The performance began with a rousing song about beggars, with the cast accompanying themselves on instruments, which were also used for the incidental music. This was a reminder of how touring companies were often considered little better than beggars unless they could demonstrate noble patronage. This beggars song was also played when the Mousetrap company arrived within the play, further underscoring that connection.

The text drew heavily on the First Quarto (Q1), a short version of Hamlet possibly deriving from a touring version of the play, making its use here another nod to the original touring tradition.

The Q1 borrowings caused Polonius (Rãwiri Paratene) to say that one might “find directions forth”; Claudius (John Dougall) used the word “swoopstake-like” and concluded his meditation on his crimes with “No King on earth is safe, if God’s his foe”. The Gravediggers spoke of the grave as a “long house” and of water as a “parlous devourer” of bodies.

The most extensive Q1 borrowing was an entire speech unique to that version about “warm clowns” and the various ways in which they speak more than is set down for them in a play text. And as if to demonstrate that point the Gravedigger did indeed launch into a non-textual but semi-scripted modern English digression when he first appeared. At Middle Temple Hall, Dickon Tyrrell told a joke about booking a holiday and being asked “Eurostar?” and replying “Well, I’ve played a few seasons on the Globe”. This perhaps approximated to the way that the original clowns in these parts did branch off into their own comic routines.

The battlements of Elsinore were suggested by planks arranged into a V-shape pointing towards the audience. The ground further off where Hamlet first met the Ghost was indicated by the same planks sloping down to the ground from the tops of packing cases.

In another self-referential detail, the travelling players called themselves “Two Planks and a Passion”, which would also have made an apt name for the Globe company.

Despite its basic set, the production managed a coup-de-théâtre during the Mousetrap sequence. After a dumbshow set to a rumba rhythm, a curtain was drawn across the stage from behind which the Claudius and Gertrude (Miranda Foster) changed costumes and emerged as the Player King and Queen to act out their scene. After the repeated references to the remarriage of widows, the curtain was closed once again, only to open moments later to reveal a stony-faced Claudius sitting with Gertrude, the same bench serving sequentially as both Mousetrap stage and Mousetrap audience seating.

But this was followed by an even neater trick; the Player King reclined on his side facing away from the audience as the wicked usurper poured poison in his ear. As the direct parallels with Claudius became very apparent he stormed onto the stage from the front calling for lights. This came as a complete surprise because we had been tricked into thinking John Dougall was still on stage.

In addition to the doubling of their roles, the First Player’s connection with Claudius was also emphasised when the actor recited a speech about the Trojan War, at one point describing how Pyrrhus had tried to strike at Priam, but simply stood “And like a neutral to his will and matter, did nothing.” He spoke that phrase staring fixedly at Hamlet and it was as if Claudius were taunting him with his own inaction.

This Hamlet really did consider that his advice to the players was important. When the Player Queen was on stage, Hamlet (Naeem Hayat) stood just to her side trying in vain to restrain her from sawing the air too much with her hands.

The final scene was notable for two things: it showed Claudius handing the cup he had just poisoned almost absent-mindedly to a servant and Gertrude intercepting it before it had reached safety. Secondly, when Horatio tried to join Hamlet by drinking the dregs of the poison, Hamlet snatched it from him and downed the remainder himself, perhaps in an attempt to ensure there was none left to harm his friend.

In its essential elements the production remained constant across the two venues. But the way the production reacted with these two very dissimilar spaces and their audiences meant that the results were different.

At Middle Temple Hall, Hamlet could not resist directing one of the play’s legal jokes out to the audience where distinguished lawyers in dark suits mingled with the slightly less impressive contingent of Globe diehards, one of whom was wearing a replica football shirt.

“Might this not be the skull of a lawyer?” he quipped with a wry smile full of expectation that this might tickle the toes of the assembled advocates. Not a single titter.

The Globe, however, was a completely different proposition. The touring set seemed a natural fit for the partially covered Southwark stage, and close proximity to a standing audience made for a greater level of interaction.

This reviewer decided to take the opportunity to test the proposition that Hamlet’s “Am I a coward?” soliloquy had been written to provide the actor with an inbuilt comeback to heckling provoked by that supposedly rhetorical question. Shared light and the informality of standing in the yard in front of a thrust stage militate in favour of audience participation.

Naeem Hayat crouched close to the ground on the stage right side of the base of the triangular promontory, as he addressed part of his soliloquy to some groundlings directly in front of him. I had a clear view of him from my position where the promontory joined the main stage on the opposite, stage left side.

He calmly asked “Am I a coward?” and left a slight pause of the kind that rhetorical questions require. Mirroring his behaviour I looked straight ahead and snapped “Yes”. He whipped his head round and fixed his fiery gaze on me.

Pausing long enough to position himself with his face a few inches from mine, he launched into the text’s scripted response “Who calls me villain? etc.” His eyes were a mixture of Hamlet’s fury and the actor’s delight at the challenge. I met his gaze, caring little about the flecks of spit on my glasses and steeling myself against the onslaught with the knowledge that however combative he was now, in a few seconds Hamlet was going to concede that I had a point.

“’Swounds, I should take it…” he admitted and began to recoil, almost taken aback that the tramline of the text required him to back away from his tormenter.

The fact that this exchange began when the actor was already engaged with other groundlings, almost having a conversation with them, underlines how readily the Globe promotes this kind of engagement.

Conclusions

The production felt incredibly fresh, as if a ‘new’ play text had been given to a touring company to see what they could do with it. Stripping the Hamlet monster of the expectations generated by 400 years of tradition was liberating.

The frequent use of Q1 text hinted at the economies of touring versions of plays.

Audiences around the world might be surprised at the rustic simplicity of the production, but they will be getting something profoundly authentic.

The Sound of Drums

1/2/3 Henry VI, The Globe, 25 August 2013

Harry The Sixth

The set arrived late from Barnet, where the productions had been live streamed the previous day. Early groundling arrivers could therefore hear the sound of power tools bolting together the aluminium frames of the two towers that stood either side of a tall-backed throne.

The cold and rain of the previous day-long performance meant that several of the cast were quite hoarse during this day’s three-play marathon.

Drums were placed on stage and were played by the fourteen members of the cast. This modestly sized company resulted in much doubling.

Henry V’s black coffin was carried through the yard by pall bearers as Mary Doherty sang to the beat of funereal drums (1.1). Graham Butler’s Henry VI, dressed in a long blue gown, led the procession onstage. He was escorted to the throne by Protector Gloucester.

And there he sat until he spoke his first words in act three. He spent much of the intervening period reading the Temple Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, a play about a young man who shies away from decisive action. This suggested a connection between the ineffectual young king and Shakespeare’s tragic hero. It also created the intriguing possibility that Henry identified with, or was inspired by, the Danish prince.

Gloucester (Garry Cooper), with his grizzled weather-beaten face, world-weary demeanour, and staff of office, bickered with gruff, bearded Exeter (Nigel Hastings) and the Bishop of Winchester (Mike Grady). Henry, with his fresh, clean-shaved face sat and read. This contrast emphasised that the state was in the hands of grown men who completely overshadowed a youthful king. Gloucester invocated the ghost of Henry V, considering the dead king to be more potent than his living son.

Mary Doherty appeared as a female messenger. Her frequent presence, sometimes in male roles, prepared us for her subsequent appearance as the key character of Margaret. This also created a parallel: just as Henry was present while supposedly absent, so was Margaret. The messenger brought news of losses in France, resulting in Exeter taking 10,000 soldiers to quell the rebellion.

There was a particularly tender moment as Gloucester held Henry’s cheek with great affection, saying that he would proclaim him king.

Over in France, Charles (Simon Harrison) climbed down from one of the towers as the French tried to raise the siege of Orleans (1.2). Contrasted with the English, he was a faintly ridiculous figure who always seemed out of his depth.

The lid of Henry V’s coffin was opened and swords were taken from it. The French faced the audience and engaged in a slow motion sword battle. Their attack was repelled by the English to the accompaniment of yet more drums. The coffin was moved and set up as a wall. The English also took swords from the coffin as they prepared to fight.

The Bastard of Orleans (Joe Jameson) was characterised as a posh boy. He told of Joan La Pucelle who was going to raise the siege and drive out the English. Beatriz Romilly played Joan in a Hull accent, which neatly underscored her lowly origins compared to the French nobles. Interestingly, she was virtually the only French character who was not at any point played for laughs. Beatriz Romilly, as her name suggests, had a vaguely Mediterranean look that could pass for French.

Joan was handed a sword by Mary Doherty, another moment that heralded her future warrior role. Joan fought and beat Charles, who comically threw himself at her feet. Joan passionately ordered the French to fight the English.

The stage left tower represented the Tower of London, which Gloucester tried to enter but was kept out by order of the Bishop, who stood inside the tower (1.3). More swords were fetched from the coffin and used to strike the metal structure. Mary Doherty appeared on the stage right tower as the Officer who ordered the rioters home.

Gloucester climbed the structure and confronted the Bishop face to face. At this point, as his uncles became embroiled in a loud dispute, Henry sat up and scrutinised them with the distressed expression of a child watching his parents argue.

A sequence of battles took place in France. Shirtless Talbot (Andrew Sheridan) washed his face before dressing to fight alongside Salisbury (Roger Evans), who was killed by an arrow carried slowly through the air by Mary Doherty (1.4). Henry looked up from his book to watch. Mary Doherty appeared again as a messenger bringing news of the onward march of Joan’s army. Henry sang as Talbot vowed to fight.

The French advanced and Talbot deftly ducked between them before swinging his sword to send the French flying (1.5). But he lost his fight against Joan. She posed confidently in a wide, forward-leaning posture, bouncing her hips in supple preparation, before finally overcoming the Englishman. She shouted at him in victory and kicked Talbot down the steps into the yard.

After the siege of Orleans had been raised, Charles dotingly offered to marry Joan (1.6). But victory was short-lived as Talbot and Burgundy (Nigel Hastings) climbed the towers to retake the city (2.1). Charles’ affection now turned to anger at Joan for the French defeat, which she in turn blamed on the watch.

Burgundy and Talbot stood on the towers, as Salisbury’s coffin was brought in bedecked with flowers (2.2).

Scene 2.3 was cut, the action continuing with the Temple Garden meeting between the rival factions who disputed whether Richard (Brendan O’Hea) should be restored to his status as Duke of York (2.4). The red and white flowers that became emblems of the rival houses were plucked from Salisbury’s coffin. Mary Doherty played Vernon, who backed Richard Plantagenet.

Richard visited Mortimer (Nigel Hastings) in jail (2.5). The shabby grey-hooded prisoner explained how Richard was entitled to claim the crown. This lengthy monologue was rendered as an extremely well textured piece of exposition, whose pace and emphasis added interest to what could have been a dry historical essay.

Mortimer died and Richard stroked the back of his head, cupping it as he laid him out on the coffin. Mary Doherty appeared again to escort the dead Mortimer away as she sung a funeral theme.

The coffin then became Mortimer’s coffin, which was carried off (3.1).

Hinting at his imminent insertion into the play, Henry donned his crown to watch the dispute between Winchester and Gloucester. He fiddled nervously with his fingers before exploding “O, what a scandal…” in a child-like tantrum.

This outburst could be seen as the release of all the pent-up frustration that had been brewing within him through his entire onstage presence since the start of the performance.

He ordered the brawlers to resolve their dispute, but did so ineffectually, eventually asking his uncle Gloucester to sort matters out. His first action within the play was characterised by immaturity.

This lack of maturity could be seen again when Henry hid in the corner with his head in his hands and howled before expressing his anger that his uncle Beaufort would not make peace.

When a truce was agreed, Henry skipped up and down with joy and returned to his throne and his book.

Henry was also boyishly keen when granting Richard’s petition and restoring him as Duke of York, clumsily placing a sword and scabbard over his neck before bidding him rise.

Gloucester advised Henry to travel to France to be crowned, which Henry gleefully accepted purely on the strength of his uncle’s recommendation. He spoke the phrase “Friendly counsel cuts off many foes” as if it were a motto he had learned. His grasp of statecraft was merely a collection of aphorisms.

The town of Rouen was fought over (3.2). Joan and her troops sneaked in disguised as peasants and vaunted their victory by ascending the tall towers. Talbot and Burgundy climbed the sides of the throne and swore to retake the town. The return match consisted of the English striking the metal framework of the towers with their swords until the French fell out and the English re-ascended.

Joan rallied the French and then enticed Burgundy to join them (3.3). He posed haughtily on the tower but was then won over almost comically. Joan sat on the ground facing the audience and spoke emotionally about the “pining malady of France”. She rose and told Burgundy about his enemy, the Duke of Orleans, being released.

His interest aroused, Burgundy descended to the stage. Joan, backed by the other French, reached out her hand calling on him to “Come, come, return”. With a simple “I am vanquished” Burgundy relented. The implicit comedy of this moment soon became the explicit comedy of Joan remarking that this change of allegiance was “Done like a Frenchman: turn, and turn again!”

Henry was led off the throne by Mary Doherty at which point the interval came.

The coronation of Henry VI in his ermine was interrupted by news of Burgundy’s defection to the French (4.1). Henry reacted still very much like a child as he expressed his disappointment that “uncle Burgundy” had turned against him. He fiddled with his fingers and encouraged Talbot to talk Burgundy round.

Henry sought to diffuse the rose dispute by making York and Somerset (David Hartley) sit by his side. York was appointed regent and Somerset was obliged to join forces with him. In this Henry was hopelessly optimistic.

Crucially for subsequent developments, Exeter noticed that York was angrier than he had let on.

Scene 4.2 was cut, so that the performance continued with the scenes showing the build-up of tension between York and Somerset. With Henry back on his throne, York became annoyed that Somerset not supplied him with troops (4.3). Somerset’s faction blamed York for the disappearance of Talbot in battle (4.4).

As their enemies drew closer, Talbot urged his son (Joe Jameson) to flee, grabbing him by the neck (4.5). But son John thought this dishonourable and argued back until the pair were wrestling on the ground. Mary Doherty placed a sword belt around John’s neck and Talbot left him to fight on.

The battle sequence in scene 4.6 was cut. Mary Doherty simply escorted John away to indicate his death and turned Talbot round to begin his impassioned speech about the death of his son (4.7).

His tearful invocation of “My Icarus, my blossom” was very moving and gained by not following a distracting battle sequence. Mary Doherty led John onstage by the hand and laid him by Talbot’s knees as he crouched and caressed him. The whole cast sang as Talbot reclined to rest the back of his head on his son’s chest before expiring himself.

Henry came forward and took both of them by the hand. They rose and exited at opposite sides of the stage. The remainder of the scene showing the victorious French was cut.

This left Henry ready for his meeting in Parliament (5.1). The fact that he had been dramatically present at the deaths of Talbot and his son, underscored his acceptance of the pope’s request for peace with France. To seal the deal, the Earl of Armagnac’s daughter was offered in marriage.

Henry was very nervous about the prospect of a “wanton dalliance with a paramour”, but consented if this benefited the country.

Winchester was now a cardinal. Henry gave the Ambassador a jewel to give to his fiancée. The scene ended on a sour note as the newly appointed Cardinal twisted the female Legate’s wrist as he ordered money to be given to the pope as recompense for making him Cardinal.

Charles received news of the Paris revolt, and then a messenger told of the English advance. Joan encouraged Charles to give battle (5.2).

Joan was defeated at Angiers (5.3). She made a circle with her sword and lay on her back in the middle to call on her spirit helpers. They appeared to her but were invisible to us. She sat up and reached out her hand with a hopeful expression, but they would not assist her. She pleaded with the invisible presence, her face expressing her despair as they abandoned her. She sat and sobbed realising that France was lost to the English.

This childlike vulnerability and disappointment briefly made her analogous with the king.

York found and fought with her. Despite her fieriness and determined shriek, he overcame and disarmed her. After an exchange of bitter words he dragged her away by the collar.

Suffolk (Roger Evans) took Margaret prisoner and took an immediate fancy to her. He initially blocked her exit, let her go, but called her back, creating a moment of comedy as he debated with himself whether or not to pursue her amorously. He wanted to make her queen to forge a peace, but also wanted her for himself. Hence his brief slip when he told Margaret he wanted her for “my… his love”.

Margaret’s father, Regnier (Patrick Myles), spoke from the tower before descending to approve the match, provided that his control over his territories was not challenged. When this was agreed he gave Margaret a comical thumbs up. Suffolk stole a kiss from her, which she found outrageously forward.

Prisoner Joan was sent to execution with her arms tied in ropes (5.4). Her father (Garry Cooper) appeared in the yard and she denied being his daughter, after which he rejected her. She shouted condemnation of the lusty and viceful, proclaimed herself a virgin, but then muddied the waters by claiming to be with child in order to escape execution. She strained at the rope that bound her as she cursed York, but was dragged away.

York complained about the “effeminate peace”, when told of it by Cardinal Winchester. The French arrived to formalise the truce. Charles had to acknowledge Henry as his king and serve as viceroy, a proposal he initially rejected until talked round by the other French.

Henry became excited at the description relayed to him of Margaret (5.5). But Gloucester was annoyed that this new arrangement meant breaking his previous troth. The parties argued about Margaret’s relatively low status, with Suffolk quite happy to promote a love match with Margaret. The giddily happy Henry welcomed Suffolk’s self-interested support.

On the other hand, Henry’s calm and assured repudiation of Gloucester’s advice marked the point at which he began to display a modicum of adult independence.

Suffolk was left alone to ascend the throne and tell the audience that had “prevailed” as he ominously promised to “rule both her, the king and realm.”



The Houses of York and Lancaster

The second part of the trilogy began with Gloucester leading Henry to the throne (1.1). After much reverential bowing, Suffolk presented Margaret (Mary Doherty). Henry rushed down to talk to her. He paused before snatching a kiss, pecking at her like a young boy, in another demonstration of his immaturity.

He crowned Margaret as his queen and both sat on the throne.

Gloucester was so unhappy at the peace treaty that he dropped the relevant paper rather than read that Anjou and Maine had been given back to the French and that Margaret had come without a dowry. A sour look of discontent also characterised York’s reaction to no longer being regent in France, a fact that Gloucester spoke about in annoyance, with Warwick (Andrew Sheridan) chiming in as the erstwhile conqueror of those territories.

A general air of dissension arose with Gloucester annoyed at Suffolk, the Cardinal contrarily happy with the king’s choices and fomenting a plot to unseat Gloucester, but with Somerset and Buckingham wary of him.

York was left alone to explain how Normandy was at risk before stating his own intention to claim the crown, as he waited for the right moment to end Henry’s “bookish rule”.

Beatriz Romilly seemed initially miscast as the Duchess of Gloucester, looking excessively young in comparison with her elderly husband (1.2). On the other hand, her youth suited the Duchess’s ambition for her husband to become king, thereby making her queen. And Gloucester’s age fitted his conservative desire for stability as he rejected his wife’s pretences.

His angry reaction on hearing about the Duchess’s dream of being queen provoked a very scornful and bitter riposte from her. Once again, the age difference between the actors underscored their incompatible temperaments.

A creepy, black-cloaked Hume (Simon Harrison) told her that spirit conjurers would assist her project.

Petitioners were expecting Gloucester but instead found Suffolk and Margaret. She received their petitions and sent them packing with a waft of her fan (1.3). She resolved that Gloucester had to be removed as he was treating her as a mere subject. She had by now also realised that Henry was “bent to holiness”.

Suffolk responded to her jealousy of Eleanor by promising to deal with the Duchess. An intense power vacuum had been created that all were trying to fill.

The dispute between Somerset and York was brought to Henry’s attention, but he could only scream at them. Margaret sat on the throne, while Henry climbed up into a tower and watched proceedings from aloft, thus emphasising her more commanding attitude.

From her position of authority, Margaret challenged Gloucester’s protectorship, to which Gloucester responded by thumping his staff on the ground and leaving. Margaret dropped her fan and asked Eleanor to pick it up, called her “minion” and thwacked her in the face.

Henry joined his queen on the throne and the case of alleged treachery was brought before them. The traitor was accused of claiming that York was the rightful king. Henry rushed at the accused and asked if this were true. York also joined in, threatening to punch the man. Gloucester resolved the issue by arranging a trial by combat.

Hume and his conjurors laid a man playing Mother Jourdain on the ground (1.4). Eleanor watched as a sand circle was spread round Mother Jourdain and she was covered with a royal standard. The apparition, portrayed by an older man, rose up and answered Eleanor’s questions. Proceedings were brought to an end when York and Buckingham, who had been watching from the tower, swooped to arrest them.

A comic note was struck as Henry and Margaret were accompanied by falconers who held out their arms as if bearing invisible birds and made squawking noises (2.1). Buckingham told Henry of Eleanor’s arrest and Gloucester disowned her. The ever loyal Henry gave Gloucester a reassuring look. The sequence with Simpcox was cut.

York outlined his claim to the crown at length to Warwick and Salisbury (2.2). It was hard not to laugh when Warwick concluded after this long speech “What plain proceeding is more plain than this?” The pair gave their support to York.

The king and queen sat on the throne for the trial of Eleanor, who prostrated herself before them (2.3). Henry looked unhappy at her actions, but held Eleanor’s hands comfortingly when pronouncing her banishment.

This sequence clearly showed that Henry was not relishing the exercise of power, particularly when he had to take action against the wife of his beloved uncle Humphrey. But he nevertheless insisted that Gloucester resign the protectorship, which he did so by handing over his staff to Henry. The young man looked slightly nervous at having his stabilisers removed, while Margaret appeared pleased at this outcome.

The trial by combat took place. Horner confessed to treason and was killed, and Henry pronounced that the outcome had demonstrated the guilt of the offender, thereby showing his complete trust in the theory of trial by combat.

Gloucester wrapped his cloak around himself to watch his wife’s departure (2.4). She entered wearing a cotton smock and carrying a candle as she pleaded with him to hide her shame. She was angry at her condition and cried when referring to her “shameful yoke”. She warned about Suffolk and others, and became bitter when she realised that her husband Gloucester would be their next victim.

Margaret’s hold over Henry became increasingly apparent (3.1). She told her husband that Gloucester had been insolent towards her. Margaret held Henry’s hand and talked to him like a child.

Suffolk implied that Gloucester had also been involved in sorcery. The Cardinal and York added their twopenneth. Henry responded to this pressure by wringing his hands and proclaiming Gloucester’s innocence.

Somerset brought news of the loss of France. Henry hugged Gloucester when he finally arrived, but Suffolk arrested him, causing Henry to slink away powerless to alter the course of events. Gloucester denied the accusations of treachery and Henry maintained he was innocent. But Gloucester was nevertheless taken prisoner.

Henry exclaimed that his heart was full of grief. He began to accuse Margaret in a hoarse unmanly shriek.

Once Henry had left, Margaret adopted a regal air as she described him to the remaining nobles as “too full of foolish pity”. Suffolk, the Cardinal, York and Margaret placed their hands in a pile and vowed to procure Gloucester’s death.

York and Somerset bickered over the Irish revolt. Margaret sat on the throne, her hands resting confidently at either side, adopting a dominant body posture quite unlike Henry’s previous handwringing. She took command of the crisis and York was dispatched to quell the Irish rebellion.

York realised that he had been sidelined, but took comfort that he now had an army. The nobles had placed “sharp weapons in a madman’s hands”. Jack Cade was going to be set loose to cause trouble, clearing the way for York to assume power in his wake.

Murderers hired by Suffolk informed him that they had done away with Gloucester, just before he was due to be tried (3.2). Henry was already nervous at the prospect of sitting in judgment on his uncle, and Margaret again had to hold his hand to assuage him. Henry’s reaction when Suffolk announced Gloucester’s death was even more extreme: he fainted. Once revived, he screamed in panic and pushed Suffolk to the ground. Henry’s now evident anger was short-lived as he quickly collapsed crying.

Margaret again comforted Henry but cast knowing looks at her fellow conspirators to assure them of her loyalty. Henry’s continued wailing about Gloucester prompted Margaret to complain that he had no concern for her.

Warwick claimed that Suffolk and the Cardinal had killed Gloucester traitorously. Henry became desperate as realised that he was still surrounded by enemies. Gloucester’s body was brought in, covered by a shroud that Warwick lifted to show the signs of murder it bore. Henry gazed in wonder. Margaret sat on the throne and laughed at the idea.

Henry knelt by Gloucester as Warwick and Suffolk continued to argue. Incensed by Warwick’s repeated assertions of his guilt, Suffolk drew his sword in the king’s presence, provoking Henry’s ire at this potentially treasonous act. Salisbury chimed in to say that the commons demanded Suffolk’s death or banishment. Henry promptly banished Suffolk and stood up to Margaret when she pleaded on Suffolk’s behalf. At last there was a faint glimmer of hope that Henry could assert his own authority and command.

Margaret and Suffolk bade their sad farewells. She held his hand and brushed her tears on it, vowing to repeal him or be banished herself. News came that the Cardinal was dying and they enjoyed one final, lingering kiss before they left by separate exits.

The deranged Cardinal mistook Henry for the figure of Death (3.3). He found Gloucester’s dead body, which was still onstage, and this seemed to exacerbate his guilt. He drank poison and collapsed dead.

The interval came just after Suffolk was taken up onto a tower where his head was cut off, and the severed prosthetic left onstage.

Scene 4.1 was cut, so that the second half began with Roger Evans entering for 4.2 as Jack Cade.

He wandered aimlessly before catching sight of Suffolk’s head, which because of the doubling was technically his head. He looked at it dismissively and then glanced at the audience as if wryly commenting that the prosthetic was not a good likeness. This theatrical joke was an excellent way of introducing this most theatrical and subversive of characters.

He sang the production’s Jack Cade song to himself. A groundling heckled that he had just seen him dead. Jack seemed delighted at the transgressive heckle and beamed at the man, telling him to “carry on”. This anarchist wanted the audience to behave badly. Jack was joined in the song by Dick the Butcher (Nigel Hastings) and Smith the Weaver (Gareth Pierce), who were also mentioned in the song and all three got the audience to sing along.

Jack’s repeated claims to the throne were comically undercut by Dick. Drinking small beer was declared a felony and the Clerk of Chatham was denounced as a dangerous intellectual. Sarcastic oohing greeted the news that he had the posh name Emmanuel.

Jack dubbed himself a Knight with a butcher’s cleaver just as haughty Sir Humphrey (Garry Cooper) and Stafford appeared up on the towers to demand the surrender of the rebels. Jack continued to claim the crown, but eventually conceded that he would settle for being protector to Henry. His crew demanded the execution of Lord Say, who could speak French and therefore was a traitor.

The rebels rattled the metal frame of the towers before ascending them, taking Humphrey and Stafford prisoner, and cutting their throats (4.3). Jack marked the victory by cutting his forearm with his own dagger and the rebels set off for London.

Margaret clutched Suffolk’s head and vowed revenge (4.4). Henry by contrast insisted on dealing with the Cade menace by speaking to him. He accused Margaret, who still hugged and caressed Suffolk’s head, that she would mourn not for him were he dead. Margaret assured that she would die for him, but her heart was clearly not in her words.

A messenger brought news that Jack Cade had arrived in Southwark. The rebels stood up on the towers rattling their swords on the metal. Henry decided to flee to Killingworth. Margaret’s continued pampering of Suffolk’s head introduced a ridiculous note to the sense of impending disorder.

Scene 4.5 was cut, the action continuing as Jack Cade struck his staff on ground and sat on London-stone (4.6). A poor unfortunate man rushed in and cried “Jack Cade” seconds after he had declared it treason to address him by any other name than Mortimer. The offender was struck down and then stamped on.

Lord Say was captured and accused of corrupting youth by building a grammar school (4.7). He was killed immediately after dismissing the people of Kent as “mala gens”.

Buckingham and Clifford (Garry Cooper) offered a pardon to those who would abandon Cade (4.8). The commons sided with Clifford, but then returned to support Cade. Clifford evoked the French threat and they reverted to supporting the king, upon which Cade fled.

Henry’s joy at the neutralisation of the Cade menace was cut short by news of York’s return from Ireland, ostensibly to deal with Somerset (4.9). Henry instructed Buckingham to meet him and sent Somerset to the Tower temporarily. His brisk “Come wife!” showed Henry to be increasingly manly and commanding towards Margaret.

Iden (Mike Grady) found Jack Cade starving in his garden (4.10). After a brief fight, Cade was stabbed with his own knife. Iden finished him off by snapping his neck and dragged away the dead body, saying he would take Cade’s severed head to the king.

York came to claim the crown but told Buckingham, who intercepted him, that he was only interested in pursuing Somerset (5.1). He dispersed his troops on being told that Somerset had been confined to the Tower and pledged his loyalty and that of his sons, including the sinisterly limping Richard (Simon Harrison) whose left arm was held to his chest in a sling.

York knelt obediently to Henry. But when Margaret produced Somerset, now at liberty, York accused Henry of lying. The challenge culminated in open defiance as York claimed the crown. York was arrested by Somerset, who was backed in turn by Margaret.

Clifford supported Henry, while Warwick and Salisbury sided with York. The two factions that would soon go to war became ever more distinct.

Richard spat out his first words and he and the other Yorkists daubed their faces with white paint. The two sides gathered in the two towers. Richard dragged out the dead body of Somerset and revelled in having killed him. The drums sounded as the clouds of war gathered.

At the battle of St Albans, Clifford, his face painted Lancastrian red, confronted York (5.2). After a brief sword fight, York killed Clifford, whose body was found by his son, Young Clifford (David Hartley). As he consoled his dead father, he smeared his hand over the red paint on his forehead and used it to paint his own face. The poetic eloquence of the gory violence that Young Clifford swore to wreak on the Yorkists was very striking.

Margaret appeared in her leather armour, sword in hand, and fiercely told Henry to flee to safety in London as they were losing.

York and Salisbury relished their victory and decided to pursue Henry to London (5.3). They swung their swords high into the air and froze in an aggressive posture, which marked the cliff-hanger ending of Part Two.



The True Tragedy of the Duke of York

The Yorkists arrived in Parliament and revelled in their victory (1.1). Richard tossed to the ground a sack containing Somerset’s head. Warwick showed support for York and encouraged him to claim the crown.

Backed by his supporters, Henry entered through the yard to confront them. This led to a stand-off in which the rival soldiers raised their swords to head height and warily pointed them at their opponents, nervously switching their focus of attention.

Henry did not want more bloodshed and thought that York, who was sat on the throne, would respect him. Henry outlined his claim to the title. But as that title derived from his father’s rebellion, he realised it was weak. He argued in vain that Richard II had resigned the crown. In this tense atmosphere, Henry hugged those who spoke in his support.

Henry proposed to transfer the crown to York after his death. Naturally, his supporters were appalled. The queen was going to be told of this “unmanly deed”.

York grabbed at the offered crown like a starving man after food. He eventually relinquished it and kissed Henry.

Margaret shouted in anger at Henry’s disinheritance of Prince Edward, describing her husband as a “timorous wretch”. She divorced herself from him until the disinheritance act was repealed. Margaret sponged herself with red as did the Prince. Henry thought that his estranged family would respond if he wrote to them.

Richard displayed the evil genius of his sophistry as York was urged by his brothers to seize the crown immediately (1.2). He succeeded in convincing York, but Margaret’s army was on its way to challenge him. This entire sequence was backed by subtle drumming by Henry.

In the ensuing battle, Clifford killed Rutland (Joe Jameson) in revenge for his father’s death (1.3). Rutland clung to a ladder, but Clifford was determined to root out the entire family. Rutland was thrust to the ground and stabbed in the back as he screamed. He was turned over and stabbed in the front, then in the back once more. Now it was personal.

York appeared in rags to announce that his side had lost (1.4). He was tired and could not flee. Margaret entered immediately behind him. York was surrounded and Margaret addressed him from the throne. She put him on a molehill and, dagger in hand, mocked his pretensions to be king and mimicked Richard’s limp.

The lowest blow came when she asked where Rutland was. She showed York the napkin stained with Rutland’s blood, which she rubbed in his face. She placed a paper crown on his head to add to his humiliation.

York’s hands were tied with rope and a hood placed on his head, but it was taken off briefly, giving him a chance to insult the “Amazonian trull”. He chased her round the tower but was restrained when the rope ran out.

After this excellent monologue, he cried on the napkin to wash away Rutland’s blood and begged Clifford to kill him. Northumberland began to sympathise with York’s plight but Margaret pushed him to the ground. Clifford stabbed York from the front, while Margaret stabbed from the back. Margaret ordered his head to be cut off and placed on the gates of the city of York.

York’s sons wondered what had happened to him (2.1). They were dazzled by a vision of three suns. The hope this engendered was undercut by the news of York’s killing, of the Rutland napkin, and of the display of York’s head on the city gates.

Richard’s poetic description of his passion was very powerful as he gritted his teeth in revenge.

Warwick described how they had fled from St Albans. They decided to march on London again. Edward (Patrick Myles) was now Duke of York and was to be proclaimed king. News came of the approach of the queen’s army.

Margaret greeted Henry at York and pointed out York’s head (2.2). Henry was unhappy about the killing, but Clifford criticised his “harmful pity”. Henry knighted Prince Edward (Joe Jameson). A messenger brought news of Warwick’s support for Edward. Clifford told Henry to leave the battlefield because “the queen hath best success when you are absent”.

A parlay was called during which Margaret addressed Edward from the throne, her legs apart in a dominant posture. Richard entered angrily looking for Clifford and swearing vengeance for Rutland. Margaret bandied insults while Henry stood back, resuming his look of childish fright. Henry demanded to be heard, but the situation was now beyond words.

Richard shouted at Warwick complaining that he had retreated (2.3). But the Yorkists restored their courage.

Richard found Clifford (2.4), bashing a big metal club against the metal as his limped slowly and menacingly towards him. Loud drums accompanied their fight. Clifford overpowered Richard on the ground. But Richard retrieved a sword and stabbed Clifford just as Warwick turned up.

Henry described the ebb and flow of battle (2.5). He sat despondently on the molehill, realising he was not wanted in the combat. This relatively quiet moment made him sympathetic as he imagined himself a “homely swain” to an accompaniment of slow quiet drumming, which called to mind the distant conflict.

Henry hid in the tower to watch with a scared, appalled face as a son (Joe Jameson) discovered that he had just killed his own father, crouching over his dead body. The pair turned over, swapping places, to portray a father (Garry Cooper) who rued having killed his son. Using the same pair to portray these four characters was very effective.

The sequence culminated with both father and son speaking at once, gazing at each other side by side, with Henry in the middle with an appalled expression. The father touched the son’s face with his hand, and the son kissed it. Henry took both and joined their hands before they exited separately.

This was an instance where the doubling forced by the limited cast produced a very powerful result.

Margaret urged Henry to flee.

Clifford entered wounded and dying, fearing Henry’s overthrow (2.6). York’s sons seized on him. Richard put white paint on Clifford’s red face and he died silently amid their taunts. His head was severed offstage to replace York’s on the city gates.

The gamekeepers bearing crossbows spotted Henry wearing plain clothes on the tower (3.1). He described how Warwick had gone to get Lady Bona. Henry was visibly happier to be in disguise and out of trouble. Henry failed to convince the keepers to recognise him as rightful king and he was taken prisoner.

King Edward appeared in his crown and a regal green robe (3.2). Lady Grey (Beatriz Romilly) sat under the tower, faced outwards to the audience and replied to his questions dispassionately and factually, construing Edward’s talk of “love” as a subject rather than, as Edward hoped, as a potential wife.

Rejecting his proposition, she turned to face him and swore that honesty would be her dower. She became progressively angrier, and finally requested the return of her husband’s lands on her knees, which Edward eventually granted.

News came that Henry had been captured. Richard launched into a long soliloquy in which he plotted to get rid of his brothers to reach “far off shore” of sovereignty. He complained about his deformity, full of anger and self hate. He imagined himself lost in thorny wood. But far from being totally powerless, he knew that he could “smile and murders whiles I smile”.

This terrifying exposition of Richard’s bloody ambition was a great point at which to position the interval.

After the ultra serious end of the first half, 3.3 provided some jolly comic relief. The French court was portrayed as outrageously camp. King Lewis (Brendan O’Hea) sat on the throne, his legs crossed to show his hose-clad legs beneath his flowing blue gown, and sang in the style of Piaf for Margaret and Prince Edward. His speaking accent was straight out of ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Lady Bona was played by a man, which added to the hilarity.

Warwick had come to woo Lady Bona for Edward. Lewis got a laugh by referring to him as “naughty Warwick”. He held his hand and sat him on the ground. The king slowly leant back obliging Warwick to lean forward on top of him as he argued for King Edward. Lady Bona coughed raucously before switching into a high-pitched female voice. Lewis agreed that his sister should be Edward’s bride.

Lewis kissed the Post on the cheek and then full on the mouth. The letter he brought informed him that Edward had married Lady Grey. Lewis threw an hysterical fit, running around the back of the stage, kicking the drums and bashing the cymbals as he cried “is this the alliance that he seeks with France” before collapsing.

Faced with Edward’s duplicity, Warwick switched his allegiance back to Henry and bowed to Margaret. Lewis agreed to back an invasion.

Edward placed his new Queen Elizabeth on the throne and kissed her (4.1). Clarence (Gareth Pierce) criticised Edward for his choice, but she defended herself. The Post brought news that Lewis was sending an army and that Warwick had returned. Clarence and Somerset left to join Warwick, but Richard remained loyal.

Warwick, Somerset and Clifford prepared for battle. Warwick had smeared red paint over his Yorkist white. Clarence and Clifford joined him in doing so (4.2).

The king’s supporters beat on the tower and out fell Edward (4.3). Warwick kicked ‘duke’ Edward to the ground. His crown was snatched and he was bound and led away. They set off for London to free and restore Henry.

Queen Elizabeth crouched in tears telling Rivers that Edward had been taken prisoner (4.4). They went to sanctuary.

Scene 4.5 was cut so that the action continued with 4.6. Henry was restored to the crown, for which he thanked Warwick and Clarence. He made them join hands and appointed them both protectors, vowing to retire and lead a life of religious devotion.

He asked for Margaret and the Prince to be returned from France. But these preparations were cut short by news of Edward’s escape. Another fight was coming, but this time for once he displayed signs of tactical skill. But he still could not understand why people had turned against him.

Edward broke in and took Henry to the Tower. He and his forces set off for Coventry to deal with Warwick.

Warwick stood on the tower representing Coventry as Edward demanded his surrender (5.1.). Forces arrived to support Lancaster, with Margaret standing in the other tower. Clarence wiped the red from his face and rejoined his brother. Richard smirked “Welcome good Clarence”, a sign that Richard would not forget his treachery, the consequences of which would be seen later in his own play.

Warwick fled to Barnet but he was beaten in a sword fight with Edward.

Warwick was fatally wounded and was left alone dying (5.2). His long death soliloquy was commensurate with his character’s long journey. Oxford (Nigel Hastings) told him that Margaret had come from France, which caused him to revive briefly before he finally died.

Edward readied himself to meet the queen’s army against a backdrop of constant drumming (5.3).

Margaret stood on the tower and spoke to her troops before the battle of Tewkesbury, telling them to fight for the justice of their cause (5.4). Edward, below, gave his speech to the yard as if they were his troops.

Edward and Margaret fought. Margaret was captured, her crown was taken, and she was bound in ropes. Prince Edward was also bound with ropes. The Prince was defiant, but King Edward stabbed him, an enterprise in which he was joined enthusiastically by Richard and Clarence. Richard offered to fulfil Margaret’s wish to be killed, but Edward prevented him. Richard set off instead to the Tower.

Margaret, her wrists still bound, propped up Ned and cried over him. She begged the king and Clarence to kill her, but was taken away.

Henry was a prisoner in the Tower, kneeling in a blue smock adorned with a crucifix as he read a book (5.6). Richard crept in behind. Henry seemed to sense his presence before Richard announced his arrival by knocking his metal club on the framework.

Henry steeled himself for his end with a demeanour that was angry but firm. He prophesied that Richard would bring havoc. Richard snarled at Henry’s insults and limped forward as Henry railed at him. As the confrontation reached a peak, Richard’s snarling vyied to outdo the increasing force of Henry’s denunciations. Crying “I’ll hear no more”, Richard struck Henry and stabbed him. Henry remained true to his principles and died pardoning Richard.

Richard collapsed under his weight so that Henry ended up on top, obliging Richard to struggle free. Showing his animalistic side, he pulled at Henry’s garment with his teeth like a dog.

He stood over Richard and symbolically struck his metal club down onto the throne, but did not actually strike his enemy. Richard spoke about his own cruelty and deformity adding that he had been born with teeth. Full of horror at himself, he threw away Henry’s book, before declaring “I am myself alone”.

The king, queen and their newborn baby sat on the throne, while Richard dragged Henry’s body aside. Then Richard warned that Clarence should be beware as he and the rest were his next targets.

King Edward came forward and summarised his victories (5.7). He cradled his young son as he talked of peace.

His brothers kissed the baby, who was finally taken by Richard. The royal couple returned to the throne. The king ordered that Margaret be sent to France. Richard sat at the foot of the throne still holding and looking at the baby.

When King Edward said “For here I hope begins our lasting joy” an ominous drum sounded and Richard glanced up suspiciously at the audience. This hinted at his antics in the sequel and constituted the fly in the ointment of Edward’s domestic bliss. The performance finished with the cast singing the Jack Cade song.

Conclusions

The trio of productions were a great achievement. The plays provided an epic panorama of violence mediated by verse and fine rhetoric, the whole backed by an impressive use of percussion, mostly drumming provided by the cast.

Skilled delivery made the formulaic and repetitive nature of the denunciations and swearing of vengeance very digestible.

The evil flourish with which Simon Harrison’s Richard concluded the trilogy only whetted the appetite to see him as Richard III.

But it was Graham Butler’s Henry that remained the focus of attention, transforming from frightened boy to young adult, seemingly cut down just at the moment he acquired the maturity to be the king he had been expected to be.

Henry VI set delivered Henry VI set installed

Burning Prospero’s book

The Indian Tempest, The Globe, 3 August 2013

The Footsbarn theatre company brought their travelling production to the Globe and fitted its tent, dedicated lighting and architectural features onto the stage and in the yard.

A circular sheet occupied the centre of the main stage which was initially shrouded by white sheets hooked onto large sticks placed in holders. A spiral walkway led up to a platform stage right, while in the yard stood a large iron cart with ramps at either end.

Sheets were draped across the tiring house to enable silhouette effects at key moments.

The uncompromising way that the production inserted itself into the Globe space hinted at the distinctness of its other features. This was a production that asserted its uniqueness before it began.

The storm took place behind the white sheets draped around the front of the centre circle (1.1). Drumming and music was accompanied by the shouting of the ship’s company until the sheets were taken down to reveal Ferdinand (Haris ‘Haka’ Resic) reaching out and crying “Father!” as he was pulled away by Ariel (Gopalakrishnan Kundamkumarath) towards the stage left steps. The other occupants of the ship disappeared into the tiring house.

Miranda (Rosanna Goodall) crouched on the cart to address Prospero (Reghoothaman Domodaran Pillai) with her worries about the ship (1.2). She crouched like a coiled spring with an alert look. She brought an energy to her observations as if poised to help rather than meekly accepting events from a position of powerlessness.

Prospero’s long white hair matched his white robe. After assuring Miranda that no one had been harmed in the storm, he set about explaining how they had come to be on the island.

As he did so, another Prospero wearing a mask appeared on the cart and took over the narrative while the stage Prospero remained silent and sat serenely with Miranda at his feet. The onstage characters effectively became a dumbshow for the offstage narration.

Antonio (Mark Ruan Pearce) entered to participate in the dramatisation of his usurpation of his brother Prospero. As he took over the reins of power, Prospero held aloft the sceptres of his dukedom in his raised hands. Antonio stood behind the chair and took them from him. His dealings with Alonso, the Duke of Naples, were seen in silhouette behind a sheet.

Miranda held puppets of Prospero and herself demonstrating their affection. The puppets were then placed on a model ship, along with a miniature book symbolising his library, to depict their banishment. Prospero mentioned Gonzalo’s kindness and the man himself appeared so that we would recognise him when he turned up later on the island.

The stage Prospero spoke again to explain what he had in store for his enemies. Miranda was sent to sleep on the platform as Ariel appeared on the cart.

Ariel was a gamely sprite who stared, his mouth agape, babbling to himself. “Beautiful, beautiful”, he exclaimed, establishing himself as a comic figure in the mould of Puck rather than a mystic presence.

He ran unhappily onto the stage when told there was more work to be done. The offstage Prospero once again took over narration of the story of Ariel’s imprisonment by Sycorax.

This and the initial narration were essentially magic effects that enhanced the mood of the performance.

Prospero woke Miranda to go visit Caliban (Paddy Hayter), who like other characters made his initial appearance on the cart. He immediately established his bestial nature by hurling logs from the cart over the heads of the audience onto the stage. When he came into clear view his physiognomy really did herald his soul.

A dark gravelly menacing voice issued forth from a face that had the hideous look of gargoyle. His words began as noises that seemed to rise from the drains below the street before taking form as speech. Everything about Caliban suggested darkness. He was redolent of the “unwholesome fen” about which he fulminated.

He rushed onstage from the cart to confront Prospero. His anger was mixed with ribald pleasure as he rubbed himself, relishing the prospect of using Miranda to people the island with Calibans.

Ariel brought Ferdinand to the top of the platform while Prospero escorted Miranda. She twirled around as if under his spell and was then presented with the sight of the young man.

Full of delight at what she had seen, she ran underneath the platform. When she emerged from its shadow, Ferdinand addressed her in French and she replied in the same language. Prospero spoke to him in English and he replied in English.

Prospero was quite violent when subduing Ferdinand’s resistance to his arrest. Not only did he immobilise he sword, but he also gestured with his staff a distant stabbing motion that translated into blows felt painfully by the young man.

The nobles wore masks with Gonzalo’s (Vincent Gracieux) notable for its half-smile and whiskered cheeks. Alonso’s (Paddy Hayter again) mask depicted a careworn frown (2.1).

The character of Adrian was cut, so Antonio and Sebastian (Shaji Karyat) did not wager who would speak first out of him and Gonzalo. Francisco was also cut, and the two missing characters’ lines were reallocated.

After speaking about his ideal republic from the platform, Gonzalo fell asleep there soon followed by Alonso who slumbered at its base. Antonio corrupted Sebastian with his plot to murder Alonso, but their blades were frozen midair when they tried to carry it out.

The aftermath was played for comedy with Antonio sheepishly trying to convince the others that they had heard “a whole herd of lions”.

Caliban took shelter in a cylindrical wicker loop as Italian-accented Trinculo (Shaji Karyat again) in his yellow jacket and red coxcomb appeared on the cart (2.2). Trinculo was accompanied by a small foam cloud that had been soaked in water so that it dripped like a raincloud when dangled high above him on a stick. This symbolised the oncoming storm.

Finding his way to the main stage, he lay inside the wicker loop on top of Caliban. Stephano (Vincent Gracieux again) appeared on the cart. He had a French accent and a ruddy drunkard’s face. Caliban responded immediately to the drink that Stephano poured into his mouth. He looked very drunk and immensely satisfied, preparing us for his adoration of his new masters.

Having extracted Trinculo from the wickerwork, Stephano was beset by Caliban who knelt in awe at the provider of the “celestial liquor”. Caliban actually kissed Stephano’s foot; the reality of that gesture underscored the sincerity of Caliban’s abject surrender.

Caliban swore to do them service. He rubbed his groin promising to show them where “crabs grow”, brandished his long nails when saying he would use them to dig out pignuts, and also vowed to bring them “filly-willy-berts”, before dancing joyously at his new freedom.

Ferdinand laboured carrying the heavy logs as ordered by Prospero (3.1). But when Miranda offered to bear them for him, he suddenly pretended that they were light in order to impress her. However, he clumsily let one drop onto his foot spoiling the effect.

Ferdinand spoke to Miranda in French to ask her name. The word play on Miranda and “admiration” in English worked in French translation where she was “admirable”. Miranda offered to be his wife and added a romantic touch to the moment by showering Ferdinand with dried petals as she spoke.

The rebel alliance met over a table with cups chained to it, an item of ship furniture salvaged from the supposed wreck (3.2). Ariel ventriloquised Trinculo, prompting an angry Stephano to hit him with a salami, which he also stuck uncomfortably between Trinculo’s legs, jerking it upwards.

Caliban produced a puppet version of Miranda to convince Stephano that it was worth killing Prospero to win her.

Music sounded and Caliban acted out his speech about the isle being full of noises. For all his darkness and menace, Caliban’s whimsical description of how he “cried to dream again” was very moving.

Interval

After the interval, comparatively late compared with most productions that pause after 2.2, we caught up with the tired nobles (3.3). The “strange shapes” that brought a banquet on stage were black figures with puppet heads held aloft above the shrouded performers. Their rounded white faces looked distinctly French in style. There was something eerily dreamlike about the way they floated about the stage, gracefully manipulated by the puppeteers.

Two poles were placed centre stage on top of which were balanced plates of food. Small pops were heard and paper debris flew up from the plates to represent the disappearance of the banquet.

Interestingly, the figure of the harpy was voiced by the actor playing Caliban. This was presumably because he was the most frightening of the actors and the one most suited to portraying the ultimate in monsters in the play.

Another performer flitted around the frightened nobles in a dark, black feathery costume with wings, while Ariel brandished a metal frame beak that snapped shut with a metallic clack representing the harpy’s ravenous mouth. The metal beak ended up on the platform from where it was thrown. It landed open, engulfing one of the noble’s heads in its maw, providing one of the production’s most effective and daring moments.

Prospero had freed Ferdinand from his shackles and explained his subterfuge to him on the cart in the yard (4.1). The official betrothal between Ferdinand and Miranda was followed by the appearance of Ceres, a masked figure with long straws radiating in a semi-circle from her head and with artificial straw breasts in the manner of a fertility goddess. She scattered rice into the air and dancing ensued on stage as Ferdinand and Miranda celebrated their forthcoming marriage.

The exotic figure of Ceres was one of the iconic images of the production. But for all its colour and spectacle this was not the dramatic highlight of the piece.

The celebrations were interrupted by Prospero remembering the rebels’ conspiracy. His ensuing speech about the disappearing vision, with its famous closing lines, had little impact because this was not a wistful production, but one grounded in earthy storytelling.

Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo made their way up and across the cart and down its far side wearing grassy headdresses that hinted at their wanderings in the dirt and mire of the island.

In order to distract them from their mission to kill Prospero, items of fine clothing were wafted across the stage on the end of large poles, the garments flying over the heads of the audience. The trio tried on the clothes before performers in dog masks came to scare them away.

A comic note was struck as one of them found a large bone and threw it to distract the dogs. This did not work. Then another of them found a bouncy ball and threw that, which seemed to work for one of the dogs, but the others still pursued them.

Prospero stood on the platform satisfied that his plan was succeeding (5.1). Ariel persuaded him to be merciful, but this transformation from vengeance to forgiveness was not overly emphasised. The contemplative aspect of Ariel is commonly brought out at this moment in a production. But here, Ariel was characterised as a comedy sprite and so was portrayed without a serious side.

However, Prospero’s abjuration of his rough magic was passionately delivered and thereby impressively dramatic.

Ariel brought in the king and his party. They walked slowly as a large black net was lifted off the ground in the centre circle and deposited over them, trapping the men as their hands reached upwards trying to escape.

Prospero talked of them as his prisoners but then ordered their release and caused the net to be removed.

Alonso knelt in front of Prospero, who responded by turning aside from him, instead ushering Gonzalo to his side, greeting his favourite as “First, noble friend…” This neatly summarised Prospero’s priorities and the reason for them.

Finally he used his magic to draw his brother Antonio in front of him. Prospero’s distaste for his perfidious sibling was written across his scowling face, underscoring his statement that to call him brother “would even infect my mouth”. He followed this by repeating “Shanti, shanti, shanti”, a Sanskrit invocation of peace, in an attempt to calm himself.

He took the crown from Antonio and placed it on his own head.

Ferdinand and Miranda were revealed in silhouette behind a sheet to Alonso who went to join them. Miranda came out from behind the sheet to greet the brave new world.

The rebels were brought in and Caliban lay on the ground as Prospero acknowledged him as his own. Prospero freed Ariel, who became ecstatic at his liberty. He delivered the epilogue, at the end of which he cast away his staff and book before exiting.

But this was not the end of the performance.

Caliban picked up Prospero’s staff and pointed it menacingly at the islanders who had gathered to watch. He indicated by gesture that the power of the staff was not good to use and threw it away.

Next he looked at Prospero’s book and took it with him up onto the platform. He lay on his side and began tearing out pages. He screwed them into thin wraps and set them on fire by inserting them into one of several candle holders around the edge of the platform. After symbolically consigning Prospero’s magic to the fire, he lay and slept contentedly.

Conclusions

Prospero’s overriding desire to reclaim his dukedom seemed to eclipse the forgiveness he extended to his brother, partly because his conversion to goodness was an incomplete one.

The rendering of the story as a fable prevented some of its weightier aspects from being developed. As a symptom of this, we were presented with a one-dimensional Ariel. This was compensated, though, by the most marvellous Caliban, whose gravelly voice made for a very convincing monster.

The production was full of spectacle, but its most moving moments were not those that were the most photogenic. Crucially, the use of multiple languages (French, English, Sanskrit and Malayalam) worked very well and added to the production rather than being a bolted-on gimmick.

The concluding libricide was novel and striking. But given the controversial history of this practice, is burning even a few pages of a book something to be presented as entertainment?

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

Highly original practices – an all-female Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew, The Globe, 13 June 2013

A female Petruchio: this had to be seen. A female Kate responding to the impositions of a female Petruchio was equally required viewing.

Thanks to the Globe’s original practices productions and the likes of Propeller, all-male Shakespeare is quite common. So what happens when the chromosomes are on the other foot?

The all-female cast of the Globe’s touring production of Shrew were incredibly jolly as they stood before the shabby red and white striped marquee, like an oversized roadworks tent and welcomed the audience with a hearty hello.

Picking up their instruments, they sang “Jack Monroe”, a ballad about a woman who disguises herself as man to follow her lover to war. This tale of male/female confusion provided an apt warm-up to the main event.

Christopher Sly (Kate Lamb) reeled around drunk and gave wide-eyed quizzical looks when being fooled by the servants of the excellent, jolly Lord (Kathryn Hunt), reminiscent of countrywoman Clarissa Dickson Wright as she flexed her riding crop.

Poor Sly’s rags were swapped for good clothes and he was surrounded by fawning, attentive servants. When introduced to his “wife”, he keenly unbuttoned his trousers and joked that “it stands”.

This was the first point in the production in which gender confusion took hold.

The Induction’s knockabout comedy turned serious when the servant disguised as Sly’s supposed spouse said “I am your wife in all obedience” and offered her hand for him to tread on, echoing the finale of play.

Sly was doubled with Kate, so that it was possible to read this moment as Kate’s introduction to the idea of absolute female obedience.

The play proper began when the flaps of the tent were folded back to reveal Tranio (Remy Beasley) and Lucentio (Becci Gemmell) in beige Victorian outfits.

Great fun was had with the subsidiary characters: the bespectacled Hortensio (Nicola Sangster), Gremio (Joy Richardson) in his cricket whites and a great Tranio who really relished the subterfuge of his disguise.

But Petruchio (Leah Whitaker) and Kate (Kate Lamb again) rightly became the focus of interest.

Stuffing a veil in her sister Bianca’s (Olivia Morgan) mouth to torment her was a hint that Kate was wary of her life being arranged for her. But she was not above tying her sister between two poles in order to make her admit which of her suitors she preferred.

What to make then of Petruchio, who made a dynamic entrance in boots, a tan fur-trimmed coat and flying helmet, as if recently alighted from piloting his own aircraft?

We were regularly reminded of Petruchio’s forcefulness by a running gag in which anyone who shook his hand came away shaking their own hand in pain. Leah Whitaker also had a nice line in mannish stances that conveyed Petruchio’s confident presence without descending into caricature.

Petruchio dismissed the idea that Kate would be a fearsome scold. As the female actor confidently announced “And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue” many intriguing layers of performance were created, equivalent to those arising from OP productions where such collisions between role and actor are woven into the fabric of the play.

At their first meeting, Kate looked wary as she and Petruchio traded barbs from opposite ends of the stage. Kate referred to him disparagingly as “a joint-stool” giving Petruchio the opportunity to make his first overtly sexual remark “Thou hast hit it. Come, sit on me”.

The two had moved closer together by the time that Petruchio, still clear and determined, joked about having his tongue in her tail.

But the joking turned to tension when Kate cuffed Petruchio and he slowly explained that he would strike her back if she did so again.

Petruchio insisted that he had her father’s consent to marry her and that all was arranged. As he declared “Will you, nill you, I will marry you” Kate placed her hand on his cheek in a moment of genuine tenderness. The implication was that Kate actually liked Petruchio despite his rough edges.

Her father Baptista (Kathryn Hunt) witnessed this brief glimpse of her softer side, and perhaps it was her wounded pride that provoked her to denounce Petruchio as “one half lunatic”. But when her suitor offered “kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’Sunday” she willingly consented to Petruchio’s embrace and then looked coyly at the audience as if happy with the arrangement.

On the day of her wedding Kate and company sang a song while they waited for the groom. Kate looked lovely in her cream wedding dress clutching a bouquet. Baptista led her up the aisle and there they waited.

When Petruchio finally arrived there was something rather understated, almost orderly about his madcap wedding outfit. He wore a light blue suit with a ruff, and carried an air horn and red party balloons. Soft drink cans on strings dragged behind him like he was a honeymoon car.

Kate still wilfully resisted Petruchio when they had returned from the church, insisting that she would stay for dinner and not depart with him immediately.

Petruchio responded with a controlled explosion of patriarchal anger, launching into a forceful defence of his property rights over his goods, chattels and wife.

On one level Petruchio was completely convincing. The character lives within the text. So when an actor, even a female one, spoke these lines, then that actor became Petruchio.

But at the same time, these words were deprived of bite by being spoken by a 21st century woman. It was obvious that the individual female actor giving voice to these sentiments could not possibly do so sincerely.

Spoken by a young woman, Petruchio’s diatribe became not so much the exposition of the character’s mindset, but its deconstruction. Tellingly, the gender of the actor was important in this respect, because a male actor could deliver these lines more credibly.

But the aforesaid did nothing to detract from the vehemence of Petruchio’s utterances. His “I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he that stops my way in Padua” was a clear threat of violence to anyone that might obstruct him.

Offering Kate a protective “I’ll buckler thee against a million” he grabbed hold of her and escorted her away.

When the couple appeared in the second half at their married home, Petruchio’s blue suit was still clean but both Kate and her lovely dress were smeared with dirt.

Dinner was served and the pair were presented by the serving staff with burgers in boxes. Petruchio’s response “What’s this? Horse?” (not mutton) was a delightful topical joke about recent food scandals, which failed to raise a laugh. More hilarity resulted, unfortunately, from the burgers being thrown away, as one rolled gracefully off the stage into yard.

Petruchio began his “reign”, and no one contradicted him with a better method.

Petruchio brought Kate a Peperami, which he held above her out of her reach until she said thank you, after which she got to nibble on it.

Kate was denied the cap, here a small red fascinator, and the dress brought by the Tailor. Petruchio also lost his temper with the Essex girl tailor, who shrieked in panic when faced with his aggression.

Instigating a new phase in Kate’s taming, Petruchio contradicted his wife’s truthful assertion that it was 2pm and that consequently they would not arrive in Padua until the evening. He insisted that the time was his to determine.

Once on the way to Padua, Kate was traumatised by Petruchio’s intimidating switches between describing the bright object in the sky at one moment as the sun, at the next the moon.

They met the real Vincentio (Joy Richardson again), whom Petruchio described as a “gentlewoman”. Kate cast him a scornful look and seemed to wonder whether all this was just a silly game.

She humoured Petruchio and addressed Vincentio as a woman, but was once more corrected as Petruchio declared that Vincentio was a man. Seeing that facts could change upon a whim, Kate excused her error, but paused waiting for Petruchio’s corrective intervention, saying her eyes “have been so bedazzled with the … sun”.

Once in Padua, the real Vincentio was rightfully acknowledged.

After the unveiling of Lucentio’s surreptitious marriage to Bianca and the resolution of many of the play’s plot strands, Petruchio asked Kate for a kiss. In keeping with the conciliatory mood established by the other characters, he presented Kate with the red fascinator that he had previously obliged her to reject.

This kind gesture melted her resistance sufficiently for them to kiss. It also indicated a softening on Petruchio’s part that would be developed in the final scene.

At the start of the final banquet scene, Petruchio seemed pleasantly surprised as Kate’s spirited defence of him during the argument with the Widow.

When the men laid wagers as to whether their wives would be obedient to command, not only did Kate come when beckoned but she also threw her cap on the ground when ordered.

Kate’s big speech in which she pleaded with the other women not to be “like a fountain troubled” was the pay-off to which the entire production had been building.

Something very strange happened at this culminating moment.

Her willingness to descend into this degree of abject submission evoked pity and compassion because it was obvious that only someone under severe duress could possibly give voice to such sentiments.

The whole female cast, despite some being in male roles, seemed to stand behind her as fellow women, supporting her and making her implicit plea their own.

Instead of appearing isolated and downtrodden, Kate appeared to speak on behalf of the entire cast, inviting the audience to respond emotionally to the patent injustice of her subjugation.

So although she spoke of her eager obedience, the overall effect was a savage critique of her position and a profound questioning of the mindset that had made it possible.

At the end of this, Kate presented her hand for Petruchio to stand on. But he, perhaps responding as the production intended, seemed highly embarrassed by the abjectness of Kate’s surrender, and gestured at her to stand up before kissing her.

It was possible to detect in this kiss a hint of an apology.

Conclusions

The production looked superficially like a seaside show, but concealed an intricate and fascinating examination of the ideas that fuel debate about this controversial play.

In particular, is it possible for women to portray Petruchio’s attitudes without undermining them?

The production’s rendering of the final scene indicated that our natural disgust at the end product of the taming process was shared even by Petruchio himself.

The Taming of the Amazon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Globe, 7 June 2013

Two invented sequences preceded the main action. In the first, two couples moved rhythmically around each other; Theseus with Titania and Oberon with Hippolyta. The doubling of these roles meant that two of them were played here by other actors in masks.

This was followed by a representation of the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons. Hippolyta’s archers lined up on one side of the stage, faced by Theseus’s men on the other. The Amazons were defeated one by one, leaving Hippolyta to be taken an unwilling prisoner by Theseus. The Athenian conqueror confiscated her belt as a token of his victory.

This sequence merged seamlessly into 1.1 as Theseus (John Light) and Hippolyta (Michelle Terry), wearing standard Globe Renaissance costume, spoke of their impending wedding. The elision of her seizure with the wedding preparations brought a freshness to Hippolyta’s still vivid resentment of her capture, which informed her grudging acknowledgement of their nuptial.

Candelabra hung low over the stage and three oil paintings of noblemen stood on the upper gallery to indicate the court setting.

Theseus reminded Hippolyta that he had “woo’d thee with my sword, and won thy love, doing thee injuries”, which had been seen moments before, as he shook the stolen token at her. He grasped Hippolyta on the back of the neck as he spoke, a gesture redolent of possession and control rather than affection.

The added prologue focussed attention on Hippolyta and made the ensuing action a subplot to her story, which was the starting point of the play’s narrative.

The entry of Egeus (Edward Peel), Hermia (Olivia Ross), Lysander (Luke Thompson), Helena (Sarah MacRae), and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) and the exposition of the tangled affections of the four lovers appeared a secondary consideration.

Given her situation, dark-haired Hermia was suitably earnest, which contrasted with Lysander’s cocky confidence.

Theseus applied the same forcefulness in support of Egeus’s control over his daughter Hermia’s affections as he had employed in his conquest of Hippolyta. Telling women what to do was something he found natural. He therefore insisted that Hermia wed Demetrius and not her true love Lysander.

Just as Lysander pointed out that Demetrius had first wooed Helena, the tall blonde in question became distressed and ran off.

Theseus resolutely told Hermia that failure to marry Demetrius would mean either her death or a cloistered life.

Hippolyta had remained silent all this time, but her supercilious looks gave no doubt that she was unimpressed. Nevertheless she could not let matters pass without making her own wry comment upon them.

As everyone but Lysander and Hermia left the stage, Hippolyta moved silently to Hermia and made a cross on her forehead with her index finger, either marking her for death or for a religious life, in either case signalling that Hermia should not submit to Egeus and Theseus. This was more evidence of her continued resistance to Theseus’s will. Hippolyta’s silent conclusion to the lovers’ first scene restored focus on her once again.

The rhetorical neatness of Hermia and Lysander’s exchange about the various ways in which “the course of true love never did run smooth” was enhanced by Hermia positioning herself on the triangular promontory at the stage front to give her replies more force. The pair arranged to flee Athens for the forest.

The comic stichomythia of Helena and Hermia’s mirrored complaints about Demetrius loving one of them but not the other, appeared even more light and fluffy for taking place against the dark backdrop of the performance’s opening. Helena said that she would tell Demetrius of her friends’ flight.

The mechanicals clog danced their way onto the stage and continued to dance a highly entertaining clog routine (1.2). Bottom (Pearce Quigley) arrived late with an extra-textual apology “Sorry, my cock-a-doodle didn’t”. Pearce Quigley’s trademark laconic delivery worked its magic in transforming Bottom’s usual bombast into vacant understatement.

He repeatedly faltered over Quince’s name “First, good Peter… Peter?… Peter Quince…” a seemingly deliberate absentmindedness that showed his disdain for the company’s manager.

Bottom was delighted that he would be playing the gallant lover Pyramus. His conditional “if I do it…” was followed by an extra-textual “I’ll do it”, as he launched into his “raging rocks” speech. He congratulated himself on his performance “This was lofty!” in a subdued style that was all the funnier for its quiet restraint.

Flute (Christopher Logan) was not happy at playing Thisbe, a fact that Bottom seized on to insist on playing the part “in a monstrous little voice”. It was apt that Pearce’s standard vocal style, also employed here for Thisbe, was monstrously little.

Parts were allocated, with the Lion being allocated to the very tall Snug (Edward Peel again). Bottom insisted on playing the Lion as well, but Quince (Fergal McElherron) put his foot down and told Bottom in no uncertain terms that he could “play no part but Pyramus”.

Bottom reacted by storming away in the middle of this speech, the others following him out the stage right exit. He briefly appeared in the tiring house doorway, suitcase in hand, as if definitively departing, before returning again through the stage left entrance to concede “Well, I will undertake it”.

Bottom pondered what beard he should wear. The two mentions of “French” with reference to the “French-crown-colour beard” were accompanied by the entire mechanical crew spitting. This felt uncalled for in a play that does not deal in such nationalistic sentiment.

The stage was transformed into the forest as curtains patterned with trees were drawn across the back of the tiring house, while the paintings in the upper gallery were turned round to show their leafy backings.

Real tree branches were brought out of the trap and placed near the stage pillars, and the candelabra that had denoted the interior scenes were raised upwards. A forest creature was chased screaming down the trap, evidencing the wildness of the location.

Feathers

Puck (Matthew Tennyson), a young thin bare-chested figure with feathers sprouting from either side of his head, greeted the Fairy (Fergal McElherron again), resplendent in an animal head mask, for the expositional dialogue setting out Titania and Oberon’s dispute over the changeling (2.1).

The bare-chested, manly Oberon (John Light again) confronted jungle woman Titania (Michelle Terry again), a picture of natural wildness in her green tasselled dress and long tresses of hair. She was backed on either side by her followers who wore animal heads, including one apt donkey head.

The couple traded barbed references to their respective affairs with their mortal counterparts, Theseus and Hippolyta, which had been portrayed at the outset and of which we were now reminded.

Dismissing Oberon’s concerns as “the forgeries of jealousy”, Titania countered “with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport”, setting out the trail of environmental damage caused by their dissension.

Oberon was in his own way as peremptory as Theseus, but Hippolyta was his match and refused to hand over the changeling.

Oberon promised to revenge himself and summoned Puck. As he began to describe where Cupid’s arrow had fallen, transforming a flower into the purple “love-in-idleness”, he lifted Puck by placing one arm between his legs and hoisted him upwards so that he could get a better view of the location.

Puck went to “put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes” stretching his arms out and leaning from side to side as a warm up for that exertion.

Oberon made himself invisible to observe Demetrius and Helena. She dogged Demetrius, insisting that she was his spaniel. Oberon became fascinated by Helena’s blonde hair, standing behind her and playing with it, then ascending the stage left pillar to sniff at it once again as she passed.

Oberon watched the quarrelling mortals depart and promised Helena “thou shalt fly him and he shall seek thy love”.

Puck returned with the flower and gestured as if throwing it to Oberon, who in turn appeared to catch it, opening his hand to reveal the bloom. But this was all sleight of hand: nothing was actually thrown. It was appropriate that the inhabitants of this magic fairy world should be fooling the audience with a simple conjuring trick.

Oberon said he would charm Titania’s eyes with the juice of the flower and instructed Puck to do the same to the Athenian-garmented lover.

Titania appeared with her fairy followers and ordered them to “sing me now to sleep”. As they surrounded her and sang, she gradually fell under their spell. She was carried aloft and then reclined onto a fairy’s back to be carried to her flowery bower. This was a grass bed positioned upright against the tiring house stage right. She fell against it and reclined as if asleep on the ground. She remained visible on her bower, changing sleeping position occasionally until her subsequent awakening.

Oberon appeared above on the tiring house gallery to drop juice into her eyes so that she would fall in love with the first creature she saw on waking. He made a gruff, grunting sound, similar to the word ‘open’ that had the effect of opening Titania’s eyes.

Hermia and Lysander settled down for the night, Hermia insisting that Lysander bed down on the opposite side of the stage to her, so that they were separated when Puck appeared. He juiced Lysander’s eyes, also employing a gruff sound to charm them open, and retreated as Demetrius and Helena approached.

Helena gave up her pursuit of Demetrius and proceeded to wake Lysander, who instantly fell in love with her. Lysander’s rejection of Hermia was as comical as his new-found love for Helena. He broke off from his avowal of love to growl “Where is Demetrius?” and glancing contemptuously at the still-sleeping Hermia, dramatically repented “the tedious minutes I with her have spent”.

Hermia awoke from her bad dream in which a serpent had eaten her heart to find Lysander gone.

The mechanicals entered through the yard and clog danced their way on stage again to rehearse their play (3.1). There was something thrilling about Peter Quince pointing at the tree-patterned curtain in front of the tiring house and announcing “this hawthorn-brake our tiring house”.

Bottom insisted on a prologue to dispel audience fears that anyone might come to harm in their play, giving Pearce Quigley more opportunities to deploy his funny sparse style. Quince wanted the prologue “written in eight and six”, which Bottom demanded should have “two more; let it be written in eight and…. two more” comically pausing until completing his mental arithmetic.

Insisting that the actor behind the lion also introduce himself, Bottom mimed how Snug should speak through the neck of the lion costume to calm the fears of the “fair ladies”.

Yet again, Bottom paused before saying the other’s names because he was not sure who they were.

Bottom also suggested that the wall should be presented by someone encased in plaster, adding “and let him hold his fingers thus…” as he made a downward V with his fingers. He placed the same fingers over his mouth to show how Pyramus and Thisbe should speak through the chink, and thereby formed an obscene gesture.

Puck appeared on the tiring house balcony to observe the “hempen home-spuns”. Bottom exited leaving Flute to wander the stage stiffly as Thisbe. Bottom caused great consternation when he re-entered with an ass’s head, a tail, and hoof fringes on his feet and hands.

Puck’s fairy helpers crossed branches over the exits to prevent the other mechanicals from fleeing, trapping them on the stage so that Puck could then torment them.

Bottom wandered up and down singing, a noise that raised Titania from her flowery bed. She came forward from her upright bower, asking Bottom to sing again. He looked at her, glanced behind him as if she might have been addressing someone else, then pointed at himself as if to say ‘you mean me?’

Titania sought to convince him of her serious intent with her next couplet, giving an erotic immediacy to “So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape” in case he did not realise she was attracted to him physically.

It took time for Bottom to get used to Titania’s interest in him. Her slight reticence and appreciation of his uncertainty made the sequence all the more convincing. She discovered his long tail and caressed it lovingly, a gesture that offered only the merest hint of a sexual subtext.

Titania responded emphatically to Bottom’s suggestion that he wanted to leave, insisting “Out of this wood do not desire to go”.

She summoned her fairies, who appeared in the upper audience galleries and suspended inverted fabric pyramid shapes from rods. These were then released and descended gracefully to be caught in nets down in the yard. This was an original way of creating a magical atmosphere.

The fairies crowded round Bottom and fondled him lasciviously as they introduced themselves. Titania retired to her bower and once stood there invited Bottom to join her. Bottom looked at her, took off his waistcoat with a decisive flourish, hung it on the antler of fairy, and leant in next to her, gesturing that the curtain representing the forest be drawn over them for privacy.

Donkey

Oberon wondered out loud what had become of Titania (3.2). On hearing Puck’s account of how she had fallen for a donkey, he swung round a stage pillar on a rope, ran towards Puck and kissed him forcefully, bending him towards the ground.

Demetrius and Hermia entered through the yard, giving time for Oberon and Puck to hide from them.

Confirmation that Oberon’s plan had gone wrong came when Hermia angrily accused Demetrius of having killed Lysander, the only explanation she could envisage to explain her lover’s absence. Hermia ran off and Demetrius slept on the ground.

As the full scale of foul up became apparent, Puck tried to slink away until Oberon’s accusatory “What hast thou done?” stopped him. But when Puck pointed out that he had, as instructed, juiced the eyes of a man in Athenian garments, Oberon muttered “Oh yeah” to concede that Puck had a point.

Oberon sent him to find Helena. Puck was foppishly vague when insisting “I go, I go, look how I go!” Oberon juiced Demetrius’s eyes hoping that he would be found by his true love.

Helena returned with Lysander, complaining that he was mocking her. By now the clothes of all the lovers had been reduced to the dirty tatters of their undergarments.

Demetrius awoke with a start and performed a perfect backflip before professing his love for Helena. The audience responded to this athletic feat with applause, causing Lysander to turn to them and gesture at them to cool it. This was perfectly in character, as Lysander continued to respond to his new rival for Helena by disparaging everything he did.

Oberon seemed not to be content with this turn for the better and blew some sort of magic force at Helena that inspired her to see mocking conspiracy in the sudden turnaround “… you all are bent to set against me for your merriment”.

Hermia appeared through a gap in the curtain representing the wood, summoned by the sound of Lysander’s voice. Both Lysander and Demetrius had crammed so close to Helena that it appeared that both were ravishing her simultaneously.

Hermia asked Lysander why he had abandoned her, which was enough to make Helena think that Hermia was in on the joke too.

Hermia climbed onto Lysander’s back until he shook her off. He became unexpectedly violent, slapping Hermia in the face as he spurned the “tawny Tartar”. The audience responded to this attack with concern.

However, this violence was directly contradicted by his statement a few lines later, when he said “Although I hate her, I’ll not harm her so”. But he had just hit her.

Hermia rounded on Helena, who in turn insulted Hermia by calling her a “puppet”. Hermia tried to scratch at Helena and was held back by the two men. The four grouped themselves into a tight knot with Helena and Hermia closest, Lysander and Demetrius right behind them. Lysander grasped at Hermia’s leg pulling it upwards.

Oberon seemed to be relishing this conflict and thrust rhythmically at the stage pillar to which he clung.

The knot broke up with Lysander and Demetrius rushing away to fight each other while Helena ran from the amazed Hermia.

Oberon ordered Puck to cause confusion among them and to juice Lysander’s eyes to restore his love for Hermia.

Demetrius and Lysander were tricked by Puck, who mimicked their voices to lead them apart. His fairy helpers used tree branches to create obstacles hindering their progress.

All four lovers eventually grew tired and fell asleep, guided by the fairies wielding bushes so that they assembled in their correct couplings. After hesitating to make sure he had picked the right Athenian, Puck juiced Lysander so that when they awoke all would be well. At this point the interval came.

The lovers stayed in position asleep for some time into the interval before rising to allow the stage to be prepared for the second half.

A trap door in the promontory was propped open and decked with greenery to make it into another iteration of Titania’s bower.

The second half began with Titania appearing through the forest curtains with Bottom (4.1). He bent forward so that she could place a floral coronet over his long donkey ears. They both reclined against the bower. Bottom’s leg shook in appreciation when his head was scratched.

Titania asked if he wanted to hear some music and when he said “Let’s have the tongs and the bones” the drummers in the gallery began to thump out the base line of “We Will Rock You”, much to Titania’s consternation.

Titania snuggled down with Bottom and made good on her promise “Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms”. Both of them gesturing to the attendant fairies to turn around and not look at them. One fairy would not leave but instead drew closer, prompting Titania’s indignant “Fairies, begone, and be all ways away”.

She wrapped her leg over his, coiling around him like honeysuckle and kissing his snout.

Oberon appeared from out of the trap door behind them with a grunting sound, greeting Puck and expressing his delight at seeing Titania asleep with an ass.

With the changeling now in his charge, Oberon undid the charm on Titania, who awoke and immediately embraced Oberon.

Puck removed the donkey head from Bottom, who had appeared for the second half minus the other donkey parts to ease his restoration.

Titania’s joy turned to edgy bitterness when she snarled at Oberon to tell her how she had been found sleeping “with these mortals on the ground”.

An extended dance sequence by the fairies enabled the actors to change into Theseus and Hippolyta, who entered in hunting outfits with bows for their wedding morning.

Theseus announced that they would go and listen to his hunting hounds. Hippolyta made it clear that she was not impressed by this.

Hippolyta went to draw her bow, but then paused and lowered it again to relate her anecdote about her hunting expedition with Hercules and Cadmus, accompanied by excellent “hounds of Sparta” that made a truly impressive noise.

This assertion of her higher standards was a challenge to which Theseus rose to by insisting that his hounds were also “bred out of the Spartan kind”.

But as he finished his defence of his own dogs, Hippolyta tripped him with her bow, yelping a quick “Oops!” and pretending that it was an accident. This incident fleshed out the hints in the text that Hippolyta was, even at this late stage, still not fully domesticated. Some Amazonian fire continued to burn within her.

Blast

Theseus discovered the lovers sleeping on the ground and ordered the huntsmen to wake them. A blast issued from the trumpeters in the tiring house gallery.

Once fully awake, the lovers explained the course of events in the forest and that they were now settled contentedly into couples.

Theseus concluded that all was well and invited everyone back to Athens. He passed his bow to an attendant and gestured to his fiancée “Come, Hippolyta”. Still resistant to his dominance, Hippolyta smilingly thrust her bow to the attendant right across Theseus’s path, forcing him to stop.

The lovers departed too leaving Bottom to wake all alone. Pearce Quigley did not bring out any of the potential bawdiness in Bottom’s reference to “what methought I had”. He said that he would get Peter Quince to write “a ballet” (the F4 variant) not “a ballad” about his dream.

The mechanicals bemoaned the loss of Bottom and the concomitant failure of their plans to stage a play (4.2). But suddenly the sound of clog dancing could be heard offstage, heralding the return of their leading man. Amid the joy of their reunion, Bottom informed the company that their play had been shortlisted.

On hearing that their play been “preferred”, Quince fell into ecstatic shrieking which lasted for so long that he was eventually left performing this ecstasy stage right while the others stood back and stared at him.

Once Quince had calmed down, Bottom turned away from him to continue his speech “In any case…” which in context of the preceding shrieks was wonderfully dismissive of Quince’s overlong display.

The parts were handed out on sheets to the actors. One of them had to discard his onion, and another spat out a garlic clove, when Bottom warned the company to keep their breaths fresh by avoiding those specific items.

Hippolyta had grown more conciliatory towards Theseus (5.1). She described the events of the previous night as “strange and admirable”, touching Theseus’s cheek tenderly with her hand in a show of genuine affection. Her rebellion against her captor was definitively at an end.

After the lovers joined the couple, Theseus read out the list of entertainments. Philostrate’s disdain for the Mechanicals’ play was accompanied by scornful looks at Hippolyta so that his repeated “nothing, nothing” was clearly his opinion of her.

When he had finished, Hippolyta approached and tipped his hat off his head, matching the frivolity of her revenge to the childishness of his scorn. Theseus settled on Pyramus and Thisbe.

The company arrived, wheeling in their folding stage and props. But disaster struck. Starveling’s (Huss Garbiya) dog was crushed under the rear wheels of the platform. He cradled the limp body of his beloved pet in his arms and wailed as he presented the sorry sight at the front of the platform.

The small stage was folded out and decked with two small-scale Globe stage pillars. These objects made the mechanicals’ stage into a replica of the one it stood on, but they also overcrowded the performance space. This design flaw was to become a major source of comedy. A pair of curtains hung from a pole at the back, one of the pair dressed the wrong way with its lining on show.

Theseus and Hippolyta sat on cushions directly in front of the stage, while the other couples sat further away at each side.

Quince spoke the prologue, but its flow was disrupted by his wincing realisations that his incorrect lineation of the speech meant he was talking nonsense.

Pyramus was given his cue and posed with comic allure between the pillars. Flute, who had been reluctant to take on the female role of Thisbe, and had approached it stiffly, now threw himself into the part with gusto. He dramatically tore apart the curtain to make a diva-like entrance, revealing his painted face, orange wig and hooped dress.

Snout (Tom Lawrence) wore an oblong wicker basket covered in plaster to represent the wall. By the time this large object was on stage, there was precious little space left. He mispronounced the names of the principal characters as “Thyramus and Pisby”.

Bottom put his foot through a stage board, trapping his foot in the gap and consequently losing one of his boots. Snug the joiner crouched and hoisted him up, before loudly nailing down a replacement plank.

Pyramus saw Thisbe’s bloody mantle, prompting thoughts of suicide, but he soon realised he had no sword with which to kill himself. Responding to Bottom’s frantic gestures, Snug improvised by handing Pyramus his saw, which he then stuck under his arm in imitation of a fatal self-inflicted blow.

Thus the prologue ended with the cast grimly trying to avoid falling off the cramped stage.

On to the play proper, Wall spoke of the “crannied hole or chink” through which the lovers were to peep. It was obvious that the two-finger cranny referred to in rehearsals would not be possible because both of Snout’s arms were trapped inside the wall-basket.

Snout struggled inside the wicker frame to punch out holes on either side revealing his unbuttoned underwear just behind the opening.

Pyramus reminded everyone of the original cranny by sticking out his two fingers in a V, which he then flipped rudely at Quince in recognition of this staging failure.

As well as not remembering Quince’s name, Pyramus could not remember his lines. This began absurdly when the forgotten word was “forgot”, and Bottom responded to the prompt by saying “Yes, I know I forgot!” He subsequently forgot almost an entire line and asked for a prompt after each individual word.

The replacement stage board broke, requiring yet another impromptu intervention by Snug and his toolkit. After this repair Pyramus gingerly stepped over the board each time he approached it, not wanting to risk further damage.

The openings in the wall were at waist height and Pyramus looked in disgust at how low he now had to bend in order to talk with Thisbe, who made another drama queen entrance to appear on the other side. Eventually he crouched to look through and at one point extended his arm all the way to the other side.

Wall announced that he had completed his function, climbed down off the stage, lost his balance and fell over. He remained pinioned to the ground by the all-encompassing basketwork.

Slow-witted Snug appeared as Lion and recited his verse lines, fixing his gaze immediately in front of him as if the text was printed in midair. As he jabbed his finger from word to word, Quince stood at the side counting out the feet of the metre, rhythmically slapping his fingers into his palm.

After Lion had demonstrated that he was harmless, Moonshine clutched his dead dog, held up his lantern and peered through it to show that he was the man in the moon. He was mocked by the others and broke down disconsolately at being reminded that his dog was dead.

In another indication of her changed character, Hippolyta took pity on Moonshine and sat him beside her on a cushion to console him as the disastrous performance continued.

Pyramus discovered Thisbe’s bloodstained garment and stabbed himself with a lath sword, slowly lowering himself to the ground, laconically and protractedly announcing his own death.

Thisbe yet again snatched back the curtain for her dramatic entrance. Finding Pyramus dead, she looked at the couples to say “Lovers, make moan” exhorting them to condole with her.

She stabbed herself and also died protractedly, reaching out all round her, uttering a deep gurgling death rattle before collapsing backwards with the hoops of her dress pitching upwards to reveal the actor’s undergarments.

The mechanicals offer to dance was taken up, which allowed time for the actors to change into Titania and Oberon for the final sequence.

As candles were lit in the tiring house gallery, Puck struck a magical note with his speech about the quietness of the house that Oberon proceeded to bless. This was followed by dancing and Puck’s final farewell.

The cast moved into a formation and chanted as they performed some tai chi style movements. On completion the audience had its cue to show its appreciation.

Conclusions

The foregrounding of Hippolyta by dramatising her capture made her a major focus of attention and her character arc more dramatically satisfying than the relatively bland story of the foursome of lovers, which almost became a subplot. Her character was much more than a blank set of parentheses to the romantic plot.

The implication in the text that Hippolyta had been captured and effectively tamed was made unambiguously clear, inviting comparisons between Hippolyta and Katharina Minola.

Michelle Terry further cemented her reputation for excellence in assertive female Shakespearean roles, making full use of her superlative voice projection.

The production provided another instance of Pearce Quigley transforming every role in which he is cast by applying his trademark laconic style. In this case swapping Bottom’s traditional rumbustiousness into something more subtle but equally amusing.

Brightly shone the noontide sun

The Tempest, The Globe, 7 May 2013

The standard stage was almost doubled in size by the addition of extensions to the front and sides. This also vastly increased the circumference of the stage front meaning that more groundlings could claim a position close to the action. This was unusual for a play where most scenes involve no more than four characters.

There were also three large rocks, which were marbled with the same colouring as the stage pillars. A discovery space was provided on the upper gallery accessed by a stage left stairway. Grips were attached to the stage right back wall to facilitate climbing.

The warm-up musicians were followed by a cheeky Geordie chappie (Trevor Fox) who reminded us to turn our phones off and not take photographs. He then jokingly assured us that the performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona would start shortly. This was a subtle jest at the expense of the Colin Morgan fans gathered at the front of the yard, for whom a mix-up of that sort would have been a disaster.

The storm began with loud banging on drums and metal sheets in the music gallery either side of the upper discovery space (1.1). Surround sound was achieved by using the walkway behind the middle gallery as a thunder run.

The ship’s crew lurched from side to side, falling over and pulling on ropes to steady themselves. At one point they leant back as if tracking a huge wave threatening to overwhelm them.

Because no amplified sound was used, and also partly because Globe actors constantly speak loud enough to combat aircraft noise, all the dialogue in the scene was clearly audible.

This was interesting from a theatrical point of view because it demonstrated that this scene did not need to be drowned out by the storm, as is often the case when speaker sound effects are deployed.

A figure we later discovered was Ferdinand (Joshua James) knelt and prayed in fear as the storm raged around the ship.

The storm scene was supplemented by a large model ship which was carried through the yard at head height, brought on stage and then taken down the stage left steps just as the passengers cried “We split, we split!” The offstage sinking of the model ship suggested the fate of the vessel being portrayed onstage.

Towards the end of the storm, Prospero (Roger Allam) appeared with his magic staff and cloak on the upper discovery space to oversee the tempest he had conjured.

As the last of the crew disappeared, Miranda (Jessie Buckley) walked up the same steps and looked backwards at the departing mariners to deliver her first line, pitying their fate and imploring her father to stop the storm (1.2). She wore a tattered light green dress that appeared to be fashioned from a larger remnant, under which she sported greyish cut-off trousers.

Prospero laid down his mantle at the front of the stage and placed his staff on top as if the mantle were only its cushioning. We now had a clearer view of the ragged clothes he had lived in for the past twelve years: a filthy white shirt, dark slashed trunk hose and boots with downturned tops.

The main problem with the production became apparent very early on. Roger Allam was quite content when playing within his comfort zone of affable comedy. But as soon as he was required to step outside that zone, he resorted to ‘doing acting’ and was unconvincing.

The disjunction between these two modes could be seen when he recounted his life story to his daughter.

Prospero was almost jaunty and affable as he began to tell his story to Miranda and was genuinely happy when she said that she remembered having serving women.

But when Prospero reached “Twelve year since…” he paused, and spoke the rest slowly in an unnatural, almost staccato delivery, as he looked off meaningfully into the distance.

The transition between natural flow and stilted technique was startling, as if playing Prospero’s darker side placed him out of his depth.

Prospero launched into his gag about Miranda’s paternity and the relief with which Allam returned to his comfort zone was palpable as his performance resumed its habitual ease.

But another lurch was coming. Allam paused again for effect after describing his brother as “perfidious”, accompanied by yet more portentous staring.

Allam’s Prospero was full of regret but there was no darkness and no menace in his characterisation. This compared poorly with Jonathan Slinger’s scary Prospero, who on his first appearance stood glaring for a long time before spitting with anger when he spoke.

Instead of giving us a Prospero who had brooded for twelve years and was now close to wreaking his revenge on his enemies, Roger Allam gave us a pompous senior civil servant on gardening leave.

He hugged Miranda at “O, a cherubim thou wast that did preserve me” thereby emphasising his paternal warmth rather than his sibling quarrel.

Prospero put Miranda to sleep and looked out for Ariel (Colin Morgan). Shaker sound effects rippled around the galleries to indicate his magical omnipresence. He sneaked up unnoticed behind Prospero, who jolted with shock when Ariel spoke.

Colin Morgan’s Ariel had short, black slicked hair, which contrasted with his light violet long-sleeve top, covered with long wispy, plumage-like strands. He wore blue breeches under a white apron that extended almost down to his white boots. While not a specific animal, he was vaguely bird-like, which made sense of his ability to flit around.

Colin Morgan was for many spectators the main attraction of the production. However, there was a slight Igor-ness in his delivery, which made him a visually attractive but dramatically unconvincing presence.

Statement

Prospero was content with Ariel’s efforts with the storm, but announced “there’s more work”. Allam’s comic instincts made this a humorous statement rather than a burdensome injunction from a martinet.

Ariel’s complaint about this provoked Prospero’s retort “How now? Moody?”, which was only mildly chiding. This invited comparisons with Jonathan Slinger’s vituperative fury when delivering the same line.

Despite Morgan’s reliance on making a visual impact as Ariel, there was a brief moment of interesting character development when he shrieked on being reminded by Prospero of his torturous imprisonment by Sycorax.

Discerning a high-work rate behind a performance is always gratifying. Right from the start it was plain that Jimmy Garnon had put great effort into his characterisation of Caliban.

When Prospero and Miranda visited him, Caliban rose from behind a rock, his body painted in shades of red, marbled exactly like the geology of the island. This was slightly reminiscent of the skin paint applied to the Caliban in Julie Taymor’s film. His reference to the “red plague” hinted that this colouration could have been the result of a condition particular to the island, causing its sufferers to take on the colour of its rocks.

His voice was coarse and guttural with a mixture of assorted accents that gave it a vaguely foreign air without fitting within any recognisable language. He loped barefoot on the front of his feet affording a strange animal quality to his gait.

Caliban cursed Prospero, accentuating his revolt by spitting at the audience, stealing a drink in a plastic cup from a groundling, downing it and then throwing away the cup (hopefully planted).

As if to seal his villainy in our minds, the skulking creature delighted in the idea of peopling the island with Calibans.

Prospero and Miranda retreated to their vantage point up in the gallery.

Accompanied by other spirit helpers, Ariel entered singing Full Fathom Five. He led Ferdinand up and down, remaining invisible to him and guiding his movements.

Prospero enjoyed loosing his daughter to Ferdinand and she boggled in disbelief at the young man’s “brave form”. However, rather than an athletic Adonis, this Ferdinand was slightly nerdish and spindly, perhaps justifying Prospero’s subsequent comment about his relative inadequacies.

But he was of obvious good heart. As a caring father, Prospero must have prized this quality in Ferdinand above any other consideration when arranging the match for his daughter.

Prospero descended and, having provoked Ferdinand with accusations of usurpation, took control of his threatening sword. At first the sword was frozen in mid air and Ferdinand struggled to move it as if the blade were fixed in rock.

Prospero then caused the sword to mirror the movements of his own staff. For a while Prospero played, causing Ferdinand’s weapon to move from side to side, finally forcing it to the ground, decisively disarming the young man.

Miranda clung to Prospero’s ankle, pleading with him to stop, as he ordered her to “Hang not on my garments.”

The introduction of the characters in the royal party began in undistinguished fashion with standard versions of the characters: the elderly Gonzalo (Pip Donaghy), the younger jokers Antonio (Jason Baughan) and Sebastian (William Mannering), and the careworn Alonso (Peter Hamilton Dyer) (2.1).

But an interesting note was struck when Sebastian said “we prosper well in our return”: the spirits in the galleries began whispering “prosper.. Prospero” as if bringing to life the echo of Prospero’s name in that remark.

Ariel put everyone to sleep except Sebastian and Antonio, leaving the latter to tempt the former with the idea of killing his brother. He then arranged for the sleepers to awake just as swords were poised over them.

Caliban threw away his burden of logs, scattering them to the back of the stage, cursing Prospero (2.2). The arrival of Trinculo drove him to hide under his gabardine.

Trinculo (Trevor Fox) wore a full jester’s motley with pointed shoes and large bicorn hat. He stood over a female groundling at the front of the yard and squeezed water out of his prominent codpiece and later pulled a small fish from his jacket to remind us of his recent escape from the wreck. He subsequently removed two more fish, each one larger than its predecessor, turning this into a running gag.

He spoke of the “storm brewing”, looked up into the bright, cloudless sky over Southwark and gave a series of knowing looks to the audience, peering up at the sky again as if the play text should have caused the weather to obey its implied stage direction.

After discovering the strange figure under the cloth, he smelt Caliban’s bottom, which was the source of “a very ancient and fish-like smell”. He climbed under the large covering, his feet pointing in the opposite direction to Caliban’s.

Stephano (Sam Cox) entered singing, a noise which frightened Caliban into attempting an escape. Normally this sequence is staged with Caliban and Trinculo remaining on the ground. But here, instead of remaining hidden under the coat, Caliban stood up so that he was bare down to the waist and pulled the still fully concealed Trinculo along behind him like the rear end of a pantomime horse. This fantastic vision caused Stephano to look at his bottle in disbelief as he contemplated this “monster of the isle”.

The “monster” returned to ground again enabling Stephano to pour in drink at both ends. When it reared up once more, Caliban struck the back end of the beast, still hiding Trinculo, with a stick.

Back on the ground Stephano pulled Trinculo’s legs to extract him from the coat and ended up in a compromising position on top of him. This unsophisticated crudity was not funny.

Caliban knelt before the bearer of the “celestial liquor” swearing him allegiance. He began to sing about his freedom, but spoke the first words of his song tentatively, looking round to see if any of Prospero’s agents were poised to punish him for his thoughtcrime. He rapidly gained confidence when he realised he could express a desire to have “a new master” and the first half came to an end as he celebrated his liberty.

Interval

The second half began with Ferdinand carrying some heavy, real logs from one side of the stage to the other (3.1). He addressed us cheerfully, saying that the hard work was a pleasure because it was undertaken for Miranda’s sake.

He beamed when he reported that Miranda did not want him to labour, because he saw this as proof that she loved him.

Miranda appeared and tried to carry the logs for Ferdinand, causing him to run back to the pile with a worried “No…” as if she were spoiling the game that gave him so much satisfaction.

Further confirmation of Miranda’s love caused him to take up a log, grin at us, and bear it easily to the other side.

This was a delightfully complicit inclusion of the audience in his simple joy at being adored, a seemingly novel experience that he would not take for granted.

Their ensuing betrothal was overseen by a contented Prospero.

The rebel trio reappeared in a state of advanced drunkeness, with Caliban’s wide-eyed, forty-yard stare distinguishing him as the most intoxicated (3.2).

Caliban tried to ingratiate himself with his new overlords, audibly smartening his accent when asking Stephano if he would “hearken once again to the suit I made to thee”, regarding his plot to kill Prospero.

Ariel stood on the balustrade of the left lower gallery and scrutinised them a while before bounding on stage to ventriloquise Trinculo’s voice. He clambered nimbly from vantage point to vantage point, making use of the underside of the steps down from the platform as well as monkey bars underneath it.

Stephano became excited at the part of Caliban’s plan that involved Miranda, stuttering out “Is it so brave a lass?”

Caliban explained how they could kill Prospero. He took a rock and used a groundling as a stand-in to demonstrate how to drive a nail into Prospero’s head.

Around this time, planes and helicopters were flying overhead. When Caliban warned that Prospero had “brave utensils” he looked up at the sky and listened to the aircraft noise, drawing the others’ attention to it, as if this were Prospero’s agents high in the sky about some business. They stared up into the night for some time until the noises subsided. Though slightly laboured, this proved a humorous and effective way of dealing with the Globe’s noise pollution problem.

In line with the production’s general downplaying of deep moments, Caliban’s speech about the isle being full of noises was not as moving as it could have been.

The royal party saw some “strange shapes” bring on a table bearing a banquet (3.3). But before they could feast, the food exploded in a flash of hot bright flame, the heat wave from which reached the galleries, and the trick table revolved to display a representation of the charred remains.

Ariel confronted the “three men of sin” on high platform shoes shaped like claws with spirit helpers operating his wide, black, harpy wings. His head was covered with a large bird-like skull, his breeches looked like downy feathers and he had a breast plate with harpy dugs.

The combination of these two effects was truly spectacular.

Prospero congratulated himself on having his enemies “in my power” but with the vengeful aspect of his character underplayed by the affable Allam, his words conveyed little real menace.

Ferdinand had passed Prospero’s test, but Miranda’s protective father was still keen to emphasise to Ferdinand the importance of not breaking her “virgin-knot” (4.1). This subject continued to prove a light-hearted source of comedy that Allam seemed to feel more at home with than Prospero’s darker side.

The masque began with the brightly coloured Iris (Sarah Sweeney) calling on Ceres (Amanda Wilkin), who appeared in a white outfit with a neckpiece comprising fruits of the field. Surprisingly, Ariel took on the role of Juno, with a neckpiece of peacock feathers.

Iris spoke in a squeaky voice and magically produced a flower using a conjuring trick, staring and the audience and proudly announcing “yaha!”, which distinguished her from sassy Ceres. Not often are these two minor characters so distinctly differentiated.

Prospero mouthed Iris’s injunction that the marriage should not be consummated “till Hymen’s torch be lighted” in another comic touch highlighting his concern.  The romantic shower of confetti that rained down from the upper galleries added to the atmosphere.

However, the celebratory formal dance turned into an extended comic sequence as Prospero tried and failed to prevent Ferdinand from partnering with Miranda. When the rotation of dance partners brought them together, he would swoop to separate them, only to find his efforts frustrated when the couples reformed for the following round.

Prospero cried out that he had forgotten the “foul conspiracy” of Caliban’s and his associates. However, there was something actorly about his surprise and outrage that undercut any sense of real alarm.

This strange absence from his own role meant that “Our revels now are ended” similarly lacked impact. This speech is generally Prospero at his most contemplative, an aspect of the character that Allam did not at all emphasise. It said something that Helen Mirren’s Prospera was more convincing in her “I will plague them all, even to roaring” than Allam.

Prospero stood on the discovery space to oversee the hounding of the rebels by skeletal puppet dogs guided by Ariel and his helpers. These were very effective.

With his master’s plan now coming to fruition, Ariel persuaded Prospero to turn away from vengeance (5.1). This did not feel like a major turning point in the story, because the vengeful aspect of Prospero’s character had not been accentuated.

Although he announced “yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury do I take part”, this Prospero’s consistent absence of fury deprived the sequence of significance.

When Allam boomed that he had “bedimmed the noontide sun” it seemed very unlikely that he actually had.

Prospero abjured his rough magic. His cloak was taken from him by a helper and he placed his staff on top of it in a repeat of the ritual at the start of the performance.

Prospero enjoyed toying with Alonso before revealing his son Ferdinand playing Miranda at chess in a ground-level discovery space. With her mind whirling at the sight of the new arrivals, Miranda sat next to father to wonder at this “brave new world”. Prospero’s reply “’Tis new to thee” conveyed his aspiration for Miranda to discover more of the world on her release from the island.

Caliban cringed when he and his companions were released and brought before Prospero. Again, the light tone of the production meant that Prospero’s “this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine” was not freighted with meaning and had no impact.

Once pardoned, Caliban scampered along next to Prospero like a chimp. He stood up at full height and growled at Stephano as he passed him, angry at having been his dupe.

Prospero picked up his staff placed it behind his neck and snapped it with his arms. He looked round to where Ariel was, but with his magic gone Prospero was unable to see him. This moment represented Ariel’s liberation.

Allam told us that his charms were now all o’erthrown. And he was duly released by our indulgence.

Conclusions

The production was competent, innovative in places, but ultimately disappointing. There was a large gap where a thrilling Prospero should have stood.

Roger Allam’s downplaying of Prospero’s anger and vengeance diluted the impact of his final decision to show clemency. With the focus on Prospero as a father, the play became a city comedy about a man trying to marry off his daughter.