Julius Caesar – July 2014

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Tuesday 8th July 2014

This was a much better experience than our previous visit (Titus Andronicus). We could hear the dialogue as well as seeing more of the action, and although there were a few casualties who needed to be helped out of the theatre, we weren’t distracted so much by them this time around. Mind you, they were still building the set when we arrived at our seats; two workmen were busy setting up the fake façade of a building underneath the balcony, which at least gave the audience something to watch while we waited for the play to begin.

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Henry V – June 2012

7/10

By Willliam Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 27th June 2012

The stage was much the same as for the Hamlet earlier this month; the scaffolding at the back, the pointy thrust at the front, and two groups of three chairs stacked behind each pillar. The musicians treated us to a lovely selection of (I assume) Elizabethan music to warm us up, and then Brid Brennan as the Chorus strode forward to get the play started. I gather it’s not the first time a woman has played the Chorus, but certainly the first time at the Globe (Zoe Wanamaker at the opening ceremony aside), and it was amazing to hear this speech as it would have been done originally, addressed directly to an audience which the actor could see, and which could respond if it wanted to. I found the imagery more relevant, with the whole idea of the actor directing the crowd’s imaginations coming strongly to the fore. And the references to “this wooden ‘o’”, coupled with Brid Brennan’s circular arm movements, were accurate at long last! Her delivery was also clear and strong, which got us off to a good start. (I also liked the program’s description of this opening speech in the synopsis: “The Chorus apologises for this attempt to present a great historical subject in the theatre.”) After her speech, she stayed on stage as a servant in the next scene which was a nice touch, having the Chorus as part of the action.

The next scene, the discussion between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely on tax evasion (plus ça change…) was the crappiest performance I’ve ever seen. I make no apologies for this comment. A padded chair had been brought on stage, placed between and behind the two pillars, and when the seat was raised, it turned out to be a luxury toilet. Each churchman took his turn, with the servant providing the hand washing facilities. This was funny, of course, and entertaining, but it’s one of those choices that plays against the text, with very little of the dialogue coming across clearly; not much help to the audience given the complex nature of the arguments for and against war with France. Still, it’ll get the crowd on your side, which is not a bad thing, and at least we knew the gist of the discussion, so no problem for us.

With the plush Portaloo removed, the new king took to the stage, looking a little nervous, I thought. He sat near the front during the Archbishop’s lecture, which seemed even longer than I remember. A plane flew over during this speech; the king looked up, then leaned nearer to the Archbishop to hear him better, which was funny. He also showed a clear reaction when Canterbury (finally!) finished explaining why Salic law did not bar his claim to France. As an aside, we had fewer planes and helicopters this time compared to Hamlet, thank goodness, though they were still a bit of a nuisance. The tennis balls were confined to the box in this production, and Henry made it clear to the French ambassador that the gift would backfire.

I’m not sure when Chorus told us about the three traitors, but she was on stage as a pedlar for the first scene with the low lifes, and even used her knife to good effect when Nym (or Pistol) tried to threaten her. While Bardolph was consoling Nym, we could hear the sounds of sexual activity coming from the upper level; this made sense of Nym’s unhappiness with Pistol, which was handy when the words weren’t too clear. When Pistol and Mistress Quickly came downstairs, the fight began in earnest, but peace was eventually made so they could go and fight the French. Sir John’s illness was included in this version.

Chorus introduced the Southampton scene, while the three traitors strolled onto the stage and sat on three chairs placed diagonally across the stage. The action was much as usual, although when the three were declaring themselves delighted that their treachery had been discovered, Scroop was believable, Cambridge just a tad over the top, but Grey was way over the top; his gushing flattery was received with humour by the audience.

The departure of Pistol and the crew to Southampton was pretty standard, apart from the trunk on a trolley. This was left behind when the characters walked off, and as the French court came on, Pistol returned to take the trunk away, stopping the French throne from coming on. The French court’s discussion was pretty clear, Chorus did another travelogue, and then we were into the battles.

Henry’s “once more unto the breach” was fine, addressing the audience a lot, followed by the reluctant combatants Pistol, Nym and Bardolph being rousted along by Fluellen. For the Scots captain, Chris Starkie used a completely unintelligible Scottish-sounding growl which raised quite a laugh. Harfleur was taken, and then Katherine had her English lesson with Alice. I forget when the interval came – it’s usually around now – and then the French had their little pep talk, with the audience again standing in for all those French nobles the cast couldn’t manage to show on stage.

The scenes flowed through nicely to the end. Henry was saddened by Bardolph’s death momentarily, but stuck to his guns. The French were far too smug before the battle, even in the relatively few lines they were left with. Harry walked about his camp and encountered the usual suspects, finishing with his soliloquy about ceremony and part of his prayer. The St Crispin speech was fine, though I wasn’t necessarily ready to charge onto the stage to help out, and then the battle began. Pistol’s prisoner was treated badly as usual, and then the order was given to kill the prisoners before the French killed the boys. I think Fluellen carried the dead boy on stage and put him near the front, where the king saw him when he came on.

After the battle, Fluellen was sent after Williams, they fought, the king restored order and then the list of the dead was presented and read out. I always find that bit moving, and so it was today. Fluellen ‘persuaded’ Pistol to eat his greens, after which Pistol did a mini-Richard III and declared his intention to become even more of a villain than he already was. Queen Isabel was actually at the final court scene for once, and after Burgundy’s Springwatch report, Henry’s wooing of Katherine was suitably awkward. They finished with Henry’s last line, the Chorus’s references to Henry VI part 1 being unnecessary when this play is done on its own. Besides, the dance at the end fitted in well with a wedding celebration, and left us with a happy feeling.

While there was nothing wrong with this production (apart from the staging of the first scene), there was a lack of energy, a missing spark. Overall the production leant towards the patriotic side, and while that’s an acceptable decision, I didn’t feel the text had been examined rigorously enough to give us greater depth. Of course I may have missed some of that from our side view, and on the plus side there was plenty of audience involvement, but that’s natural at the Globe and I would have preferred a meatier production of this play. Having said that, Jamie Parker was fine as Henry and the rest of the performances supported him well, with Chorus being particularly good. I enjoyed myself well enough, and the post-show chat with Brid Brennan and David Hargreaves was entertaining and interesting.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Hamlet – June 2012

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Tuesday 12th June 2012

I would rate this production higher than my experience of it; the unseasonal cold, the plethora of aeroplanes and helicopters as well as general fatigue, all combined to reduce my enjoyment of a brisk, clear and surprisingly funny performance with some interesting staging choices.

To begin with, the stage had a triangular section added on at the front, and this had steps on each side for access. In front of the balcony was a scaffold, with a narrow platform along the top and a ladder at our end (stairs at the other?). I thought they would make more use of this, for the battlement scenes for example, but it only served as the lobby. Underneath this platform was an entranceway with benches and lots of hanging space, where cast members would lurk either before an entrance or, more usually, to play their instruments – there was plenty of music in this production. Ropes were strung between the two main pillars and between the left-hand pillar and the scaffold, and red curtains were draped over them, allowing for the arras and for some nifty changes during the Mousetrap scene. I noticed some chalk marks in the centre of the stage, for all the world looking like they were due some roadworks, but these simply indicated the locations for the steps and boards that created the makeshift locations. The two boards were leaning against each pillar, while the three sets of steps were short and wide, and were used in various configurations, even doubling as thrones when the boards were slotted in behind them. Finally, there were two brooms, which played a small but entertaining part in the Mousetrap.

The cast pottered about the stage beforehand, chatting here and there and generally getting the stage ready for the show. The costumes were 1930s working class, though the women had smarter frocks, and the king and queen each had a fancy robe to wear over their clothes so we would know who they were. With only eight actors, it was quite an achievement that we always knew who was who, and some of the little cameos were great fun, Osric especially. When I realised that Claudius and Gertrude were doubling as the player king and queen, I was immediately intrigued as to how they would pull this off – more on that story later.

They began with a song; didn’t hear the words clearly, but it was a lively number. From the program notes, I was aware that this touring production, while based on the Folio version of the play, had been informed by the First Quarto version, itself reckoned to be from a touring version. Although I was aware of some cuts, it didn’t distract me in any way, and the story was told in full, not bad for less than three hours.

After the song, the boards were placed in a forward-pointing V-shape on the stage, and the steps were also placed at the sides, creating the battlements. Francisco was huddled there, spear in hand, and with a warming brazier by his side. I noticed he took it with him when he left – bit selfish, I thought, even if does help to keep the stage clear. Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo did the usual chat, with the ghost (Dickon Tyrrell, doubling with Claudius) entering through the crowd and walking up the right-hand steps. He was wearing a great-coat with a dusting of grey on the shoulders, and did look pretty imposing, sword in hand. After striding across the stage, he exited on the left-hand side(?), leaving Horatio to fill the others in on the military situation. The ghost reappeared through the middle entrance, glowered briefly at Horatio’s impertinence, then turned and strode quickly off stage back right.

The court scene was set up by placing two sets of steps at the back of the chalk square and removing the boards. Claudius stood on the steps to address the court – Hamlet stood, alone, on the front triangle – and as Claudius mentioned Gertrude, he held out his hand to her and she joined him on the steps. The business of state was dealt with very quickly, with Voltemand and Cornelius being despatched to Norway, and Laertes given permission to leave for France. Hamlet’s comment ‘I am too much i’ the sun’ got a good laugh – the sun had no intention of shining today!

Once the court had departed, Hamlet gave us his first soliloquy, and I liked the way it was clearly directed at the audience instead of being a personal speech which the audience just happens to overhear. Michael Benz’s delivery was quick and clear, and while this style didn’t allow for much sense of introspection, nor much detail in the characterisation, the story was nice and easy to follow. I also spotted that when Hamlet compares his father and uncle, his choice of comparison likens his father to Hercules, indicating just how much he hero-worshipped the man, while deprecating his own abilities at the same time. Bernardo was absent from the delegation reporting the ghost’s visitations to Hamlet, and the appointment for that night’s vigil was soon arranged.

Polonius’s house used the steps in combination, with Laertes and Polonius having to climb over one set of steps to enter the house, or so it seemed. Laertes’s warning to his sister was brief (would that he got that trait from his father!) but was clearly motivated by his concern that Hamlet, regardless of his affection, was not free to choose his own wife. Polonius’s concern, as expressed later, was that Hamlet was just toying with Ophelia, and that she would be cast off as soon as someone better came along. Laertes nearly escaped this time; only the firm grasp of his father’s hand prevented him from leaving until he had sat through the long litany of fatherly advice, although even these wise words had been edited. There was almost no delay after Laertes left before Polonius asked Ophelia what they had been talking about, and that exchange was soon completed as well, with Polonius forbidding Ophelia to spend any time with Hamlet.

The battlements were set up again, and before long the ghost was on the prowl. He stood in the front right corner of the stage, majestically beckoning Hamlet to follow, while Hamlet dealt with Horatio and Marcellus. As he broke free from them, threatening them with his sword, the ghost turned and left, with Hamlet close on his heels. I had thought the scaffold platform might be used for the next scene, but again it was all done on the main stage, and rattled through in a pretty standard way. When Horatio and Marcellus arrived, I thought Hamlet might have been thinking of telling them the truth, but then he changed his mind and informed them that villains are arrant knaves, a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious. For the swearing section, they crossed the stage a couple of times to follow the voice, and Hamlet’s demonstration of head-shaking and the rest raised a few laughs.

With the stage cleared, Polonius threw a small bag of money to Reynaldo with the opening remarks of the next scene. Reynaldo seemed to be quite up to speed on his job this time, but took careful notes in his book of all that Polonius said, which made it easier to jog his memory when necessary. I don’t remember hearing the ‘carp of truth’ line, but the bulk of the dialogue was covered, and Christopher Saul’s Polonius warmed the audience up by bringing out the humour nicely. Ophelia’s speech was good; I was aware of how frightening such an experience would be, and her description conjured up very clear pictures in my mind.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern made an amusing entrance, carrying not just bags but tennis rackets and one or two golf clubs as well. Presumably to reflect the inconsistency in their names between the First Quarto and the other texts, Claudius got their names completely wrong this time, calling Guildenstern by a mangled version of Rosencrantz’s name and calling Rosencrantz ‘Guggenheim’. Gertrude doesn’t get a chance to correct him till they’re nearly out of the door, but with their names so well known to the audience, we had a couple of good laughs from this mistake.

I forget where they did the ambassadors bit; it may have been before R&G, or possibly just after, but either way Polonius didn’t introduce them. Steve had the impression that Voltemand was an inexperienced ambassador who had been hoodwinked by the King of Norway into believing that he, the king, had been completely unaware of Fortinbras’s intentions. In reality, he had probably instigated the whole thing, and when his plot was discovered, simply fobbed the Danish ambassador off with a plausible excuse, while at the same time arranging a way for Fortinbras and his troops to get onto Danish soil without opposition. A neat trick. I saw none of this myself, but I’ve been concerned about this Polish expedition ploy for many years, and I like it when there’s some sign of discomfort over it, unless it’s dropped completely, of course.

Polonius’s long rambling speeches were well appreciated today, and he stood at the front of the triangle to read the letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, with the king and queen on either side. That done, they soon finished plotting to overhear Hamlet’s conversation with Ophelia, and when Hamlet himself turned up with his book, he was dressed in a strange outfit, as befitted his pretence of madness. He wore a vest, red shorts, white leggings and a red biretta; the outfit on its own raised a laugh. After Polonius’s departure, Hamlet looked very happy to see R&G, as he had been with Horatio. Through the opening greetings, and the banter about fortune’s ‘privates’, which was followed by a physical man-dance which also had us laughing, Hamlet seemed unconcerned about their arrival, but that changed pretty quickly when they proved completely unable to think of any plausible lies to cover their requested presence. Hamlet’s speech about his lack of delight in the physical world was well done, especially following such a jokey start to the scene, and Rosencrantz’s explanation of his laugh seemed genuine this time.

The actors arrived, and I was immediately aware that the Mousetrap was going to be tricky to stage with this casting. The player’s speech was fine, and Polonius’s chatter very entertaining as usual. The ‘rogue and peasant slave’ speech was very good, again talking to the audience and involving us at every stage. The next scene was also brisk, and soon the curtain had been drawn across one of the ropes for Claudius and Polonius to hide behind while Ophelia spoke with Hamlet. ‘To be or not to be’ was OK, and Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia brought out a lot of his anger, though without the violence that is often used to get the point across. Ophelia was facing the curtain when Hamlet asked her where her father was; I couldn’t see her reaction, but Hamlet was immediately aware that something was going on, and upped the tempo of his diatribe. After he left and Ophelia had expressed her reactions, Polonius and Claudius were typically unsympathetic to the poor girl, with Polonius snatching back the book he’d given her at the start of the scene.

Next came the big scene: the Mousetrap. Hamlet gave some brief advice to the players before asking for Horatio’s help to scrutinise the king during the performance. Two thrones had been set up to the rear of the pillars, and when Claudius and Gertrude arrived with the rest of the court, they sat there ready for the start. From our side view, I didn’t see the curtain being drawn across at first, but it was, and we could see the actors change their costumes and rearrange the set for the players. With this done – it only took a few seconds – the curtain was drawn back and the play began, with the husband and wife carrying out the dumb show. The boards had been removed from the steps, which then became the bed the player king lay on. With the king killed by poison, the queen is at first distraught, but was soon distracted when the poisoner presented her with some gaudy baubles. The whole dumb show was done at a lively pace, and with only a few comments from Hamlet and Ophelia, they then went straight into the actual play. Much cut, the player king was soon lying on the bed again while his wife left him, and the curtain was swiftly drawn across the stage. A few quick changes, and it was drawn back again, so that we could hear the minimal exchanges between Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius. Again the curtain, and this time a dummy represented the sleeping ruler. When the poison was poured in the dummy’s ear, a little smoke poured out, and then we heard the line ‘the king rises’. The king and queen came out of the audience and exited at the back of the stage, leaving Hamlet on the stage with Horatio.

R&G were followed by Polonius, and the lines about the shape of the cloud were more relevant here with the open roof (and plenty of clouds to look at!). Claudius knelt to say his prayers at the very front of the V, while Hamlet came on from the back, went through his usual thought process, and left to visit his mother. With Claudius’s final lines, we were finally at the interval, and I could stretch my stiff legs a bit.

For the restart, and the closet scene, the side curtain was drawn again to provide an arras; otherwise, Gertrude’s room was rather bare. Polonius was killed very quickly, and the body covered with the curtain. When comparing Gertrude’s two husbands, Hamlet held two small photos in front of her as she knelt at the front of the stage; although he seemed to get through to her at this point, once he’d seen the ghost and she couldn’t, she became more concerned that he was actually mad. She stood next to the ghost at one point, and he raised his hand as if to touch her, but she moved again before he could. When Claudius turned up, she seemed more convinced of Hamlet’s madness than colluding with him to keep Claudius in the dark.

The next scene had Hamlet lugging a body, wrapped in the red cloth, up to the platform where he left it. R&G came on stage while Hamlet was still up there, and he came down quickly to speak to them. The dialogue with Claudius was nicely done, with humour in the comments about heaven and hell, and the father/mother conundrum.

Fortinbras was definitely present in this production, and with a small change to his costume, Peter Bray gave us a strong military leader, very decisive and ruthless. Hamlet’s soliloquy after the soldier’s explanation was very truncated but got the point across – now he’s going to take action! Ophelia’s mad scenes were OK – they’re not my favourite – but Carlyss Peer has a lovely singing voice, and again the dialogue was very clear. She didn’t carry anything with her, but picked up imaginary flowers from the ground, which in some ways was even more moving than seeing an Ophelia with armfuls of flowers or weeds. Laertes burst onto the stage without the usual preamble, and was very forceful at first. Again I found myself thinking that Claudius was chancing his arm when he talked about ‘such divinity doth hedge a king’ – didn’t do his brother much good.

Horatio came on alone to read his letter, and then Claudius and Laertes did their plotting. Gertrude reported Ophelia’s death, and then played the part of the second gravedigger, with the boards being set up to create a ‘raised bed’ grave. I nodded a bit during this section, but perked up when we got to the next scene, with Hamlet telling Horatio about R&G. Osric was a wonderful peacock of a man, primping his way across the stage, and got more laughs than most of the comedy bits.

The fencing scene was as brisk as the rest of the performance, and Hamlet was soon two hits to nil up. Gertrude drank the poisoned wine, despite Claudius’s warning, and sat to the right of the stage afterwards, where she eventually collapsed. The warlike volley was noticeable, but although the ambassador from England was mentioned, he didn’t appear on stage for the finale. Instead Fortinbras (Osric must have run away when people started dying – a wise move) strode on stage, and with only a few lines established his intentions. I was aware that his line ‘with sorrow I embrace my fortune’ echoed Claudius’s words at the start, about ‘mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage’. His ‘go, bid the soldiers shoot’ was not specific in this production; I assumed it was a salute to Hamlet, but it wasn’t fully clear.

Fortinbras then stood at the front of the stage and started drumming one foot on the floor, creating a strong beat. Ophelia came on and began to ‘wake up’ the other dead bodies, starting with Laertes. Eventually the whole cast were on their feet, singing, dancing and playing their instruments to finish off with a happy number, slightly bizarre for a tragedy. We clapped along all the same, and applauded when they took their bows. The overall response from the audience was very positive; while I accept that a touring production has to limit itself, I did feel that such a quick tour through the play’s highlights left a lot to be desired. On the plus side, the story and lines were very well delivered, and I did get some fresh insights, which I like. On the down side, the level of humour meant that I felt less involved with the characters – this is a tragedy, after all. The performances were all very good given the choices made, and I hope they get equally responsive audiences on tour.

Finally, the brooms. During the Mousetrap, when Gonzago was lying on his bed the first time, two attendants were standing behind him, waving fans made of gold leaves stuck on the business ends of the brooms. Whether it was the movement or the draft, I don’t know, but Gonzago was irritated by them, and made an impatient gesture for them to stop, which caused a ripple of laughter.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

A New World – September 2009

3/10

By Trevor Griffiths

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Tuesday 1st September 2009

This was one of those new plays the Globe likes to put on which is supposed to make use of the large stage to address ‘big’ topics – the epic sweep of historical movements being a particular favourite. Unfortunately, these can end up as little more than staged versions of a docu-drama which would be better served by a film or TV mini-series. And so it was today.

The subject matter, the life and works of Thomas Paine (a more apt name for the man can scarcely be imagined) is worthy enough, and even interesting in its own way, but the style of presentation was the usual snippet, snippet, slightly larger snippet, snippet, quick one liner in passing, snippet, snippet, snippet….. No chance to develop characters nor to give any depth to the material being covered, such was the vast scope of the story, encompassing as it did the American War of Independence (we lost) and the French Revolution followed by the Terror (we didn’t much like the winners).

This sense of attending an overlong history lesson was compounded by the costumes – the usual period drab – making it hard to tell when some actors were playing different characters, and the usual loss of a fair chunk of the dialogue was naturally more of a problem with an unknown play than one of Will’s. The ‘trundle’ effect was in full force again, with all sorts of paraphernalia being trundled on and trundled back off again, all very distracting even when covered by a song. The opening sequence was distracting too, with lots of the cast trooping on in several waves during the opening exposition, taking both my eye and my ear off the ball, so to speak.

The play was narrated by Benjamin Franklin, obligingly continuing even after his own death as he himself commented in one of the more humorous bits. To be fair, there was quite a lot of humour throughout, and but for missing the lines I might have laughed a lot more. I suspect there was even more humour which just didn’t come across, but in any case it didn’t make up for the tedious bits.

The story began with Paine’s journey to America and took us through to his funeral, including both of the aforementioned revolutions and a few other bits and bobs. Having seen We, The People and the recent mini-series on John Adams, I found most of this was familiar territory; from a different perspective admittedly but without a great deal of added value. It’s a fascinating period of history in many ways, and yet I’ve still to see any drama set in that time that doesn’t make it seem dull. Comparing this with other plays that do handle history better, by Will and others, I find they usually focus on the personal to help us engage with the characters emotionally, and the recitation of facts is either kept to a minimum or skilfully woven into the fabric of the play. Show, don’t tell. Longer scenes build the momentum, and fortunately some playwrights have no compunction about tinkering with historical accuracy to suit the needs of the drama. (Actually I’m thinking of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, but you can insert whichever example you like.)

Having said all this, I must praise the cast for turning in splendid performances all round, even of the one-legged variety. The music and singing were lovely, and I particularly liked an impassioned speech, in French, by James Garnon as Danton. The on stage translation for Paine’s benefit was a bit distracting (too much historical accuracy?) but once I managed to ignore that, it was good fun to watch Danton rebel-rouse, especially at the end when he suddenly turned all RP on recognising Paine.

So, not a great success from my point of view, and I do hope they can find some better new writing to put on here in future.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Love’s Labour’s Lost – September 2007

6/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Friday 14th September 2007

I was really worried after the opening scenes of this performance. I like this play, yet I was finding it incredibly dull, and wondering if I wanted to stay for the rest of it. The opening scene had raised some laughs from the groundlings, over facial expressions I couldn’t see, and Don Armado had just not found my funny bone. Then the women arrived, and the whole performance took off. Not my favourite production, perhaps, but still an enjoyable afternoon, give or take.

To get the problems out of the way – with more people at this performance, I found the seats more uncomfortable, with less room to move around. The headset was working, but apparently an alarm went off, causing several very loud beeps to come through my headphones, so I switched the headset off for a couple of minutes. The beeps had gone when I switched it back on, and there were no more problems there, thank goodness. Also, there seems to be something about the Globe this year – every time we’ve been there, at least one person has had to be helped out, suffering in some way. It could be the heat, I suppose, but even Steve was feeling funny today, and that’s not usual for him. Today’s walking wounded was a young man, and I found myself wondering if anyone was keeping statistics on the health problems experienced there. Which brings me to the final problem. At the first glimpse of sunshine, the stewards start passing sunhats round, which is fine when it’s before the performance, but when it’s already started, it can be quite a distraction. Together with all the other comings and goings, it took us a while to feel involved in this performance.

Now for the good bits. The set was lovely. Two “knot paths” led out from the stage in a zigzag pattern, creating a triangular section in front of the stage for groundlings to cluster in. The walkways were great for the actors to come out from the stage, and there were steps at the end of each walkway for easy access in both directions. Before the start, we were treated to some music, and a couple of deer in puppet form – they reminded us both of the Little Angel puppetry, though not so detailed. The stag came on first, and was curious about the musicians before checking out the audience. I thought some folk would have stroked its nose, but no one seemed inclined to try it. Then the doe came on, and they went through a lovely courtship routine, very well done. Eventually, they went off, and the play started.

Michelle Terry played an excellent Princess of France. Normally subordinate to Rosalind dramatically speaking, this one was definitely in charge. She did have a good sense of humour, but she could throw a real strop when she wanted to, which was fairly often. She really ticks off Boyet at the start, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, and when it comes to the bread fight, she’s geared up like a Gatling gun. The pigeons got even more bread today. I got more of the sense that she’s not impressed by the King of Navarre, and doesn’t respect him for breaking his vows so easily. She holds sway over the whole performance, and partly for that reason, the men this time seem rather flabby.

To be fair, one of the men was injured today, so that probably cramped their style a bit. On the other hand, he did make good use of his crutches, and his difficulties in hiding during the discovery scene added to the fun. He had to scuttle pretty quickly round the pillar, and at one point held his arms up and pretended to be a statue. I don’t know if that’s how he does it when his leg’s fine, but perhaps it will be now. Jaquenetta and Costard were less noticeable this time around, and I didn’t get the feeling of sympathy for Don Armado with his lack of a shirt. The schoolmaster and his crony were OK, the Worthies were OK, and the atmosphere changed suitably when the announcement of the French King’s death was made. The final challenges to the men were apt, although I don’t know how a Princess of her brainpower could really expect a king to live as a hermit for a whole year. Apart from his lack of purpose, there’s a state to run! I do wish we had the sequel.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me