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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Titus Andronicus – July 2014

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 2nd July 2014

This rating was Steve’s – I chose to spend the second half in the Globe café so as not to be completely bored out of my mind. Even so, I would have given the first half a 5/10 rating as there were some good bits, but so much was happening on the far side of a pillar today that I wasn’t able to engage with or enjoy the performance at all.

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Macbeth – August 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Eve Best

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 28th August 2013

Not bad for a first time director, though again the limited view reduced our enjoyment. We sat in a Gentlemen’s box on the right side of the stage, and from our position there were no entrances in sight at all. The stage had been extended forward with a semi-circle which had steps down to left and right. There were similar steps on each side of the stage near the front, while the pillars had sizeable steps set into their bases which allowed for climbing. At the back of the stage were some walls which looked like they were made of wooden planks; they jutted out into the stage and had jagged tops as well, which reminded us of a crown as well as a wooden palisade. At the base of the walls were small piles of mud or soil (detachable, as we saw later) and the walls themselves had muddy stains tapering off about half way up. The planks had been painted white, and were aged and weathered. The trunks of the pillars were wrapped in covers stained to echo this effect.

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The Tempest – May 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Sunday 12th May 2013

An early start on a Sunday, a missed breakfast, no sign of a Sunday lunch(!), a poor selection of food at our destination and weather that started off mild and sunny but got colder and wetter; it just shows you how a tremendously good production can make us forget our worries and cares. We left the Globe with eyes sparkling (and not a little moist) after one of the best Tempests I’ve ever seen. The performances were all excellent and there were some interesting and novel staging choices which I hope I can remember long enough to note them up.

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As You Like It – September 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by James Dacre

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Thursday 6th September 2012

I was reminded that this was a touring production as soon as I saw the set. A low wooden platform sat between the stage pillars, with a wooden crate centre front and a much larger box construction behind it, just in front of the balcony. I could see a door on the near side of this homemade portakabin (with the Shakespeare’s Globe logo on it) and I assumed there would be a door on the other side; I couldn’t see any obvious exits/entrances at the front. Four tall ladders poked up above this box, one on each side and two at the back, and there was some luggage sitting on the top of it – a trunk and a hatbox – which suggested the girls’ flight into the forest. A sturdy wooden post anchored each corner of the front section of the platform, and I could also see an old camera on a tripod on the far side of the stage, complete with its black cloth for the photographer’s head. There was also a small brass bowl just behind the near pillar, a wicker hamper lurking on the far side of the stage, largely hidden by the far pillar, and I spotted another box or hamper secreted behind the portakabin on our side of the stage. My eyesight wasn’t up to identifying a small dark shape beside the far front post – no doubt that will become clear in time. Nothing else was visible at this point, and the stage proper had been cut back to its usual size, with steps at each side and two lots at the front about level with the corners of the platform. The costumes were all late Victorian.

The black thing turned out to be the flash gun for the camera, but that came later. To begin with, most of the actors in the cast came out of the box from the portakabin’s side doors, apart from a few who appeared through trapdoors in the roof. They played assorted instruments, not the most harmonious sound, and sang a made-up song to introduce the performance. Touchstone also did a short speech as part of this, and even took a quick turn around the pit during it, which helped to get the audience involved. I didn’t catch all of the words, but there was a fair bit of laughter, so not a bad start.

During the opening song, the cast had brought on the wooden box from behind the portakabin, and I could see it contained apples. At the end of the song, the non-openers stood on stage holding an apple in each hand and gradually raised them up, presumably to represent the orchard setting of the first scene. As Orlando and Adam got the scene underway, the others placed the apples on the ground and left the stage, which allowed Orlando to pick up the fruit and put it in the box during the scene.

For once the dialogue was wonderfully clear and I heard every syllable of these scenes; since the portakabin blocked half the stage and the pillars just about did for the rest, hearing this play was our only hope. Old Adam was doubled with Touchstone, so not only was he wearing a hat and brown coat, he also had tremors in his hands to indicate how old he was. Orlando introduced us to his own situation, and when his brother approached from the pit they had a mighty tussle (behind the pillars) which Orlando definitely won – I glimpsed Oliver kneeling down at one point. Charles the wrestler also approached from the audience but he took a lot longer to reach the stage, using the pretty route to deliver most of his ‘news’. Oliver gave him a banknote as inducement to kill Orlando for him, and I noticed he kissed the rest of the notes before he put them back – mercenary or what? Charles took the hint, and I reflected that his career was almost over, given his promise to quit the ring if Orlando walked away from their fight. Oliver’s description of his hatred for his brother was nicely done and I thought it was worthy of some laughs; not so the audience.

Rosalind and Celia used the camera at the start of their scene. Rosalind was carrying a lily and was handed some grapes to hold in an aesthetic pose while Celia placed the camera on the platform to take her picture. Their conversation was also very clear and for once Celia not only came across as Rosalind’s equal, she was even stronger than her in this scene. When Rosalind suggested they fall in love, she sat Celia down on her knee (I assume she was kneeling herself to do this). Touchstone’s arrival changed the tone, and I could see that the women were keen to make use of his wit to cheer themselves up. Le Beau delivered his message, and then the stage was set up for the wrestling match by threading a rope through the eyes on the corner posts and drawing it tight. The women disappeared off and reappeared on the other side of the stage, Rosalind with a hat and Celia with an umbrella, presumably formal wear for ladies of rank attending wrestling matches. But they were all over the stage during this scene, and when Orlando arrived and stripped off his shirt, they were all over the stage in more ways than one. This Celia was definitely attracted to Orlando as much as Rosalind was, and it was touch and go as to which one would get to him first.

The wrestling took a while, and Orlando was definitely getting the worse of it for a long time. He was banged against the portakabin and fell over the rope onto the front of the stage but still managed to recover and get back into the fight, delivering some nasty blows to Charles and even kicking him in a sensitive spot when Charles was finally on the floor himself. Despite his wrestler being beaten,the Duke was very pleased until he found out who Orlando was. The Duke had taken a bag, which presumably contained the prize money, and was about to hand it over when Orlando announced his parentage. The Duke froze, kept the money and left soon afterwards, clearly angry.

Orlando then had his two ‘conversations’ with Celia and Rosalind. Celia was the first to congratulate him, coming into the wrestling ring to do so, but Rosalind swept past her and gave her chain to Orlando, much to Celia’s annoyance. Orlando, of course, was mute. With Celia beginning to accept that Orlando wasn’t for her, she and Rosalind left the stage by the front steps, getting almost to the exit before Rosalind came out with her pathetic excuse that he’d called them back. It was very funny, and with a courtier watching this going on, I was aware that these actions prompted the Duke’s banishment of Rosalind because he didn’t want his daughter to be led astray by people he regarded as his enemies.

Rosalind’s passion for Orlando was well expressed in the next scene, followed by the Duke’s anger and her banishment. The latter part of the scene was mostly hidden but they got the story across well enough, and again the planning of their flight showed Celia to be at least as strong a character as her cousin. When choosing their noms de fuite, Celia took a little time to get out the “alien” part, then hastily added the “a” to make it sound more plausible, which we found very funny. Orlando was likewise soon on his travels, with the faithful Adam as his companion; I think this happened before the first scene in the forest, but I’m not sure.

Moving on to the first forest scene, where the banished Duke could have been his usurping brother’s twin, we were shown Jacques (played by Emma Pallant as a female character) up on the roof of the portakabin, where she acted out her part while the First Lord (no idea who was doing this bit) recounted the story of Jacques’ musings on the injured deer. Emma spoke Jacques’ own lines for this, so we were familiar with who was playing the part before her proper entrance – a good move with such unusual casting.

I think this may have been the first place where an actor changed character on stage, with Duke Senior turning into Duke Frederick before our very eyes and finding out about his daughter’s flight. The text has the Orlando/Adam scene here – maybe, maybe not – then Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone turned up in Arden and the fun really began.

They were carrying suitcases and Touchstone was also carrying Celia on his back. Ganymede was in workman’s clothes, with a short, waistcoat, rough trousers and a cap, while Celia wore a plain frock. Touchstone was still in his lime green suit, a sight for sore eyes (to make them sore, that is). Corin and Silvius entered by the side stairs and sat chatting in the front corner of the stage on our side; to hide from them the three new arrivals crouched behind the suitcases. Silvius was wonderfully silly, while Touchstone’s comments on the folly of lovers came across very clearly.

After Corin took them away to the sheepcote, I think the next scene started with Amiens singing Under The Greenwood Tree; I forget the style, but it was very pleasant. While this was going on, Jacques sat front right on the steps, irritated by the noise and studying or writing in her notebook. Her discourse with Amiens was nicely brittle, and she gave the impression of being an unhappy woman who had turned cynical rather than being a cynic by nature. The short scene with Orlando bringing Adam into the forest may have come before the singing, but either way Adam was left propped up against the ladder on the portakabin roof while Orlando went to find food. I forgot to mention that, at an earlier point, some panels on the front of the portakabin were swung back to reveal a forest scene, with double doors for access to the stage.

Duke Senior returned to the stage which now had a picnic laid out on a blanket. Jacques also returned, all excited at having met a fool in the forest, and her description of the encounter was very well done. Orlando came through the doors, as I recall, and threatened them with his knife. He grabbed Jacques and held the knife to her throat, which made him seem much more ruthless than usual. He was soon persuaded by the Duke to soften his approach, and after he left to get Adam, Jacques gave us the famous “seven ages of man” speech. It was strange hearing it from a woman, and it gave a more observational flavour to the familiar lines. With Orlando’s parentage acknowledged, the scene was over and they took the interval, with Jacques hanging a sign to that effect on the portakabin door handles.

Act 3 scene 1 may have started the second half, or it may have happened earlier or later; I’m usually happy for directors to change the order of events, but it does give me problems writing these notes at times. The stage had been well papered during the interval, with sheets on the pillars, the posts, the doors, just about everywhere you could stick a sheet of paper. Touchstone sat on the portakabin roof for the first part of his chat with Corin, but came down during it to complete the scene. When Rosalind arrived, he made good use of the audience when composing the string of rhyming couplets; we joined in with “Rosalind” each time. When it came to “must find love’s prick, and Rosalind”, he introduced a long pause while he fumbled in his trousers for a rather squashed rose, then continued the verse; some folk had kept the rhythm going and said “Rosalind” anyway, but we also joined in at the appropriate time.

Celia and Rosalind’s conversation went pretty well and then Orlando turned up with Jacques in tow. The two of them were awkward company and Jacques soon left, which allowed Rosalind to confront Orlando and begin the reverse wooing. I saw very little of the action of this scene, but the dialogue was clear, and there were some laughs which suggested the reactions and business were good fun. Celia sat on the bench during most of this.

Touchstone’s’ wooing of Audrey was next, and again the casting was unusual. John O’Mahony was fine as the fraternal Dukes, but wouldn’t have been most people’s first choice as Audrey. The beard would have put off many a casting director, but once we got over that, his pretty frock and feminine charms completely won us over. Sir Oliver Martext was as drunk as a skunk and played very little part in the proceedings, staggering off the stage some moments after the rest of the wedding party had left.

Rosalind was very put out that Orlando had missed his appointment, and Celia was doing her best to convince her cousin that Orlando was indeed faithless. The encounter with Silvius and Phebe was good fun. Emma Pallant was doubling Phebe with Jacques, and she played both parts very strongly. At the end of that scene she changed into Jacques on stage and continued immediately to talk with Ganymede. I had the impression that Jacques was also attracted to this woman-as-man, and that her unhappiness at Orlando’s arrival was partly because he interrupted their conversation.

The second wooing between the two of them went well enough, with Rosalind being very changeable. They may have had a song in the interlude and then Silvius brought the letter from Phebe. After revealing the contents of the letter, Rosalind sent him packing just as Oliver arrived with the bloody napkin. I couldn’t see all of Celia’s behaviour at this point, but she was clearly taken with this new arrival. When Rosalind fainted, Oliver definitely found out that she was a woman, and Steve reckoned he also realised that she had to be Rosalind (he does know about the flight of Rosalind and Celia after all). I wasn’t sure about that part, and I also wasn’t sure how much Orlando knew later on, but that might have been clearer from a better angle than ours.

With a cast limited in number, William was unavailable for comment in this production, so they went straight into Orlando and Oliver’s conversation followed by Rosalind’s arrival. The quartet with Silvius and Phebe was nicely done, then they skipped the following song and continued with the Duke’s entrance for the wedding scene. Jacques had to miss the wedding, as Phebe was present in her white dress; in fact all the brides wore a similar dress – probably not much choice in the forest’s one and only bridal shop. Audrey was also present, as a life-size cardboard cut-out, and we really enjoyed her performance despite the lack of action. Touchstone carried her on and left on the right corner of the stage, then came across later to tell her to “bear your body more seeming, Audrey”, which was very funny. He also took Audrey off at the end to clear the stage for the dance.

With Jacques missing they dropped Touchstone’s quarrel routine (shame) so in no time at all Rosalind was back in her wedding dress, ready to marry the man she loves. The news about Duke Frederick’s conversion arrived, and with some slipping of coats on and off Jacques finished her part in the play, leaving the rest, including Phebe, to end the show with a happy dance. No epilogue.

It was a lively performance, with some interesting choices and a strong and clear story. There was also a good deal of humour, including some from the invasion of the pigeons! So many of them were landing on the stage that Touchstone had to chase them off before continuing with his lines. At some point he also encouraged us to keep clapping after some business or other; then he told us to stop, then to keep it up – it was all good fun. I would have liked to have seen more of the action, but we did get a good idea of the production despite our side-on view, and I thought the entire cast did an excellent job. There was more music than I’ve commented on, sometimes discordant, sometimes pleasant, and the cast’s interaction with the audience was very good. Their touring venues have been informal, from the looks of them, so presumably they’ve had plenty of practice.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Taming Of The Shrew – July 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Toby Frow

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Thursday 19th July 2012

Brilliant production! The whole cast were excellent, and the choice to do the play simply, with few fancy stagings but a lot of good business, led to a clear and enjoyable performance which the audience participated in fully.

The set was slightly revised from before. The triangle at the front had been chopped short, with a ramp leading up to the front edge from deep in the pit. The side stairs were still there, and the scaffolding had been replaced with a colonnade and balcony in distressed wood, with the tattered remains of white paint. The balcony backdrop showed the cityscape of fair Padua, except when it had a blue curtain and a deer’s head was hung on the balcony to represent Petruchio’s country estate. The furniture removal men were in full swing as usual, and the musicians wore natty red numbers while the rest of the cast were in appropriate gear for the time and place.

The musicians started proceedings with the latest entries in the mediaeval hit parade, but were interrupted by a rather coarse gentleman in an England shirt, who was obviously the worse for wear. Well, we’re not novices when it comes to this play, so we weren’t worried, but the stewards were, and they were having the devil of a time trying to get him out of the theatre. He broke away from one young lady after kicking her in a nasty place, and ran onto the stage; well, staggered onto the stage. The toilet humour continued with him pissing against the far pillar and then spraying the liquid around a bit, especially over one poor chap at the front of the crowd. After being accosted by a security guard (they managed to find one? Not using G4S, then) he collapsed on the stage and was pronounced dead.

Whispered conversations between the guard and stage manager led to the announcement that the show would have to be cancelled – we voiced our disappointment. Some of the actors had snuck on stage to see what was going on, and after some protests from the stage manager, proceeded to suggest that they could do the show anyway; it helped that the drunk had recovered enough to throw up on the stage, thereby saving himself from an early grave. The suggestion was made “What think you, if he was conveyed to bed…”, and we were into the induction, with us, the audience, being fully complicit this time in the deception practised on Sly. Later, when Sly was asking for assurance that he was, indeed, a lord, he turned to the audience, and we, shameful liars, all called out ‘yes’. (He did check with one woman at the front first, but presumably he didn’t believe her.) This was a good way to start things, as it got the audience very involved from the beginning.

When the actors were trying to persuade Sly – “O this it is that makes your lady mourn” etc. – they chanted the lines and then sang them. When Pip Donaghy wanted to deliver “O noble lord, bethink thee of thy birth…”, the others kept on singing the words after him, and he had several goes at telling them to stop before they all finally shut up and let him speak the lines unaccompanied. One other thing with this staging; when they were setting the initial scene for Sly’s awakening, one actor held up two framed pictures, as if they were on a wall. Later, these pictures were held up while they described them to Sly, along with a frame which an actor posed behind.

The actors already being on stage, the lines about their arrival and the arrangements for the play were ditched. A tall lad was chosen to play Sly’s wife, and after he persuaded Sly that sex would be a bad idea, they went down to the pit and stood at the front of the stage to watch the play. This lasted till the two young men started taking off their clothes, and with cries of “obscenity” (not in the text), Sly and his lady departed. No further reference was made to this sub-plot afterwards, thankfully, and it was good to see them sticking to the text as we have it for once.

To get back to the start of the play: while Lucentio and Tranio were introducing themselves and discussing their ‘to do’ list for their stay in Padua, there were various sober churchmen and the like sitting on the benches round the pillars, along with a refreshments seller. The two scholars on our side held small pamphlets, and when Tranio was talking about studying philosophy, he nicked one of the pamphlets to demonstrate his point. (He did return it.) The seller supplied him with two cups of something or other, and Lucentio drained his willingly before the line “Gramercies, Tranio, well dost thou advise”.

When the older gentlemen realised that Kate was coming on stage – I think there was some noise to that effect – they scarpered as quickly as they could, and the seller was so keen to get away that he left his tray behind. This was an early clue to Kate’s reputation, and her first appearance did nothing to change that. Samantha Spiro’s Kate was so feared by everyone in Padua that she only had to pretend to throw her apple at the men and they flinched. Bianca was good as gold in this scene, and Lucentio fell in love with her from the balcony, where he and Tranio observed the scene. The dialogue wasn’t entirely clear at this point, but my knowledge of the play got me through it OK. When her father slammed the door shut in her face, Kate stepped back and took a run at it, knocking it flat with a ferocious kick. Definitely not a woman to meddle with.

Gremio waved goodbye to Hortensio several times, keen for him to leave so he could disclose to us his cunning plan, but Hortensio lingered long enough to hear the details. He soon persuaded Gremio of their common interest – finding a husband for Kate – and they left together, while Lucentio and Tranio came down from the balcony and went through their routine. Lucentio was so far gone that he knelt down and kissed the stage – Bianca hadn’t even walked on that bit! He went further and further until he was lying on the ramp, and when he came back up to kneeling, his sword was in a suggestive position. I couldn’t see Tranio’s reactions to Lucentio’s idea that they could change places – sometimes he’s actually keen to do it, sometimes not – but this was when they started shedding their clothes and Sly and his ‘wife’ left.

The two lads went further than usual, mind you, with only their underpants preventing an indecency prosecution. When Biondello arrived (the former pretend wife), they explained the plot and exited, just as Petruchio and Grumio entered from our left and walked up the ramp to visit Petruchio’s old friend Hortensio. Grumio, played by Pearce Quigley, was on the slow side and took Petruchio’s instructions literally, hence the problems. I reckoned he’d spent too much time on the estate and wasn’t as street smart as Tranio. I also felt he hadn’t spent as much time with Petruchio as is usually suggested, which was supported by Hortensio’s tentative reference to him as “your ancient, trusty, pleasant servant”. Grumio struck Petruchio as he stood by the top of the ramp, Petruchio grabbed Grumio by the head and used that to knock at the door, and Hortensio appeared on the balcony to enquire about the noise. As Grumio staggered back towards the front of the stage, Hortensio saw him first, and then Petruchio walked out from under the balcony to be greeted by his friend; I think some of the dialogue was cut here.

There was the usual laugh when Hortensio described Katherine, pausing before mentioning “her only fault”. Gremio turned up with Lucentio in disguise, and then Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, arrived. As Tranio, he had an Irish accent but talked as posh as he could while pretending to be a gentleman. He was also wearing a wig, and while he wasn’t as ludicrous as some we’ve seen, he was sufficiently inappropriate to be funny. When challenged about his purpose in going to Baptista Minola’s he drew his sword on Gremio, who drew a sword out of this walking stick in response. When Hortensio joined in the questioning, Tranio turned the sword on him, and Petruchio supplied Hortensio with a weapon. With two swords to his one, Tranio soon became reasonable, and joined the confederacy willingly enough. Also, when Gremio declared himself a suitor to Bianca, Grumio snorted with laughter, a reasonable response in the circumstances as Michael Bertenshaw was playing Gremio with a serious stoop.

As they left, Bianca stumbled onto the stage, blindfolded and with her hands tied together. She tried a few steps, but didn’t get very far, and then Kate arrived, brandishing a bullwhip. She cracked it a number of times and Bianca was scared at first, but then she rallied and began to fight back. When her hands were untied, they really started brawling, rolling on the stage as they fought, but then Bianca saw their father coming along and fell back, sobbing. The cow! We weren’t impressed, and there was a lot of sympathy for Kate in this scene, but not from her father and certainly not from Bianca, who made all the usual rude gestures at Kate behind her father’s back, including biting her thumb (see Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 1).

The procession of visitors was funny, with Hortensio disguised by a beard, glasses and a pillbox hat, and Biondello carrying a huge stack of books which he could only just manage (and he’s a tall chap). Petruchio’s question to Baptista “have you not a daughter call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?” got more of a laugh on the question rather than Baptista’s stunned response, and the introduction of ‘Licio’ was quite funny too; I wasn’t sure if Petruchio had agreed the fake name with Hortensio beforehand or not. Everyone else left the stage to Petruchio and Baptista for the dowry discussion, and there was one bit of screaming and thumping before Hortensio reappeared, hat askew. The lute wasn’t wrapped round him this time, but a broken instrument was thrown out onto the stage a few moments later, accompanied by another snarling sound, so that we could see what he was describing. He looked pretty unhappy at his treatment, and for once I was aware that he was a gentleman, not used to acting like a servant and certainly not used to this sort of treatment, as he usually stayed well out of Kate’s reach. This incident got across what an unpleasant woman Kate is at this point, treating servants like punch bags.

Hortensio cheered up a lot when Baptista suggested he work with Bianca, and from dragging himself round the stage, he fairly skipped off to do Baptista’s bidding. Baptista was clearly keen for Petruchio to meet Kate out of doors – less damage to the household goods – and Petruchio readily agreed. When Kate arrived, and he turned to see her, their first look was clearly one of mutual attraction; he was stunned that she was so beautiful, and she was surprised to see someone she liked the look of. They both recovered enough to start their wrangling, and there was a fair bit of physical sparring as well. It all happened so fast that I can’t remember it all, but it included Petruchio holding her at arm’s length while she tried to hit him, and a game of chase round the pit, where Kate pretended to punch some of the audience members. Petruchio tripped her up as she came back up the stairs, hence the reference to her limp. When the others came back, I think they were sitting side by side on the stage, with her skirt partly over Petruchio’s legs (but I may be wrong). Kate was shocked and unhappy to overhear Petruchio’s excuse to the rest that she would “still be curst in company”.

The bidding for Bianca was enjoyable enough, and I realised that although the details Gremio is giving seem strange to us now, the value of these objects in those days would be much greater than we appreciate in our mass production culture. Earlier, Gremio tells Cambio that he will have some books of love “very fairly bound”, and from recent documentaries we’ve learned just how expensive such things were, so presumably the other items were worth mentioning as well. Tranio really enjoyed trumping Gremio at every turn, and we were sorry for poor Gremio when he could offer no more.

The wooing scene between Licio, Cambio and Bianca was good fun, with Bianca starting to assert herself more without actually appearing shrewish herself. She and Cambio sat on a bench to begin with, but moved forward to the ramp as their discussion progressed. During the music lesson, Licio strummed his lute after Bianca read each line of the gamut, which was funny.

The wedding scene was very good fun. We felt sorry for Kate in her predicament, and Biondello’s speech about Petruchio and his horse went down very well. He had the decency to rush through the long litany of the horse’s complaints, as none of us would have known what they were anyway. The comments ascribed to Tranio in my text were actually said by Licio, which made more sense with Hortensio being an old friend of Petruchio’s. Petruchio’s arrival confirmed the description of him; one boot was hanging off, his clothes were extremely tatty, and his horse was actually Grumio, with a bit between his teeth and a pair of coconut shells to make the hoof beats. Petruchio had a carrot dangling somewhere, which he fed to Grumio, and when he was asked to doff his clothes, he did. Off came the jerkin, off came the shirt, and off came the trousers as well. Fortunately he kept his well-padded posing pouch on “else we had been all shamed”.

Hortensio offered to supply alternative clothes; Simon Paisley Day (Petruchio) is a good bit taller than Rick Warden (Hortensio), and they put in some good business whereby Petruchio held his hand up at his own height and waved it over Hortensio’s head to indicate that the offer just wasn’t going to work. From our angle, we were aware that Petruchio’s cheeks were on show, but when he turned to go into the church there was a huge roar from the crowd. I didn’t hear all the lines between Lucentio and Tranio, but Gremio soon joined them, and his description of the wedding ceremony was as clear as I’ve heard before.

When the wedding party re-entered, I had the impression that Petruchio was figuring out his tactics as he went along. His initial declaration that Kate was his property was not well received by the audience, but he took his time between his descriptions of her, and when he said “my barn” the whole speech took on a surreal air; even Kate was a bit perplexed by the description. After that, we could see the humour of it, and there was even some applause as he and Grumio clip-clopped off to the sound of the coconut shells with Kate slung over Petruchio’s shoulder. The rest of the characters had obviously enjoyed the spectacle, and as they left the stage for the wedding feast, Biondello was at the back of the group and gestured for the rest of us to go and get our own refreshments during the interval. Almost forgot – the priest was leaning on Baptista during this part, after the battering he’d taken during the ceremony.

The second half opened at Petruchio’s place. Some of the cast brought out a long table, some plates, etc., and a large tablecloth. They never actually put the cloth on the table, mind you, though it went just about everywhere else – wrapped around one chap as a skirt, held up as a bed sheet and the like. They sang an older version of The Cuckoo’s Nest – not one we’d heard before – and it was a good warm-up for the audience. There were two chairs, one at either end of the table, with antler-shapes on the arms and across the back. With these and the deer’s head, the setting of an old-fashioned country house was well established.

Grumio arrived with the coconut shells, and after telling us how cold he was, called for Curtis. For once there was no great fuss about getting the work done; as Curtis kept reassuring him, everything was ready. For the fire, Curtis referred to a lit candle on the table – not much use I would have thought – but the fun was in Grumio’s telling of the story to bring us up-to-date which came across better than usual. The other servants arrived when called, eventually, and again the impression I had was of slower-witted country folk, similar to the servants in She Stoops To Conquer.

Petruchio and Kate arrived, and she was definitely bedraggled. He didn’t look much different, but then he was dressed so badly for the wedding who would have noticed? The water was spilled over Kate this time, due to Petruchio tipping up the table at the other end, and I noticed how Kate was becoming much more aware of other people’s suffering. When the meat arrived the servants loaded up the plates, but each servant who held Kate’s plate was distracted by Petruchio’s next instruction. Kate was at the far end of the table when she finally had a plate in front of her, and then came the grace, which took an age. The meat soon went flying, and the large joint was tossed between the servants, too hot for anyone to hold for long. Meanwhile Kate dashed between them, trying to get some meat for herself, a classic game of pig-in-the-middle.

Once they left, the servants cleared the food (there were lots of sausage rolls and bits of carrot all over the place), while Curtis snuck up the stairs to report on events in the bed chamber. We could hear ‘yes, yes, yes, YES’ from Kate, followed by ‘no, no’ from Petruchio. When he came out onto the balcony, he began his speech up there, but came down to the stage pretty quickly. No one responded when he asked for other ideas, not surprisingly. This can be a difficult speech, but this time I was aware that he was showing Kate her own behaviour, and giving her a chance to break free of her habit of scolding everyone. She was already well on the way, so Petruchio didn’t seem unkind or nasty in doing this; instead he seemed to be the only person who could help such a damaged woman.

Tranio and Hortensio entered for the next scene, both in disguise, while Bianca and Lucentio were up on the balcony. They indulged in some kissing, and then slid down below the railing. Various items of clothing were thrown over the rail to the stage below, while Hortensio revealed himself to Tranio by taking off his hat and pulling his beard up to rest on top of his head – very funny. Lucentio and Bianca reappeared on the balcony, still snogging, and finally Hortensio left in disgust. Tranio gave the couple the good news – they came down to join him on the stage – and then Biondello turned up with the sighting of a likely prospect to play Vincentio.

When the pedant arrived, he was more smartly dressed than most. Tranio and Biondello stood in his way at the top of the ramp, and although he got past them eventually, they soon had him hooked with their fake story. The table came back on with the chairs, and then Grumio tormented Kate with all the food she couldn’t have. He kept getting up to go to the kitchen for the food, then realising it might be “too choleric” and sitting down again. The final time he didn’t even move from the table before deciding against the food in question.

Petruchio came on with a whole roast chicken on a platter. He put it fairly central on the table, so it was just out of Kate’s reach when she lunged for it. He moved it even further off, then took it away altogether as she crawled along the table to get at it. She was kneeling on the table when he insisted on being thanked for his effort, and the expressions on her face were priceless; it cost her dear to thank him, but she managed to get a rather sulky “I thank you, sir” out after several attempts. With her sitting at the middle of the table now, and Hortensio at the end, Petruchio kept her distracted for a short time while Hortensio shoved most of the chicken in his napkin and wolfed down the rest.

The table was removed quickly to leave room for the tailor and his goods. Grumio was the model for the dress this time; I couldn’t see the ripping of the sleeve as he was behind the pillar, but the overall effect was clear. The tailor left with the remains of the dress, and Kate was lying on the stage, eyes closed as if asleep. Petruchio noted this and tested her with his reference to the time. Ever alert for a quarrel, she opened her eyes and put him straight, but to no avail.

The scene where Tranio introduced the pedant to Baptista was very funny, with the pedant having difficulty remembering his lines and being prompted by Tranio, Lucentio and Biondello behind Baptista’s back. With Baptista satisfied, and the rest heading off to continue their business privately, Biondello had the usual amount of trouble getting Lucentio to take the hint – Bianca, church, parson; how difficult is it?

Petruchio, Hortensio, Grumio, Kate and two or three other servants came trekking on to the stage, singing a farming list song. They’d obviously been singing it for some time on their journey, as it had quite a few animals on the list already – cow, sheep, etc. As they went up the steps below us, Kate was clinging on to people in the audience, and for her turn she came up with ‘pig’. They had some trouble getting the right pig noise out of her, and then Petruchio started on his moonshine nonsense. The servants who were ahead of them had reached the far steps and stopped for a rest; when Petruchio decided to return to his house, one of them came back while the other actually kept going! Don’t know what happened there. Finally Kate decided to stop arguing, and went along with whatever Petruchio said.

The real Vincentio came along, and Kate began to enjoy herself. She checked with Petruchio that it was indeed the sun that had bedazzled her eyes, and Vincentio joined in nicely by addressing Kate as “Fair sir” and Petruchio as “my merry mistress”, which was taken in good part. I did spot the plot discrepancy in this scene, when Petruchio tells Vincentio that his son is to be married to Kate’s sister and Hortensio confirms it – hasn’t he just agreed with ‘Lucentio’ that they will both shun Bianca? But perhaps a message reached them that we’re unaware of, and Hortensio has got over ‘Lucentio’s’ apparent betrayal of their agreement. (Shows how clearly the story was being told, mind you.)

Their arrival at ‘Lucentio’s’ lodgings was good fun, and although I missed some of it behind the pillars, I got the gist. The pretend Vincentio was wonderfully drunk as he leaned over the parapet to inform the real Vincentio that ‘Lucentio’ needed no money from a stranger, as long as his ‘father’ was here. The reactions of Biondello and Tranio were very enjoyable, and Petruchio and Kate withdrew to the bottom of the ramp to watch the fun. The revelations concluded, off they trooped to the feast, except Kate, Petruchio and Grumio. When Kate finally agreed to the kiss, she and Petruchio were about to indulge themselves on the top of the ramp when they noticed Grumio peering at them. They waved him away, and he slunk off to the stairs near us, where he craftily took a mirror out of his pouch, polished it and used it to check up on the loving couple, who by now were well into a serious snog. The audience responded warmly, both to the kiss and to Grumio’s sneaky trick with the mirror. Kate and Petruchio paused for breath (eventually) and left for the feast themselves.

The servants took a few moments to set up the stage with chairs, cushions and chandeliers, and for the first time I was aware that this is Lucentio’s apartments we’re visiting; it’s usually shown as Baptista’s place. One of the servants sat on one of the chairs and it broke! They brought a replacement, so all was well, and with the cast changed into their posh frocks, the final scene began. Kate and Petruchio lounged on cushions near the front of the stage, Hortensio’s widow was on a chair on the far side, while Bianca and Lucentio, as far as I can remember, were on the cushions on the far side. The banter was well done, and the ladies withdrew up the stairs and through the curtain. When the bet was proposed, the servants cleared the chairs and cushions but put a table in the middle of the stage for the money (and drinks). Biondello went through the curtains for the first summons, and while they waited for him they did the speeding-up clapping. He reappeared on the balcony, Bianca-less, and was sent back again for the widow. Again the clapping, again no widow. For Kate’s summoning, the men took no interest, thinking she wouldn’t come, but she was through those curtains like a shot. She held a brief pause, for the men to realise she’d actually turned up, before asking “What is your will, sir, that you send for me?” I always think that Kate must realise there’s something going on – the widow has spotted the same thing – and she’s probably prepared for the call before it arrives. The men were suitably amazed.

She brought the other women out, and we were at the last hurdle. Kate went into the speech promptly this time, and her delivery suggested a woman who was now at ease with herself and the overt position she has in society. She wasn’t downtrodden, she had simply broken free from her old ways of thinking, and her statement of wifely duty was quite straightforward. When she mentioned a husband being “thy lord, thy life” etc., she was looking at the widow, and Hortensio, who was standing beside his new wife, looked a little sheepish at first but then straightened himself up, as if remembering that he was supposed to be all the things that Kate was saying. And although it wasn’t emphasised as such, I noticed that Kate recommends obedience to “his honest will”, implying that there’s no duty to obey a husband’s every whim, but only those directions that are reasonable. Of course, it’s not so easy to handle the comments about women being all soft and cuddly and unsuited to toil when most of us have to go out and work nowadays, nor do those lines apply to the working women of Shakespeare’s time, but the use of Elizabethan costumes did at least allow us to shift perspective at this point and see those lines as part of that culture rather than ours.

The final act, putting her hand on the ground for Petruchio to stand on, was done with great loving, and I sensed an anxiety in the audience (including me) as to what Petruchio would do. He walked over to her slowly, and as he stepped in front of her he knelt down, took her hand up and kissed it, then embraced her with the line “ Why, there’s a wench!” It was a lovely moment, and suggested they would have a happy life together. With no need to go back to the Sly subplot, they could now go into the dance, and we clapped along, very happy with our afternoon. I left the theatre feeling elated, not something that usually happens with this play, and I would happily recommend this production to anyone.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Henry V – June 2012


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


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

Anne Boleyn – April 2012


By Howard Brenton

Directed by Rachel Tackley

Company: English Touring Theatre (based on the Shakespeare’s Globe production directed by John Dove)

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Thursday 5th April 2012

There was a lot of overlap between this play and Written On The Heart, which we saw this winter in Stratford. Both concerned the writing of the King James Version of the Bible, but came at it from different angles. Written On The Heart looked in some detail at the wider historical context of the changes in religion at that time, plus the theological and political wrangling that went on, while Anne Boleyn focused on the lady herself, and the way in which her likely Protestantism and possible involvement with William Tyndale may have contributed to Henry’s change of heart and the secession from Rome.  This was blended with a framing context of James’s succession to the English throne, and his use of the KJV as a way of bringing together the warring factions within the new Christianity. All of this with a lot of humour, plenty of lively action and tremendous performances.

The play started with some of the cast coming out and chatting with the audience, a much harder thing to do in a proscenium arch setting. In fact the whole performance suffered from being taken out of the Globe and thrust into a non-thrust environment. Apart from the stuffiness of the atmosphere in the Theatre Royal, the energy levels just weren’t up to the liveliness of the Globe, as far as the audience were concerned that is. The actors gave us plenty of oomph, and I suspect a 3D acting space would have made the performance even more enjoyable. Still, I’m glad they’re touring some of their work, as I think it deserves a wider audience.

Anne’s ghost then chatted to us for a bit, and her direct gaze and frank speech made her an attractive heroine for a modern audience. She introduced us to James, Sixth and First, before she left, and immediately we learned of his obsession with Elizabeth’s frocks. James Garnon played him as a very naughty schoolboy who just happens to be king, although his upbringing had made him shrewd as well as rude. He also had a stammer and a tendency to fart, and all in all it was an excellent performance.

The play then alternated between Anne’s story and James’s, with the bulk of the story being about Anne. We saw the beginning of King Henry’s seduction of Anne (or was it the other way round?), through the political attempts to have Henry’s marriage to Katherine annulled, to the final plot against Anne by Cromwell which led to her trial and execution. She also met William Tyndale a couple of times along the way, a speculative insertion by the author but not without foundation. James’s story started with his arrival in London, and combined his sexual romps with George Villiers with his determination to get agreement between the warring religious factions in England – the recently established Church of England, the puritans and the Catholics. Not an easy feat, given the intense hostility that existed between the groups, and so the idea of a new translation of the bible came along, a way of bringing the divided flock together. The play ended with a very drunk James seeing Anne’s ghost; he passed out from the drink leaving her to say her final lines to us, the demons of the future. It was a surprisingly upbeat ending to a very interesting and entertaining play.

All the performances were excellent; I’ve already mentioned James Garnon, and I will also mention Jo Herbert, who played Anne, and gave her all the liveliness, intelligence and passion the part required. But the ensemble worked brilliantly together, and only the deadening effect of the proscenium arch held my enjoyment back to the 7/10 level. I’d certainly see this again, especially if performed in a more suitable space.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Troilus And Cressida – September 2009


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Matthew Dunster

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 2nd September 2009

“War and lechery” is what this play’s usually about, and we got plenty of that today. We also got a good reading of the central relationship, and a running time of less than three hours for which my behind was very thankful.

The set projected forward of the stage again, with a curved edge. A narrowing channel ran from the ground level at the far side of the stage up at an angle almost to our side, with the slope allowing additional access to the stage. There was a square platform in front of the regular balcony, draped with cloth above and with curtains at each pillar below. The two main pillars were also concealed behind cloth wraps which made them look like, well, pillars, and the whole floor seemed to be covered with gray tarpaulin which had been painted with the odd bluish streak to resemble marble. It looked odd to begin with, but we were soon caught up in the story and the well wrapped set, with its hidden surprises, soon became an important part of the performance.

The unfolding of fabrics was a key part of this. While there were some armour storage solutions brought on from time to time, the main changes were brought about by drawing curtains, lifting up cloth to make the top of a tent, displaying a map of Greece, and using a long piece of green material to wrap around a pillar for Pandarus’s orchard. There may have been other things I’ve forgotten now, but the best bit was probably near the end. When Troilus comes on shouting about Hector’s death (Hector’s body is lying in the channel, with a decent-sized trickle of blood running down from it) black streamers fell down each pillar in the auditorium, simultaneously, and so abruptly that the audience gasped. It was a good effect, and overall it was one of the most active sets I’ve seen here.

The story was pretty active too, with plenty of sword fighting to keep us amused. Thersites’ initial description of the situation was illustrated with soldiers from both camps – Greeks in blue and Trojans in purple (makes a nice change from red). They didn’t fight, but did some practice manoeuvres (i.e. dances) instead. They didn’t hold back when it came to the actual battles, though.

The love story between Troilus and Cressida developed nicely, with Matthew Kelly as Pandarus giving a tremendous performance. I could hear every word and understood most of it too, even without the occasional lewd gesture to help it along. His own affection for Troilus was pretty clear, and I noticed how much he was concerned for that young man rather than his niece when the news of the exchange arrived. He made the most of every funny line, and was the best thing on the stage.

Cressida seemed a bit too lively at the start, running around all over the stage for no apparent reason, but at least this time we knew what she really felt about Troilus. As the story developed, particularly when she was first brought into the Greek camp, she came into her own and her vivacity and wit fell into place. I felt sorry for her, and I was very aware of a sense of menace in her situation in the Greek camp; she seemed to be looking towards Diomed for protection, and although she regretted being unfaithful to Troilus I couldn’t see what other choices she had.

Troilus was manly enough and not as silly as I’ve sometimes seen before. The Greeks were all fine, with the exception of Thersites, who delivered his lines in such a straightforward way that much of the humour disappeared. However he did add in one or two bits of his own, such as picking up debris from the battle and declaring “Trojan war memorabilia” then trying to sell it to the audience. Ajax was wonderfully full of himself, and it was good to see Jamie Ballard again, this time playing Ulysses, the crafty Greek who manipulates Achilles so well. These machinations were good fun, especially with Ajax strutting his stuff. I found Trystan Gravelle’s Achilles a bit wimpy myself – he clearly needed the benefit of his dip in the river Styx to be able to survive in battle. I also find that the Globe’s policy of letting each actor use their own accent contributes to the lack of clarity in the dialogue, as it not only takes me longer to tune in to a variety of accents, but some accents just don’t work so well in delivering Shakespeare’s lines. However on the whole the lines came across reasonably well this time.

The ending of the play was extended by having Pandarus give us a reprise of many of his lines from the play, as if from his grief and loathing. As he did so, the rest of the cast gradually came on stage with drums; in place of the usual dance we got a drum chorus instead, and very good it was too. Not the best production I’ve seen, but they kept the pace up and gave us a good performance.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me