This year I took a vow to see no plays I’d seen before. To remind you, this is primarily because of the glut of Shakespearean shows currently clogging London theaters. Now, I could forgive am dram and fringe groups for wanting copyright free texts, but frequently I think the Bard is done by big houses out of laziness. Instead of investing money in getting new works on stage – in keeping the theater ecology alive – they waste A-list talent and opportunity (to get people watching theater) by sticking, oh, some famous TV actor in Richard III. Or Coriolanus. Or whatever. So I’m staging a one woman protest and NOT seeing Shakespeare this year.
With one exception: shows I haven’t seen before. And under this rubrik I agreed to go to the Globe for only the second time to see Antony and Cleopatra. The last time I went it was for a visiting company whose bellowing and capering put me off so much I left after about 10 minutes; this time I was finally going to see The Globe’s take on the bard, only not while standing because I’m too damned old for that (so 35 quid stall seats, ouch but my bad for not booking earlier).
To my surprise, bellowing and capering were once more the order of the day. No, I’m not just talking about the groundlings as they alternately sweltered and dodged raindrops; it was the actors making sure they could be heard in the back of the second balcony … of Saint Paul’s. Only it didn’t work: every time an actor faced away from me, I heard MRNNR mRRNF MRRff until they turned around again. From a third of the way around, I thought I was guaranteed good acoustics, but no such luck.
And this, really, was the end of it for me. At 9:45 I was actively encouraging Antony to stick that sword in his gut and casting around hoping against hopes that baskets full of asps would shower the stage … and yet there was still forty five minutes to go. I found myself wondering just what “historical” costuming looked like in Shakespeare’s time … if the Globe insisted in putting the Romans in slashed pantaloons and codpieces, then why were the Egyptians in white robes? I mean, if they are presenting themselves as doing the “full historical,” then why Eve Best as Cleopatra? Why not a teenaged boy? I did think that she was enthusiastic (perhaps a bit one note?), and Clive Wood was very believable as an old soldier (maybe a bit too old?), but I couldn’t help but wonder just who this show was aimed at. Does the Globe really just put on a season for tourists? Do regular London theater goers attend shows here, or are they actually making the pilgrimage to Stratford on Avon?
Meh. By the time the show let out, nothing mattered anymore. Tourists of the world, if you’re going to London, I’m going to have to advise you to see Shakespeare in Love and give this war horse a pass. Frankly, it made me grateful that I’m skipping most of Shakespeare this year: maybe next year I’ll go for a permanent ban.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 25, 2014. It plays in rep through August 24th: see the Globe’s website for details on dates.)