Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’

Mini-review – Antony and Cleopatra – Shakespeare’s Globe

July 31, 2014

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.)

Mini-review – Ormindo – Royal Opera at Shakespeare’s Globe – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

April 11, 2014

Less than a month after my unfortunate visit to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to see The Knight of the Burning Pestle, I was back in the side balcony for a stab at what I thought might be a more successful evening – a production of 17th century opera L’Ormindo (by Cavalli). Afterall, what I’d enjoyed the most about the last production had been the music (authentic Jacobean! this with singing by the Royal Opera!) and the playhouse itself (smells like beeswax!), so why not focus on the positives and see if a better evening resulted?

I’m pleased to say that even with a candy-floss plot, Ormindo was a charming evening, enhanced greatly by the decision to have the singers performing in English. (When I realized I might be heading for an evening of supertitles in a theater where half of the seats can’t see various areas of the stage, I got a bit worried.) I got to stretch my brain to try to follow along with the lyrics as sung – a big of a new experience for me – and I did well without a single crib note.

The performance was done tongue-in-cheek from the start, with “MUSIC” (you could tell because it was spray-painted on her robe) descending from overhead and giving us all a lecture on what a wonderful temple we were about to worship her in; it was clear that we didn’t need to get TOO serious about our high art. Our “hero,” Ormindo (Samuel Boden), competes with Amidas (Ed Lyon) for the love of Erisbe (Susanna Hurrell); the boys have a pectoral contest and even go for “my tattoo is bigger than yours” one upsmanship. Side characters complain about the local morals and are groped from the trap door; Erisbe appears on stage wearing a bed.

But the tomfoolery in no way indicated shortcuts artistically; the singing and musicianship were wonderful. I loved the (counter?)tenor duets of Boden and Lyon, and the harpsichord-led orchestra (in period costume) well-satisfied my Early Music ear.

And yet, still, after two hours, I took advantage of the second interval and made a break for it. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable, and the Farinelli-like presence of Princess Sicle’s nurse Eryka (Harry Nicoll) was a wonder to behold and to hear sing; but in some ways it had gotten a bit samey-samey. My bum had gone numb on the thinly padded benches, and since I’d just blown my sleep budget on a three hour long show the night before at the National, it seemed that going home would be the best thing. Still: I felt I’d got £40 out of what I did see; and when I got back to work I booked for two more shows there. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has taken a place in my short list of the most beautiful buildings in the world, next to the Pantheon, the Asamkirch in Munich, and the lunchrooms at the V&A; I plan to go regularly – but perhaps less on schoolnights.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014. The run ends on April 12th.)