New Globe Playhouse
The fourth season of plays at this splendid reconstruction
of Shakespeare's own theatre, built on London's Bankside
featured Mark Rylance in the greatest tragedy, and a Prospero played by
one of our greatest actresses, Vanessa Redgrave!
The productions were:-
... I have bedimmed
... a tremendous clap of thunder rocks the Globe, and the tempest-tossed
audience breaks into applause.
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And ´twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war - to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove´s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up
The pine and cedar; graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ´em forth
By my so potent art.
By Act V of The Tempest on the afternoon of May 18th,
the groundlings in the yard
have been rained and hailed upon, dried in bright sunlight, drowned again,
and chilled by the unseasonable wind.
When Prospero tells us that he (she?) is responsible for our discomfort
and is supported by the audible evidence of the elements, then who
are we to disagree? We do know that this Prospero´s magical performance has
been largely responsible for our delight over the past couple of hours.
In last year's production of the director of Shakespeare's Globe,
Mark Rylance played the Queen. In this season's first production
Vanessa Redgrave plays Prospero in The Tempest.
The ´Master of Play´ is Lenka Udovicki, who
was born in Belgrade, and the music by Nigel Osborne is heavily influenced
by Balkan folk music.
The play opened with sailors fixing ropes about the stage, unaware
of a small figure in white who had entered from the yard carefully
bearing a small paper boat. Suddenly the spirit Ariel (Geraldine Alexander)
dipped the boat that
she (he?) carried, and the sailors were thrown violently forward,
hanging on to the ropes. As she continued to ´play´ with the toy,
white face almost expressionless except for a slightly curious frown,
they were thrown in all directions. It was a very effective start.
Broad comedy usually works well on the Globe´s stage, and this
production was no exception. The comic trio of Caliban (Jasper Britton),
Stephano (Steffan Rhodri) and Trinculo (Paul Chahidi) interacted with
we groundlings to full effect. When Caliban bit the head off a raw fish, there were
gasps of disgust from the audience, repeated seconds later when he spat it into the yard.
Actually licking Stephano´s boots had a similar reaction. Paul Chahidi´s
Trinculo was a tubby bespectacled clown of great charm.
Redgrave was the calm centre to the confusion about her. I expected
a big performance, but an actor of her calibre doesn´t need
to bellow to command respect. Her speech style was conversational,
with a slight regional accent, but beautifully aware of the verse. Miranda was
played by Kananu Kirimi, who has never professionally acted on the stage before, and
Prospero´s love for his daughter was evident throughout.
Vanessa Redgrave is one of the greatest actresses of our time. I can´t tell
you what she has that the others on stage didn´t have; all I know is that
standing in the yard five feet below her, staring into her face,
I believed she was Prospero.
As the play drew to a close, and the heavens opened yet again (not the
canopy over the stage, but the sky!), I was entranced yet again by Shakespeare´s
rough magic, and wished for it not to end. When it did end though, I was glad
to meet Gaynor in the newly opened Tate Modern gallery next door to the Globe,
and go to the nearest pub, not for a beer, but for a hot coffee!
This is the fourth season of plays at Shakespeare's Globe, and
we have waited patiently for its artistic director Mark Rylance to tackle
one of the great tragedies on this stage. At last he portrays the
greatest of them all, the melancholy Dane himself.
New evidence from Dr Andrew Gurr suggests that Shakespeare's Hamlet first appeared on the stage
of the original Globe in 1600. On the
afternoon of Thursday 1st June I felt that I was experiencing something
like a playgoer exactly 400 years ago might have felt. He would not have seen
it so often as I have, nor have recognised a famous quotation in every other line,
but I did my best to get into his boots, and it was a rewarding experience.
The start of the play is heralded by a fanfare from trombones distributed around the
upper galleries, emphasizing the threat of impending war in the background
throughout this play, and the consequent suspicion and spying that thrives
in that atmosphere. The opening scene on the battlements of Elsinore Castle must literally set
the night-time scene because there can be no lighting effects here. It is two
in the afternoon on a summers day, and I'm sure that the little girl standing next to me
understood that the pale-faced man
in black armour was supposed to be a ghost. Shakespeare knew what he was doing!
More fanfares announced the arrival of the Danish court, dressed in
Elizabethan costumes. They are a very jocular lot, except of course for Hamlet in
´inky´ doublet and hose. For the past three seasons, Rylance's company
has cast young men to play women, trying to be faithful to the conditions of
Shakespeare's time. This has been interesting, culminating in his own very successful
performance as last year. I think it was wise to abandon the experiment this season. Joanna
McCallum is a very attractive Gertrude.
I was never sure how Ophelia felt about Hamlet. In her early scenes Penny Layden seemed to
portray her as a silly girl who merely enjoyed having a prince chasing her,
but her later reactions and ultimate madness suggest that she cared much
more than that.
Tim Woodward was a hail-fellow-well-met Claudius, and Geoffrey Beevers an ideal Horatio,
quiet and modest, but strong and dependable.
But what about Hamlet? I saw Mark Rylance play the part in the Royal Shakespeare Company
at the Barbican ten years ago. He was young and eccentric then, wearing pyjamas throughout.
Now he is older, and the pyjamas have been replaced by a nightshirt; well for the scenes where
he is feigning madness anyway. Under the nightshirt is a garment very like a nappy (diaper),
the rear of which he wags at Polonius on several occasions. ´An antic disposition´
is an accurate description; lying on the table kicking his heels in the air for instance.
His brutal treatment of Ophelia is shocking; he assumes a leering country accent when
he talks of ´country matters´. It is an exciting performance from the start.
I stood in the yard as a groundling leaning on the stage. The newly installed foot-high rail around the stage
is not a successful innovation. Two stools placed on each side of the stage front, and used on a number
of occasions by members of the cast were also not very helpful to us groundlings. I missed a large part
of the final swordfight because of Gertrude´s skirt. I´m not usually pleased to see Gertrude die!
But apart from this, and the shouting style of some of the actors, I would have
been happy to stand for much longer than the three and a half hours of this production.
I really did feel that Shakespeare had written the piece for this theatre.
When Hamlet described
this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament,
this majestical roof fretted with golden fire
he lay on his back and stared up at the stage canopy which fitted the description.
Hamlet. Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius. By th' mass, and 'tis like a camel indeed.
Hamlet. Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius. It is back'd like a weasel.
Hamlet. Or like a whale.
Polonius. Very like a whale.
Hamlet was pointing at the actual sky this time, and I like many others followed his
finger to judge the cloud shapes ourselves. The white clouds were scudding below a blue sky
and from second to second could have been described as any of those creatures.
The first time that the term ´groundling´ was used was in Hamlet.
At the point in the play when Hamlet disparaged
these excellent citizens, Rylance came to the edge of the stage and spoke directly to us,
to be greeted with boos from the yard, and applause from the toffs in the seats.
However we were not in Shakespeare's London, but at the start of the 21st century.
Mobile phones are a seemingly inescable curse in today's theatres, but at the Globe
passing helicopters are worse. During a bout of Hamlet's 'ravings',
Rylance strode down to front stage, and still in character, added an extra rave
against one such intruder.
As I said here three years ago, this is a living theatre, not a museum, and I
look forward to every opportunity to visit the Globe.
Two Noble Kinsmen
Another milestone for me, in that I have never seen this play performed.
It was printed
for the first time in 1634 as the work of Shakespeare and John Fletcher.
A tragicomedy based upon Chaucer's Knight's Tale.
This comedy was written in 1638 by Richard Brome (pronounced Broom)
who had been Ben Jonson's manservant. His other best known works are
The Joviall Crew and The Sparagus Garden.
The Antipodes is described (today) as a
"screwball" comedy about a young man Peregrine Joyless who
has been obsessed from childhood with a book called The Travels of
Sir John Mandeville, Knight.
This book was actually published in the mid-14th century and
fantastically reported the strange people and creatures in far off
lands: giants, woolly hens, the Gravelly Sea without a drop of water.
It had been republished in 1625, and audiences of Brome's time would have
been familiar with it. The doctor in the play, Hughball, who is more
like a modern psychiatrist, assures the lad's father that he can cure
him by convincing him that he has travelled to the Antipodes. Having
drugged him, he carries him to the house of a lord, Letoy, who has
his private troupe of actors convince Peregrine that he is in the
Antipodes where everything is the opposite of the London of the time
of King Charles I. The players present a world of honest lawyers,
poetic beggars, duelling women and aged schoolboys. Peregrine is so
horrified by this world that he grabs a stage prop sword and king's
costume from the tiring house and proclaims himself monarch.
This unexpected turn of events, as well as sub-plots involving
Peregrine's father who is mad with jealousy, unable to believe in the fidelity
of his young wife, and Peregrine's marriage which is still unconsummated
after three years, are finally resolved in an entertaining manner.
Many members of the White Company which earlier in the season presented
seem happier with this material. Even Mark Rylance, artistic
director of Shakespeare's globe, and a memorable Hamlet, enjoys
himself here as one of the players, and a bit part actor. He first appears
before the play to remove the board from the stage that requests
playgoers not to take photographs during the performance, and he also
warns the audience that the stewards have orders to remove members of
the audience using mobile cell phones, and to throw them in the Thames!
An over-complicated play, already slimmed down apparently, but
interesting and great fun at times.
of how the original Globe came to be built
- a plan and what the Globe may have looked like
- what was discovered in 1989
- The Globe's great rival playhouse, its star Ned Alleyn and owner Philip
of how the new Shakespeare's Globe came to be built on London's Bankside
in the 1990's.
Mike's Views, Reviews and Previews
of Shakespeare's Globe seasons from 1997 to the
My list of recommended books about the Globe, Rose and other
playhouses of the time may be found in the
section of the Well Furlong
If you so wish, you may go on to buy many of the volumes in our Book Shop
directly from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Updated 2nd January 2001