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New Globe Playhouse

2004 Season

External view of the Globe from the Millennium bridge


The 8th season of plays at this splendid reconstruction of Shakespeare's own theatre, built on London's Bankside opened on May 7th.

This season's productions are:-

Romeo & Juliet

One of Shakespeare's most popular plays is being performed by a company of men and women players in an 'original practices production'. This means that the costumes, music, dance and settings are as close as possible to those seen by playgoers in Shakespeare's time.

The Master of Play is Tim Carroll who was responsible for last season's memorable Richard II, the justifiably successful Twelfth Night in 2002 and 2001's interesting modern dress Macbeth.

As always the performance I saw on the afternoon of May 13th began with an actor, this time with a colleague, asking us to turn off our mobile phones.  When he had finished, another couple of actors entered and started giving the same warnings.  This led to an obviously acted argument about whose turn it was to do the job, causing some groundlings to shout 'Get on with it!' School parties made up a vociferous portion of the playgoers, and it was a while before I realised that the characters' dialogue had become the opening of Shakespeare's play, a street argument between followers of the Montagu and Capulet families. During the afternoon there were to be several original effects like this that didn't quite work, often because the young audience didn't pick them up, or that they found them funny.

The actors playing the star crossed lovers in this production are young.  I have not heard of Tom Burke before. He plays Romeo with a youthful bravado, but an understanding of the verse. Kananu Kirimi's Juliet is innocent, passionate and beautiful, but her verse speaking doesn't convince - she's speaking Shakespeare's words, but I didn't believe they're her character's thoughts.

This is not one of the Globe's productions which strictly follows historical practice in which men play the female characters, but Juliet's nurse, a central, comic but crucial part, is played in this production by a male actor called Bette Bourne. I saw him last year at the Lyric Hammersmith in Shakespeare's Pericles.  In that modern dress production he played the chorus John Gower dressed as a school caretaker, introducing scenes very effectively and amusingly.  Here he was perfectly cast as Juliet's garrulous confidante. It would be easy to turn the part into a pantomime Dame,  but he gives a wonderfully comic, and dramatically true performance.

The Company is for the most part very good, James Garnon's Mercutio being suitably over the top.  Due to unclear staging, the schoolgirls near to me did not realise that he had been stabbed, and found his dying stagger around the stage funny. John McEnery yet again showed how Shakespeare's language can be made to sound as though the actor is making it up, not following a text four hundred years old. His Friar Lawrence is a rock at the centre of the action.

For the first time I was really gripped and excited by this play. I've only seen it once on stage, though I'm very familiar with it from other sources.  Gaynor and I saw it twenty-eight years ago starring Ian McKellan and Francesca Annis at the RSC in Stratford, and it left me cold. Despite the teenage giggling at the Globe, I hope that most of the young playgoers will remember this experience with the excitement and pleasure that I do.  I think they will.

Later in the season I saw this production twice more.  At the Globe the same company performed the play using the pronunciation of Shakespeare's time.  This took some getting used to at first, but soon it was obvious that this was close to how Shakespeare heard the words in his head, and how his first audiences heard them. It sounded so natural. David Crystal advised the actors on the correct pronunciation, and in 2005 he published a book on the production.  He explained how he decided how the original Globe's players sounded, and how today's actors came to terms with the very different vowel sounds.

Later still I went to the wonderful Hampton Court Palace. Built by Cardinal Wolsey, it was taken by King Henry VIII as one of his palaces after the cardinal's fall from grace, and Shakepeare's company played there before Queen Elizabeth in the Great Hall. I was lucky enough to get a seat in a makeshift gallery next to the 'stage' in front of the carved wooden screen of the hall.  I love watching actors close-to, and this was thrilling, even though it was the third time I had seen this production within months.


Much Ado About Nothing

After last year's wonderful productions by a women's' company led by Kathryn Hunter,  another women's troupe performs an original practices production. This year the Master of Play is Tamara Harvey.

I wanted to like this production very much, not least because Petrucchio was played by the wonderful comic actress Josie Lawrence, but I'm afraid it never really got off the ground.  It was OK but was lacking.


Measure for Measure

Mark Rylance played Vincentio in this original practices production by Master of Play John Dove. The company was made up of both men and women players.  This was a curious production, because it is not usually thought of as a comedy.  Rylance's Duke was as charismatic as ever, and introduced comic business such as getting a splinter in his foot and hobbling about the stage when disguised as the barefoot friar.  It was very entertaining, but Sophie Thomson never convinced me she was a vulnerable girl, and other graphic business seemed unnatural.

I saw the production again when it was broadcast live on the BBC 4 digital channel, and still enjoyed the experience, but I didn't feel I was involved with Shakespeare's characters as much as he would have liked.





Original Globe

  The story of how the original Globe came to be built
  The building - a plan and what the Globe may have looked like
  The excavation - what was discovered in 1989
  The Rose - The Globe's great rival playhouse, its star Ned Alleyn and owner Philip Henslowe

New Globe

  The story 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 latest

Globe Main

  Globe Playhouse top page

Recommended Books

  My list of recommended books about the Globe, Rose and other playhouses of the time may be found in the Globe Playhouse section of the Well Furlong Book Shop. 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.
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Updated 26th November 2004