New Globe Playhouse
The 9th season of plays at this splendid reconstruction
of Shakespeare's own theatre, built on London's Bankside
opened on May 6th
2005. This is Mark Rylance's final season as
artistic director of the Globe, and it is called
'The Season of the World and the Underworld'
For eight weeks at the end of
Troilus and Cressida
is being performed every
Wednesday evening using Original Pronunciation
The season's productions are:-
I was sure that
this year we would see Rylance play Iago, because
Othello is the single great tragedy not yet presented at
the new playhouse, and Ian McKellan has proved that the
deceptive ensign to the Moor can be the central
character of the play. Strangely this season presents
two plays that have been seen before at the Globe.
Vanessa Redgrave played Prospero in one of the
most memorable productions at the Globe, but this year
there is a new production of
The Tempest with Mark Rylance
as the usurped Duke with magical powers. Perhaps,
it is his way of laying down his staff and relinquishing
In an open rehearsal of the production at the Globe on 5th
May we saw the company work on part of the final scene,
and it took a while for me and others around me to work
out what was going on. The Globe web site confirms
however that Mark Rylance playing Prospero is joined by
two actors portraying Ariel and Caliban, but all three
are also playing the other characters in the play.
They are joined by three dancers whom I interpreted as
spirits of the island, and six unaccompanied singers. In
the photograph of the set above you can see the centre
of the stage in which a noose hangs over a chess board
in front of a stool/table. The rehearsal process
was fascinating, and in spite of it being the day before
the first performance it seemed, surprisingly to me,
A week later I returned to
the Globe to see the finished production at an afternoon
performance. The programme reveals that Mark
Rylance asked the Master of Play, Tim Carroll: 'Do you
fancy doing The Tempest with three actors?'
He instinctively answered 'Yes', but on thinking about
it he realised that the play has a trinity at its very
heart. Prospero controls the opposing forces of
Ariel and Caliban, air and earth, or spirit and soul.
But every character in some way represents an element in
Prospero's struggle, albeit played out in different
modes. Prospero's daughter Miranda, the innocent,
versus the earthy Ferdinand, Antonio and Gonzalo and so
on. Throughout most of the play this works very
well, as it is written as a series of unconnected little
dramas, each group of characters believing that their
fellows have perished in the tempest. In the final
scene that I saw rehearsed, things get more complicated
when everything is explained and all the characters are
on stage together. Mark Rylance seems to be
jumping around the stage facing left and right, trying
to play both sides of a series of duologues!
Rylance is very well supported by Edward Hogg playing
Ariel/Miranda, and by Alex Hassell as Caliban/Ferdinand.
Carroll sees the three leather clad female dancers as
the Fates rather than spirits, as Prospero is at their
mercy just as the other characters are, but they add
interest and grace to the staging throughout. When
the clowns Stefano and Trinculo find beautiful robes and
put them on, here they wrap the dancers around
themselves, an outstretched leg representing a train.
The dancers also perform the Iris/Ceres tableau to the
unaccompanied voices of the Muses, who sit above the
action throughout. The contemporary songs of
Robert Johnson, Michael Maier and Guillaume de Machaut
sung by six voices complemented the magical atmosphere
of the whole production.
Most plays seen at the Globe for the last eight years
have finished with a 'jig'. Often the audience has
started to applaud at its start, then realised that it
was going to continue for a while and wasn't a 'curtain
call' then started to clap in time with the music and
then finally applauded the cast at the end. Generally
they were confused. At the end of this performance
the cast took a 'curtain call' at the end to very
enthusiastic appreciation from the full house, but Mark Rylance silenced the applause to explain that it was the
custom here as in Shakespeare's time for the players to
perform a jig, and this they did accompanied by the
'Muses', now with the percussionary assistance of tabors
and sticks to even greater applause.
This production, sadly probably the last in which we
shall see Mark Rylance at the Globe, was sometimes
confusing, but was a joyous afternoon, as have been most
of my visits during his reign as Director of
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
My first experience of this play was at the Lyric
Theatre in London's Hammersmith in September 2003 in a memorable production
by Neil Bartlett featuring Will Keen as the prince.
Bette Bourne played the narrator John Gower as a
grumpy school janitor illustrating the prince's travels
on a blackboard.
I saw a preview
in which Corin Redgrave played Old Pericles, but
on 9th June the
65 year old actor had a heart attack and is unable to
finish the season. Mark Rylance
took over the role until a replacement could be found,
but the Globe stalwart and fine actor John McEnery has
now assumed the role for the rest of the season..
This production is by Kathryn
Hunter and she promised it would be 'a visual
spectacle' with 'aerialists'. Kathryn Hunter
Richard III and Kate in
The Shrew here in 2003 and was Master of Play for
A Comedy of Errors in 1999. The latter was an
entertaining romp, so I looked forward with interest to her interpretation of Pericles.
interesting it turned out to be. "You came here
for Art? We do Life here, not Art" said Patrice
Naiambana's John Gower soon after the interval.
I knew that this was not going to be an original
practices production, but the jazz music being played
before the play, and the steel lift (elevator) doors
across the central entrance prepared me for the
appearance of the 1940's-style, besuited story-teller
John Gower. Hunter has based the character on the figure
of the griot, who in many West African societies
is musical bard, family counsellor, historian and more.
More unusually, Gower brings on stage with him Old Pericles, played by
Corin Redgrave. For the first half of the play
while Young Pericles, played by Robert Lucksay, makes
the decisions, advisedly or not, that will decide his
and his family's future, the old king weaves in
and out of the action, shouting 'No, don't do it!' to
his younger self, and Gower tells him, that it is
The first half relies
mostly on spectacle and action. Ropes hang from
the Heavens and more hang from the galleries.
These are used by 'aerialists', never to more effect
than in the storm scene in which Young Pericles and his
crew carry two long bamboo boughs linked at the front to
resemble a ship's bow, with sails above, to fight the
'sail' the 'ship' to the middle of the yard on the
platform which extends the stage into the midst of the
groundlings. The scene ends with a beautiful and moving
tableau as the sailors half way down the ropes above the
prostrate king appear to be floating bodies as he is
swept ashore on the platform. This is thrilling theatre,
but not Shakespeare.
the first nine scenes of the play aren't Shakespeare.
They are believed to have been written by George
Wilkins, and in the second half Hunter relied more on
the Shakespeare written text for effect. The playgoers,
though fewer than I can remember for a long time at a
preview matinee, were involved right to the end, and
gave the players a sincere ovation during and after the
jig that traditionally ends Globe productions.
It was well acted and exciting,
though as in her earlier production here, she sometimes
lets the slapstick comedy overstay its welcome. A
martial arts fight between Young Pericles and Simonides
played by Marcello Magni, whom I always enjoy seeing,
goes on for far too long. The acting is generally
fine, though it took me time to get used to the African
accent of Gower, and the slight Slovakian accent of
Young Pericles actor Robert Lucksay. I have to
admit that I have a problem with Corin Redgrave. I
saw his father Sir Michael once on stage, though
countless times on film, and he was wonderful.
I've seen his sister Vanessa
here at the Globe, and throughout my life on stage,
TV and film, and she is one of the greatest actors of
our time. Corin has started to come to prominence
in the last few years, and I've seen him on stage in
Pinter, but I'm not convinced. In this production or in
any other. The centre of this piece was Patrice
Naiambana as Gower, and he conducted the proceedings
with humour and presence. As always at the Globe,
the music was first class effectively supported by
Gower's own improvisations on the one stringed goge.
So far this year we've seen two
interesting interpretations of Shakespeare' plays which
are good to watch, but concentrate on the producers'
views of the plays. I wonder if we'll see a
production that trusts Shakespeare to talk to us.
The Winter's Tale
This play was performed in the Globe's first full season
in 1997. I am more
familiar with the play now than I was then, but I looked
forward to a better production this time.
On the afternoon
of 9th June it
was warm and sunny - a perfect Globe day - as long as
you wore a hat to shade your eyes. The canopied stage is
in the shade and the early afternoon mid-summer sun is
high above and behind it, dazzling playgoers. I had
brought my Globe baseball cap which I wouldn't wear
anywhere else because I feel I look silly! The Globe
provides a free cardboard cap with a peak,
and that is what the middle aged ladies next to me wore.
This was their first visit and they loved the
atmosphere, but wished that they had known to hire a
cushion and backrest as I had. Shakespeare's Globe
is an authentic replica of the original, and modern
playgoers find unupholstered wooden benches
uncomfortable, especially after three hours.
This is an original practices
production, though with both men and women players, and
John Dove, who directed last season's
Measure for Measure is Master of Play. There are no
star players here. Yolanda Vazquez as Hermione and
Penelope Beaumont as Paulina both commanded the
attention, but Paul Jesson's Leontes shouted his way
from one extreme mental state to the next without
engaging any emotion from me at all. Juliet
Rylance in her first season
at the Globe was a charming Perdita. I understand that
she is Mark Rylance's step-daughter. Roger Watkins' Old
Shepherd was very good. I enjoyed the play and I believe
most of my fellow playgoers did too, though overheard
remarks suggested that they were finding it very
difficult to follow the plot - after all, most people
have never seen or read the play. Part of the
responsibility may fall on some players. After the
early long scene in which Leontes first suspects his
wife of being unfaithful and ends with him charging
Camillo to poison Polixenes the supposed lover, the last
two characters return alone on stage and Camillo warns
his victim of his danger. During his explanation there were
surprised gasps from many in the audience who presumably
hadn't understood what they had heard in the previous
I'm afraid one of the eagerly anticipated
moments in any production of this play is how the
deal with Shakespeare's, if not all Drama's, most famous
stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear". In the
programme John Dove says that during rehearsal he hadn't
decided how to present it, and I think finally he
decided to go for a laugh, which is a pity because the
character pursued, Antigonus, is a sympathetic character. First a bear's paw
grabs at him from the trap in the middle of the stage
and then the old man runs backward terrified to the
curtain where the paw reaches around the curtain to grab
him by the neck and drag him out of sight. I couldn't help
recalling Eric Morecombe! Other playgoers tittered
Hermione's transformation from
supposed statue to life in the final scene of the play
is also fraught with dangerous giggle potential. The
queen's statue mounted on a small platform was dragged
on to the stage, and to much astonishment on stage comes
to life. This final scene is ambiguous in the text in
that although the queen talks to her newly found
daughter Perdita, she does not speak to the husband who
accused her so cruelly sixteen years earlier.
Leontes tries to make amends to Paulina for the loss of
Antigonus by marrying her off to Camillo, without
a word from either of them. Is this a happy ending? John
Dove recognises these ambiguities in the programme, but
the production ends with a courtly dance in which the
couples appear to be in perfect harmony and accord.
All Globe productions end with a 'jig', but this appears
to be part of the play; the actors are still in
So I'm not enthusiastic about this production then?
Enthusiastic no, but I enjoyed it, and the playgoers'
response was very good. I think that with a little more
thought and less bluster this could have been very good
indeed. I am slightly disappointed that after two
modern interpretations which didn't allow Shakespeare to
speak for himself, in this production where he could
have done, he was let down. I asked the lady next to me
if she had enjoyed it, but all she would say was that
she had been too hot.
A new adaptation of Plautus' comedy by Peter Oswald who
was responsible for
Augustine's Oak and
The Golden Ass.
If you read my reviews of those plays you will
understand why I haven't booked a seat to see this
The reviews in the press agree that this
is a hugely enjoyable romp, but my only regret is that I
won't be seeing Mark Rylance in his final production as
Troilus and Cressida -
announced, enigmatically as one of the 'Persephone
Projects', the rarely performed
Troilus and Cressida was presented using the
pronunciation of Shakespeare's time. I looked
forward to this production originally because I haven't
seen the play on stage since I was surprisingly cast as
Hector in my final year at senior school in 1965. Last
season's weekend of Original Pronunciation performances of
Romeo and Juliet proved that the plays can gain
tremendously from being heard in accents closer to those
that Shakespeare heard in his head and on stage.
And recently I have read David Crystal's book called
Pronouncing Shakespeare which is a journal
describing the course of that weekend from inception
through rehearsal to audience and cast reactions. So I was looking forward to
this performance, but was rather disappointed.
think that the problems of the production were
symptomatic of those of the season as a whole, in that
ideas, individually justified, were piled on top of each
other making a difficult play much more difficult to
understand. To start with this is not one of the
Bard's most popular plays, and most of the audience
didn't know the story beforehand. This makes a
clear production more necessary than when producing
Romeo & Juliet say or Othello. It wasn't popular in
Shakespeare's day either - it may never have been
performed in public. Not the best material to start
playing games with. I have no problem with modernish
dress, but the anachronisms inevitably introduced often
distract this playgoer. At the end of Achilles'
sword fight with Hector, Achilles draws a pistol and
shoots him! The casting is 'multigender' - the
Trojans were cast to their characters' genders and ages,
including Philip Bird as an heroic and admirable Hector, and
Julia Rylance a lovely Cressida. On the other hand the
Greek leaders Agamemnon, Ulysses, Aeneas and Nestor were
played by young women, whereas greying actors in their
sixties play the Greek heroes Ajax and Achilles.
As in her male characters in previous seasons one can
never forget that Penelope Beaumont is a women, but she
is convincing as Ulysses. Some of the other elderly male
impersonations were just comic, and I was never sure if
they were meant to be.
on top of that was added the Shakespearean
pronunciation. As predicted in the programme one
becomes used to it very quickly, and it can make
seemingly unfunny jokes understandable, but only if all
the actors speak clearly. I felt that I couldn't
have understood some of the actors at times if they had
been speaking in modern English!
With each new distraction
heaped on the last, this was made into hard work.
I should like to hear many more Original Pronunciation
versions of the plays, but I believe that they should be
productions, at least in that the
costumes are of Shakespeare's time.
I do hope that the Globe,
under its new director Dominic Dromgoole will be brave enough to let
Shakespeare speak for himself.
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 Edward 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 and Reviews of
productions in previous years at Shakespeare's
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.