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Shakespeare's Globe

2006 Season

External view of Shakespeares Globe May 2006


The 10th season of plays at this splendid reconstruction of Shakespeare's own theatre, built on London's Bankside opened on May 5th 2006. The new artistic director Dominic Dromgoole called this season 'The Edges of Rome'. There were three Roman plays and The Comedy of Errors which is based upon a Roman comedy by Plautus.  In addition the season offered two new plays by Simon Bent and Howard Brenton.  Dromgoole plans to make 50% of the productions in future seasons new plays, and had already at the start of the 2006 season commissioned Jack Shepherd to write a piece for 2007.

Frances Barber, Douglas Hodge and Jonathan Cake were the leading actors Dromgoole attracted to the Globe for the first time.

The season's productions are:-


The first offering of the season was Shakespeare's lateish (1607/8) Roman tragedy Coriolanus.  Dromgoole said that he would be 'the first over the parapet' by directing this production himself.

Jonathan Cake played the title role supported by Robin Soans as Menenius and Margot Leicester as Volumnia.

The production designed by Mike Britton employed Jacobean staging, clothing and music.  I saw the afternoon preview before Press Night, a bright warm early summer's day.

I don't know this play well.  The last production I saw featured Alan Howard at the RSC in the 70's, so I find it difficult to differentiate Jonathan Cake's performance from the character that Shakespeare created. I think that it would be hard to empathise with any portrayal of the Roman hero Coriolanus, but I also think that I should care what happens to him.  Here he acted like a whimpering, spoilt child as soon as his mother shouted at him.

I don't know Jonathan Cake, and was disappointed when I realised that the actor who appeared shouting incoherently a few minutes into the play was the star.  It took fifteen minutes or so for me to tune in to the acting of most of the cast.  Either they were too quiet to be heard, or their diction was so bad that I couldn't make sense of what I did hear.  After that tuning-in period, the speech became more comprehensible, and I was gripped.

The yard during the interval. Ramp can be seen at the bottom.I did love the production by Dominic Dromgoole, who looked on from the Gentlemen's Room.  Two gently curved walkways lead from either side of the stage each to an exit (you can see one in the image here), allowing actors to mingle with the groundlings in the yard. The citizens of Rome, the Plebeians, are in the yard chatting to playgoers before the play starts, and often return there so that when Coriolanus speaks to the citizens he speaks to a real crowd, rather than a handful of actors on stage. The hero's death is most effective.  Coriolanus stands at the edge of the stage and launches himself face down into the crowd where he is caught and murdered amidst the groundlings.  Aufidius triumphantly lifts a 'heart' above his head, and a large black silk sheet is thrown from the stage over the body and its slaughterers. Arms aloft spread the sheet across a large part of the yard and Coriolanus' body is carried out under it.

So to conclude, I have reservations about many of the actors - were they speaking verse?  But the production was very good indeed and I'm optimistic about the new regime at Shakespeare's Globe.

Titus Andronicus

In contrast to the first production, this is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays.  Some experts say that it is such a horror story that it must have been his earliest play, or that it was written in part by another playwright, but most disagree with that view.  It was certainly performed before the Chamberlain's Men were formed.  I wonder if Shakespeare was commissioned to produce a play to rival a popular competitor and went over the top! A raped, tongueless girl staggering offstage holding her father's severed hand in her teeth because her own hands had also been chopped off is not the subtlest of Shakespearean images.  In his time it was his first big hit!

This production stars the fine actor Douglas Hodge, is directed by Lucy Bailey and designed by William Dudley. Lucy Bailey produced the rather sunnier As You Like It at the Globe in 1998, which I remember with great pleasure.  Over the last couple of years I've seen a handful of plays designed by William Dudley and I have been impressed each time.  This time he didn't employ video projections, but he is the first to roof the Globe with net and canvas, dimming the playhouse rather than darkening it, and even on a bright sunny afternoon, enhancing the dark mood set by black cloth covering the whole back of the stage and wrapped around the two stage roof-supporting columns. Smoke billowed periodically from beneath the stage into the yard.

Like Coriolanus the yard plays a major part in this play. Players mounted on black wheeled towers, each supported by a metre square railed platform at stage height, were manoeuvred among the groundlings and stepped straight on to the stage, or entered from two ramps in front of the stage.  In the second half, a clutch of players burst into the yard shouting, two of them blowing into extraordinary horns curving up and then forward and expanding into the mouth of a baying hound.  Shortly a similar horn was raised from amongst the crowd but with the head of a boar and then the 'hounds' chased it out of the yard.  The raucous baying of the  hounds were part of the musical score created by Jazz composer Django Bates. That isn't a criticism - the drums, two-and-a-half metre horns, and abstract effects, all complemented the visual design to create a timeless but exciting atmosphere.

But would I come out whistling the sets - classic sign of a forgettable production?  Definitely not - this is loud, brutal, horrific but terrific.  Douglas Hodge's Titus was mad - not insane, but very, very angry about the way he and his family are treated by the young Emperor Saturninus (Patrick Moy), his Goth Queen Tamora (Geraldine Alexander whom I didn't recognise as the actress who played a memorable Ariel to Vanessa Redgrave's Prospero in The Tempest here in 2000), her brutal sons, and Aaron the Moor impressively played  by Shaun Parkes.  The final famous climactic scene in which Titus feeds meat from the baked bodies of Tamora's sons to their mother in a pasty ("Reminds me of Gordon Ramsey" remarked a lady behind me), and the subsequent deaths of most of the leading characters is bound to induce embarrassed giggling these days, but Aaron being carried out of the yard on his back above the crowd to his execution declaring defiantly:

If one good deed in all my life I did
I do repent it from my very soul

was theatrical in all the best senses of that word.


Antony & Cleopatra

Mark Rylance played the Queen in the 1999 Globe production of this story of 'Roman virtue and Eastern vice; past glamour and present squalor; transfiguration and realpolitik' as the 2006 Globe programme describes it.

"I look forward to Frances Barber's Serpent of the Nile with great anticipation. I'd say she is perfect casting.  Her Antony will be Nicholas Jones, whom I recall playing rather urbane lawyers rather than impulsive soldiers.  We shall see" was my preview for this production and both happily and sadly respectively I was not proved wrong.

The hot afternoon of 30th June started dramatically at the Globe with a playgoer being taken seriously ill just before the start of the play.  Dominic Dromgoole appeared on stage twenty-five minutes later to thank us for our patience, but there was never any sign of impatience from the Globe audience.

Forty minutes late the stage drama began and (with one exception) I find it difficult to say anything interesting about it - it was OK, I enjoyed it.  The production was very good, the actors were audible and the verse spoken well.

Before you give up reading this... the good exception to the rest of the review is Frances Barber.  She lit up the stage whenever she appeared.  Shakespeare has Enobarbus say that 'age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety' and Frances Barber's was an unrestrained performance of contrasts from girlish jealousy to violent rage.  When the messenger brought her news of Antony's marriage to Octavia she set about him, biting his face, and breaking a staff across his back.  She then broke into childish tears.  When she was with Antony she was as sexy a temptress as you will ever see - Frances Barber is a 'Morse woman'; a group which includes the most attractive and intelligent mature actresses of a generation. Her performance lifted the production from the 'OK'.

I'm afraid none of the other principal actors came within miles of the queen.  I keep going on about this, but I saw the RSC 'Romans' season in the seventies, and my enduring memory is of Patrick Stewart's Enobarbus.  He was a professional soldier saddened by the decline of his general and friend Antony.  I don't want to be personal, but can only question the casting of Fred Ridgeway.  He did what he could with the part very well, but he was not credible as Antony's comrade in arms.

And eventually we have to come to Antony.  I know Nicholas Jones from television playing a series of suave, public school educated lawyers.  He could never be described by Octavius as 'old ruffian'!  I cannot believe this character earned the leadership of a third of the world.  In three long embraces with his Egyptian lover I felt there was no passion. Likeable but not an Antony.

I recommended playgoers to see the production and enjoy Frances Barber, a Cleopatra to remember.

Like Coriolanus this too was directed by Dominic Dromgoole, who described it as 'one of the greatest middle-aged love stories of all time'.  Mike Britton also designed this production.


Under the Black Flag

The full title of this new play by Simon Bent is Under the Black Flag: The Early Life, Adventures and Pyracies (sic) of the Famous Long John Silver Before He Lost His Leg. Set in the Commonwealth era when England was led by Oliver Cromwell, this production 'featured bare flesh and filthy language'.  It told the story of John Silver and his crew of disaffected political radicals in the 17th century pirate republic of Rabat.  Roxana Silbert directed and the designer was Laura Hopkins.


The Comedy of Errors

Christopher Luscombe directed this farcical comedy of identical twins.  Sarah Woodward played Adriana.

Gaynor joined me for a hot sunny afternoon preview of this production which some critics have berated because it is played for laughs, and all but ignores the darker aspects of the plot.  Director Christopher Luscombe decided to demonstrate that Shakespeare could write broad comedy which is as comic as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or Up Pompeii or a 'Carry On...' film, and he succeeded with hilarious effect.

Kathryn Hunter's production at the Globe in 1999 employed just one pair of actors to play both sets of twins, but this time Andrew Havill and Simon Wilson played the Antipholi of Syracuse and Ephesus respectively, and their Dromios were played by Sam Alexander and Eliot Giuralarocca.  The masters looked very similar, but the servants wore identical silly black beards to make them look alike.  After all, it's important that even though no one in Ephesus can tell these twins apart, we must be able to!  At times Simon Wilson  reminded me uncannily of Monty Python actor Michael Palin, but that's exactly the style of the production.  Sarah Woodward's Adriana, the confused wife of Antipholus of Ephesus was very funny, and I couldn't get the Prime Minister's wife Cheri Blair out of my mind whenever I saw her.

We both enjoyed this production enormously, and so did everyone else in the Globe that day if the laughter and applause were to be believed.  I think Old Will would have enjoyed it too, so for me this was a terrific end to Dominic Dromgoole's first Shakespeare season.  All the plays have been successful, but have had a different 'feel' to them when compared to those of the Rylance years.  I can't say better nor worse, but different, without spoiling the unique Globe experience.


In Extremis

The full title of this new play by Howard Brenton is In Extremis: The Story of Abelard and Heloise.  John  Dove directed and Michael Taylor designed the production.





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 Edward 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 and Reviews of productions in previous years at Shakespeare's Globe.

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 23rd December 2006