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.
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
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
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
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.
Coriolanus the yard plays a major part in this play.
Players mounted on black wheeled towers, each supported
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
full title of this new play by Howard Brenton is In Extremis:
of Abelard and Heloise. John Dove directed and Michael Taylor designed the production.
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.