The 1999 Shakespeare's Globe season celebrated the 400th
anniversary of the erection of the first Globe in 1599. Four
plays were again produced, but unlike the previous
two years when two Shakespeare and two plays by Shakespeare's
contemporaries were presented, this year there were
three Shakespeare plays and a new play in verse
and prose by Peter Oswald.
Peter Oswald is the Globe's Writer in Residence, and his play tells the
story of the mission of Saint Augustine in 597AD to convert the pagan English.
The first play in the 1999 season was Julius Caesar
and I had booked a middle gallery seat for the afternoon of 20th May.
For this season the director of the Globe, Mark Rylance had replaced the
modern concept of producer, with co-direction by a Master of Verse and a Master of Play.
Rylance himself was the Master of Play for Julius Caesar. The small cast was led by
Danny Sapani's Brutus who did not project enough authority in my opinion,
and Richard Bremmer's Cassius who is "Lean and hungry look" personified.
Paul Shelley's Caesar is younger than most that I have seen, and this makes Cassius'
description of their exploits together more credible; the soldier/politician rather
than the elder statesman.
The company returned to casting young men in the women's roles. I was impressed
by Toby Cockerell in 1977 playing Katherine in
Henry V, and he did a good
job here as Portia,
whilst also portraying a very young Octavius. Mark Lewis Jones plays an enthusiastic
The costumes were predominantly Elizabethan, but the conspirators donned togas over their
doublets for the assassination. The plebeians wore casual modern dress which allowed
them to mingle with the groundlings for the crowd scenes. This combination worked very well.
As ever the live period music is excellent, and I enjoyed the "Jig" by the
entire cast as a finale to the play.
I enjoyed this production, but looked forward with interest to Antony and Cleopatra
later in the season. When I heard that this was to be produced, I said that I hoped
Mark Rylance had found a strong enough actor to play the queen. I believe he did;
he played Cleopatra himself!
The Comedy of Errors
Now this is a very different kettle of fish to
Julius Caesar! The weather on the afternoon
of June 3rd was showery, but this didn't dampen the spirits of the large audience.
The Master of Play for this production is Kathryn Hunter who has worked for many years with
Theatre de Complicité, and this is a joyous, fast paced romp around Ephesus.
The costumes, music and atmosphere are appropriately Turkish, though the two leading
actors are Italian.
Unusually the two pairs of twins are played by only two actors. Vincenzo Nicoli
plays both Antipholus of Ephesus and of Syracuse, while Marcello Magni plays both Dromios.
This proved difficult to manage at times and other actors were brought on to play the other
twin on occasion, though a frantic scene involving Magni playing both characters while
spinning in and out of a revolving door was a reminder that farce is one of the oldest
forms of theatre. I am a Marcello Magni fan after his performance as Launcelot Gobbo
in last year's Globe production of
The Merchant of Venice
. Broad physical comedy then, amplifying Shakespeare's comedy for most of the
time. My only quibble is that occasionally the visual comedy masked Shakespeare's.
At one point there is a quick-fire patter episode between master and servant. This is
made more "interesting" by the characters playing a game of shuttlecock using
trays as racquets. I felt that the sword fight in which the duellists used glove puppet
fighting cocks as weapons was also a little over the top.
A production to please the audience then, but in that it certainly succeeded. And as
a member of that audience I was thoroughly entertained, without feeling that the Bard
had been betrayed.
Antony and Cleopatra
On Friday July 30th I attended the Press Performance of
Antony and Cleopatra and it was one of the hottest days of the
English summer so far.
The Red Company's second production this season, the "sequel" to Julius Caesar,
featured the Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe, Mark Rylance as Cleopatra
and Paul Shelley as Antony. The roles Master of Play and Master of Verse for this
production had both been given to Giles Block; he is responsible for directing
the action as well as helping the actors to speak Shakespeare's verse fluently,
and this was a better production than its predecessor.
So how did the all-male cast work, especially Rylance himself? Very well. In
interviews beforehand he and Block hoped that after the initial novelty, the
suspension of disbelief would kick in and the audience would accept him. I think
that hope was fulfilled for the most part; even though Rylance impersonated a woman very well
indeed and was a beguiling, exasperating, fickle, "serpent of the Nile",
one was always aware of his gender. But those are the parameters by which
we must judge the production, because it is the choice of the company to use an
all-male cast, and on those terms it was successful. It leads to surprising casting; Danny
Sapani played Brutus a few weeks ago, and is now playing Cleopatra's attendant maid
There was though one major problem, and that is one set by Shakespeare himself in the
text. He mentions Cleopatra's monument several times, and requires Antony's body to be drawn
up to Cleopatra on her monument. In this production the gallery above the centre stage
was used for this scene, but how might the Queen and her two attendants draw the body up
to such a height? Improbably a rope with block and tackle descended from the heavens,
Antony's attendants wrapped him in a sling, hooked him to the rope, and he was hauled up
in a very unladylike fashion by the "ladies" above. I'm afraid that the laughter from the
audience at this spectacle was lengthened by the problem that the Queen had in untangling
the rope from the block while continuing the dialogue with her dying lover. The impact of
this scene was also diminished by its being played in the gallery. It should be centre
stage. That is where Cleopatra's bed was for the final scene, which is also supposed to be
on the monument, and it would be unthinkable to stage it anywhere less prominent.
The only other major problem that I had was that there is still too much shouting and
gabbling by some members of the cast, making comprehension difficult at times. As ever
the live music was superb, as was the jig which replaces the conventional curtain call.
The costumes were Elizabethan in the main. The final scene of Cleopatra sitting upright,
though dead, decked in a golden robe and tall gold crown will live in the memory.
This was the last Shakespeare play in the 1999 season,
but the season ended with Augustine's Oak
a new verse play by Peter Oswald. This was rather too long. It held my attention,
but not any great admiration for its language.
of how the original Globe came to be built
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
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.