The Two Noble Kinsmen

Co-written with John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen is one of Shakespeare’s last plays, and is something of a curiosity, not seeming to fit in to any particular type or style. This production at the Globe is the first by director Barrie Rutter since he stepped down from his role at Northern Broadsides, and Rutter brings his unique style to this rather odd play.

Palamon (Paul Stocker) and Arcite (Bryan Dick) are two cousins captured in battle; swearing undying devotion, they soon develop a rivalry for the affections of their captor King Theseus’ sister-in-law Emilia (Ellora Torchia). One is banished and one escapes, but they contrive to meet again and end up literally fighting for Emilia’s affections.

The play works well as a commentary on toxic masculinity: Emilia is seen as a prize to be won, sighing as she is informed that whoever loses the fight will die for love of her. Meanwhile the closeness between the two kinsmen is destroyed by their desire for the same woman.

Francesca Mills steals every scene she’s in as the jailer’s daughter who helps Palamon to escape, having fallen in love with him only to be ignored. A fine display of Morris dancing, choreographed by Ewan Wardrop, closes the first half.

It’s certainly a strange play but this production is well worth seeing.

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As You Like It

Honestly, I don’t even like As You Like It. I’ve long been aware that it’s one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays. However, knowing that the Globe Ensemble were performing this alongside Hamlet, I couldn’t resist going along to see what they made of it.

The Ensemble, which rehearse, as they would have done in Shakespearean times, without a director, have taken the same approach here as they did with Hamlet: minimal set, gender-blind casting, and a focus on the text.

Here we have a fierce Orlando played by Bettrys Jones, so good as Laertes in Hamlet; we also have a Rosalind played by Jack Laskey, leading to the delightful conceit, when Rosalind disguises herself as Ganymede, of having a man playing a woman playing a man (of course, this is the way it would have been in Shakespeare’s time, too). Nadia Nadarajah plays Rosalind’s cousin Celia, and is a revelation: once again, as in Hamlet, speaking only via sign language, she nevertheless makes herself comprehensible to the entire audience.

Pearce Quigley takes on the role of Jaques, bringing his unique brand of physical comedy to the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech. James Garnon, who played Jaques the last time I saw this play at the Globe, has a number of smaller roles including that of Audrey, which he makes the most of.

The lack of a set does not prove a hindrance: for instance, the cast demonstrate the switch from the Forest of Arden to the Duke’s court by the simple method of switching cloaks, a highly amusing move.

Michelle Terry proves herself an unselfish artistic director: she might be playing Hamlet, but in As You Like It she contents herself with small roles, which she does full justice to. Most fascinating is her role as the messenger who interrupts the nuptial celebrations at the end of the play to bring the good news of Duke Frederick’s retirement to a monastery – she enters clad in black, suspiciously resembling Hamlet, thus forging an unexpected link between the two plays.

As You Like It will never be one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but I did still enjoy this production, which has a lot to offer.

Hamlet

Michelle Terry begins her stint as the Globe’s Artistic Director with a production of Hamlet in which she plays the title role. I have to admit to being one of those people who wasn’t keen on Emma Rice and was happy when it was announced that she was leaving; even happier when Terry was announced as her successor. Therefore I was favourably disposed towards this production before I even saw it.

Gone are the lights, pop music and other gimmicks. There are few props, and no set to speak of. Instead, there are just the actors, and Shakespeare’s words. This is a back-to-basics production, with the cast more or less in traditional dress (except for Terry’s rather wonderful clown costume and the clothes of the players, which are, intriguingly, modern-day). It’s truly gender-blind, too. Terry of course plays Hamlet, angry and compelling, commanding the stage whenever she is on it. But we also have a man as Ophelia: a brave choice that drew initial sniggers from the audience but soon became accepted thanks to Shubham Saraf’s wholehearted and sympathetic performance. In contrast, Laertes is played by the fiery Bettrys Jones.

It’s great to see some of the old Globe regulars back, including James Garnon, a thoughtful Claudius, and Pearce Quigley, an excellent Rosencrantz opposite Nadia Nadarajah’s Guildenstern – an inspired choice as all of her speeches are performed in sign language, with Rozencrantz speaking them for the benefit of the audience, and other characters signing back to her. What I loved the most, however, was the confidence in Shakespeare’s language that was missing from the previous regime. The audience were swept along with the plot and it was simply joyous.

Hamlet is performed by the new ‘Globe Ensemble’ which gives me confidence that further productions will follow a similar pattern. For the first time in a while, I feel confident about the future of the Globe.

The Captive Queen

I always look forward to seeing plays in the Globe’s beautiful Jacobean playhouse, and I was intrigued also to see this modern take on John Dryden’s 1675 Restoration drama Aureng-zebe. Renamed The Captive Queen, Barrie Rutter’s production, a co-production with Northern Broadsides, sets the action of Dryden’s Mughal Indian epic in a northern English mill. The story follows an emperor (Barrie Rutter) who falls in love with Indamora (Neerja Naik), the captive queen of the title, causing conflict with his two sons, the heroic Aurangzeb (Naeem Hayat) and the younger Morat (Dharmesh Patel).

At first shocked to see the gorgeous wood of the Playhouse covered in imitation grey brick, I soon grew used to the setting. In some ways the updated setting really worked: characters clocking in and out at the beginning and end of the play, swathes of coloured fabric hung or dropped from the gallery to demonstrate which factions were in power at any one time. In other respects, though, the setting didn’t quite gel for me, and I wonder if more could have been made of it. I enjoyed the atmospheric and beautifully-performed music from composer Niraj Chag, too, but I wasn’t sure about the musicians taking up a third of the stage during most of the production.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the production. Dryden’s language of rhyming couplets is easier to follow outright than Shakespeare’s. Though it has the disadvantage of potentially sounding unnatural, I thought the cast did a great job. There were some great comedic scenes, particularly those involving the Emperor and his wife Nourmahal (Angela Griffin), as well as moments of pathos, such as the scenes involving Arimant (Silas Carson), the servant whose devotion to Indamora is destined to be unrequited. The plot could be hard to follow at times, but the swathes of fabric did help!

Overall, I found The Captive Queen to be an accessible and amusing version of Dryden’s work, and one which I would definitely recommend.

Boudica

After not going to the Globe all year, I eventually gave in and decided to pay one visit. Not to a Shakespeare play, but to a new play by Tristan Bernays, Boudica, about the legendary Briton who led a campaign against the Romans many years ago.

Set in AD61, the story begins when Boudica’s husband dies and his kingdom in modern East Anglia, which should rightfully pass to Boudica and her children, is appropriated by the Romans. When the queen attempts to challenge this, she is flogged and her daughters are raped. Boudica seeks out other local tribal kings in order to put together an army to rebel against the Roman invaders.

The play has many of the ingredients that make a successful Globe play: satisfying battles, rousing speeches, a good story and a bit of audience involvement. While there’s some effective use of lighting in the battle which closes the first act, overall I missed the shared lighting of the old Globe, and I think the audience would have become drawn into the play even more had it still been in place. I loved the mix of old and new in the play: there are several nods to Shakespeare, but there are also rousingly-sung rock anthems.

Boudica herself is played effectively by Gina McKee, who completely convinces as the powerful and determined queen. There are good performances too from Abraham Popoola and Forbes Masson as fellow rulers of Briton tribes, and Joan Iyiola and Natalie Simpson as Boudica’s two daughters whose differing temperaments cause them to clash.

It would be far too simplistic to say that the play can be related directly to the contemporary preoccupation with Brexit. True, the Roman invaders are portrayed negatively, but one of Boudica’s daughters offers another interpretation, befriending a Roman woman who was born in Britain and sees it as her home. The play offers a lot of food for thought, as well as being highly entertaining.

Read Not Dead: Sappho and Phao

Sappho and Phao was the last Read Not Dead production in the ‘Before Shakespeare’ series at the Globe. It’s a comedy by John Lyly, dating from around 1584, and features the goddess Venus who endows a young ferryman with great beauty, is cross when he and the queen of Sicily, Sappho, fall in love with one another, and plots to ruin their attachment. It’s an amusing tale, cleverly staged by the team at the Globe who perform it with flair and a light touch. A fitting finale to the short season.

Read Not Dead: Mucedorus

Mucedorus is the third in the Globe’s miniseries of Read Not Dead readings, ‘Before Shakespeare’. It’s one of the most commonly reprinted early modern plays, dating from around 1590. It has been attributed on occasion to Shakespeare, although it is now generally accepted that it is not by him.

The play tells of Mucedorus, Prince of Valencia, who disguises himself as a shepherd in order to sneak unseen into neighbouring Aragon to see the princess Amandine. Romantic, comic and tragic scenes ensue until the conflict is resolved. I thought this was one of the funniest early modern plays I’ve seen, and I was especially amused by the bear scenes!