The Globe – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest

On Saturday I took advantage of the sun and spent a day on the Southbank at the Globe with a Shakespeare double bill. I’m not normally a fan of A Midsummer Night’s Dream but, as with Twelfth Night last year, the Globe’s production has led me to reassess my preconceptions. It featured some excellent performances, and really drew out the comedy of the play. Joshua Silver as Demetrius and Luke Thompson as Lysander wrung the comedy out of their characters infatuations with Hermia and Helena, Pearce Quigley as Bottom had the audience in stitches, and Michelle Terry delivered a strong performance as Titania and Hippolyta.

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The programme talks about the bawdy nature of the play, and how modern conceptions of the play are based on sanitised Victorian editions, altered to meet with contemporary sensibilities and establish the play as particularly suitable for children. The Globe’s version certainly re-establishes the play’s sexual elements, although not to an extent shocking to a modern audience.

After A Midsummer Night’s Dream I had two and a half hours to wait before The Tempest, and decided that the groundling queue was as good a place as any. I therefore found myself settled unwittingly amongst some very excited Merlin fans, waiting to see Colin Morgan’s performance. They were very friendly and sociable though, entertaining themselves for the whole 2 hours we were queuing with animated discussion of Merlin and Doctor Who.

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Although tough on my feet, cramming two Shakespeare plays into a day meant that by the second my brain was already attuned to the language and I got into it a lot quicker than for some productions I’ve seen. Seeing the plays back to back, I was struck by the physicality of both productions.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream featured Oberon and Puck rope climbing, and a hilarious slapstick performance of the ‘play within a play’, while in The Tempest we saw Colin Morgan cartwheeling, monkey-barring and generally climbing around the set. It’s the visual spectacle of the Globe’s productions, alongside the excellent performances, that give them a sense of life – the Globe always manages to avoid academic, wordy renditions of the Bard’s works.

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While all the performances were excellent (with Roger Allam as Prospero and Jessie Buckley as Miranda), the performances of Colin Morgan and James Garnon really stood out. As Ariel, Morgan demonstrated a surprising physical dexterity and brought a captivating, ethereal quality to the part. While I’m usually a fan of Garnon for his interpretation of Shakespearean language, the role of Caliban allowed him to demonstrate his versatility, with a physical and vocal performance redolent of the creature in the National’s Frankenstein.

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Both productions are strong, and are representative of the high standard the Globe consistently demonstrates. With £5 groundling tickets for those who can stomach three hours of standing, and the opening of the Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre at the end of the year, the Globe is steadily establishing itself as a must for London theatre fans.

King Lear

It feels like summer has started, now that I’ve made my first visit of the year to the Globe to see King Lear (even if it was a bit chilly…).

A couple of years ago, working Front of House at the West Yorkshire Playhouse while at Uni, I wondered how I would cope with seeing their production of King Lear (3 hours and 10 minutes) three times in a fortnight. But the production kept my attention for all nine and a half hours. It featured an amazing cast, led by Tim Piggott-Smith as Lear. James Garnon, as Edmund, had a natural way of conveying Shakespeare that I’ve only seen surpassed by David Tennant. And as Edgar, Sam Crane’s physical and vocal transformation to Poor Tom was astonishing. I also found it a useful undertaking. The first time of watching I had to concentrate on following the plot, while the second and third viewings allowed me to focus more on the performances and appreciation of the language.

It also gave me a good grounding from which to see the Globe’s touring production. The multiple roles taken on by each member of the cast made it slightly hard to follow, and I imagine if I was coming to the play for the first time I would have relied heavily on the synopsis in the programme. Despite this, the production was full of committed and energetic performances, and the actors dealt well with their transitions between characters. They also made the most of minimal props and set, although inevitably the touring production wasn’t as well suited to the space as the Globe’s normal output.

The impact of the play’s tragic finale was somewhat undermined by the customary song and dance at the end of the performance, but the audience certainly enjoyed it and the play received enthusiastic applause. While perhaps not as in-depth as the WYP version, this is a solid and engaging production.