Cooper’s London

THEATRE

Two Good to Miss:

Beatrice and Benedick at the Globe, Again!

There’s probably going to be a lot of fuss about the Much Ado About Nothing being produced in the West End (at Wyndham’s Theatre) with David Tennant (who is a brilliant and proven Shakespearian) and Catherine Tate (one of his Doctor Who companions and a brilliant comedienne). However good it is, though, I cannot believe it could be better than the one that just opened at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on 21 May! It’s already in a league where it could not be surpassed–only matched, if you are very, very lucky. (I suspect the Wyndham Much Ado will be different – modernized or updated or whatever – and I know the actors are extremely talented. I would recommend it in “previewing” mode.) But even if you are able to equal it, you simply cannot beat the ensemble playing and sheer energy of the production at The Globe. And it’s such a wonderful place to see it your Shakespeare!

To single anyone out is invidious in such a well-balanced cast. But one has to commend particularly the impressive, feisty, and loveable Beatrice of Eve Best and the outrageously attractive and intelligent Benedick of Charles Edwards. They are as well-matched as were legendary couple like John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft, Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, Janet Suzman and Alan Howard before them. So add them to the list of those who are treasurable and flawless and so totally natural that you feel you are seeing them and the play for the first time. They have the capacity to engage their audiences, and engage with their cast , talking and playing with the groundlings in some of the great comic moments; but also pulling back into subjective pain or pleasure that is nuanced, fully imagined and totally real.

This is a tour de force indeed. Jeremy Herrin, the director, has managed to keep the show in period and yet make it totally fresh and contemporary. The clowns are hilariously funny in a style that makes you think of what their impact must have been in Shakespeare’s time. It reminded me that the role of Dogberry was written for Will Kemp. The rebuilt Globe underscores the resonance.

You will get the impression that I loved it. It helped that I was experiencing the production with an audience that was also engaged from the very start and, by the end, was cheering itself hoarse with delight. It will be tough to get tickets for Tennant and Tate, probably; but don’t despair if you can’t. High thyself to Shakespeare’s Globe, near London Bridge and, if necessary, get thee groundling places. You will in no way regret it, or even suffer sore shanks from standing throughout.

MADAME IN THE CITY

 It’s quite wonderful to go to a play at Stratford-upon-Avon that you have never actually seen, never studied in school, and probably may never see again–only to see it in action, on the stage, and discover that it is a very good play, deserving revival after decades (nay, centuries!) of neglect. The City Madam (1632) by Philip Massinger is being revived this summer with style, panache and a real understanding of the text. Dominic Hill has put together a wonderfully theatrical and amusing production, visually apt, artistically sound.

The story might be described as Tartuffe meets Measure for Measure: Jo Stone-Fewings is superb as Luke Frugal, a character whose quite-believable contrition and kindness of nature turns out to be a sham mask that he discards easily, once he thinks he is in charge of a fortune again; and Christopher Godwin is a strong focus for the play as the apparently hard-hearted businessman Sir John Frugal who disappears into a monastery–only to reappear in disguise, to watch how things play out once he supposedly leaves his brother in charge. Sara Crowe is spot-on as the ditzy, mercenary but ultimately contrite Lady Frugal, and the ensemble acting is simply a joy to behold.

It’s not a great play, it’s not a difficult play; but it is amusing, charming – and, given the current state of everyone’s finances—suddenly quite topical. It is Ben Jonson lite, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It gives a very good excuse for fine theatricality and some wonderful playfulness in the staging.

City Madam is being performed in the newly refurbished Swan Theatre, still one of the best playhouses in the UK. The auditorium has hardly been touched and that’s a good thing, because it was fine all along.

Without forcing anything and while setting the play pretty much in period, the modern parallels will be easily understood. You will enjoy every actor on that stage. and come away wanting to see much more of Jo Stone-Fewings, who takes the play’s central, defining role and inhabits it like a star.

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