GUEST CRITIC LUKE JONES DOWN WID DA SHAKESPEARE KIDZ
Someone find Mark Rylance and distract him. Take him far from Bankside so he can’t see what they’ve done. Not only are the ruffs not starched in the traditional method…there aren’t even any ruffs.
Instead it’s rough. It’s a new look for the Globe. It’s equallY stylised, just a modern palette. Instead of lutes and harpsichords, this Cymbeline is Skepta, Stormzy, Addidas tracksuits and bags upon bags of drugs; grime London. Perhaps a little heightened, but for his first outing on the Globe stage the director (Matthew Dunster) had to be bold.
The play (renamed Imogen to reflect the fact she has three times as many lines as the usual title character) is a leaner text on a bigger stage. Instead of decorative walls and the classic balcony, there are giant flappy plastic curtains you’d get in an abattoir or a big B&Q. A translucent curtain wraps the stage, and the great orb is finally lit in gleaming technicolour.
The stuffy nonsense over which previous Artistic Directors presided (no lighting, ancient costumes and impenetrable finale jigs) has been blown away. Now it’s sharp modern dress, colour, dynamic movement and actual pieces of scenery. It’s like bringing 3D animation to a playhouse that’s survived on 2D pencil drawings.
Imogen is forcibly separated from her lover and he is briefly turned against her. That, along with long lost siblings, a customary sex change and near death by stepmother, is usual fare. But with a leaner text Dunster has the space to wield greater visual elements.
The opening scene, detailing Imogen’s separation from her siblings and falling in love with Posthumus is laid out visually. Beautiful movement, a tightly mixed soundtrack and ballet-like precision are brought in, doing away wooden, spoken exposition. The result is outstanding.
Also refreshing is the cast, who for the most part, make the meeting of Elizabethan text and 2016 gang London seamless. Ira Mandela Siobhan as the banished lover Posthumus and Joshua Lacey as the rival Cloten deliver Shakespearean dialogue as if quoting Kanye.
Likewise the ferocious Queen is played by Claire Louise-Cordwell not as some sketchy EastEnders nutter but as turbulent real woman, who is surely in Brixton somewhere terrorising someone.
Unfortunately the new lead, Imogen (Maddy Hill), still has the whiff of drama school training. She’s head to toe in Adidas but sounds like an anxious middle-class undergraduate. Each poetic couplet chewed for every vowel, rather than spat out as her more-urban colleagues do. It’s a strong performance, but a little out of place.
My only other complaint: the Globe is still the Globe. Tenderness and emotional depth are always wasted on this barn. It must be fumes from the wood varnish because every subtle moment, any attempt at quiet romance results in laughs or gasps. It’s a stage built for bawdiness, and that detracts from some hard-won romantic moments.
But we’ll never change the Globe in that respect. We haven’t the nerve to burn it down as they did in 1613. But but thankfully something young, a little more Radio 1Xtra and a little less Radio 3, has stepped onto the boards to try and punch it up a little.
A perfect club night for modern Bards.
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Until 16th October.
(BY THE WAY – THE NORMAL THEATRECAT IN THIS SPACE LOVES THE ‘BARN” , REVERES MARK RYLANCE’S GLOBE-MAGIC, CAN EVEN TOLERATE THE ODD RUFF AND IS MOST INSULTED ON ITS BEHALF…!! )