The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607): Francis Beaumont

The Knight of the Burning Pestle: Francis Beaumont (1607)


(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 2 January 2015)

First of all, a very happy New Year to all of you! My first outing of 2015 was to the wooden galleries of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, to see Francis Beaumont’s exuberantly experimental play The Knight of the Burning Pestle. This was such a success last year that it’s been revived and it’s simply perfect for the lighthearted Christmas season. Anarchic, raucous and full of music, it calls for audience interaction, conjures up plays within plays within plays, and offers a strikingly postmodern comment on the act of theatrical performance. It reduced me to tears of laughter by the interval.

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Original Scores: Le Malade Imaginaire: Molière (1673)

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse


(Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Last Monday I ventured away from my usual theatrical fare of blood-soaked Jacobean vengeance and tried something a little different. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are performing some candlelit concerts in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse this season, based around the concept of ‘original scores’. They present incidental music which was composed for early theatrical performances, originally intended to accompany ballets or intermezzi. This music is almost always stripped out of modern productions, leaving us with the bare unadorned text and, perhaps, depriving us of some of the subtleties which the playwright originally intended.

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Much Ado About Nothing (1598/99): William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing


(Shakespeare’s Globe, 2011)

This is the third production of Much Ado that I’ve seen in the last four months (note to self: be more adventurous). After the creative but unsuccessful version at the Old Vic, with its elderly Beatrice and Benedick, and the excellent modern adaptation by Joss Whedon, it was interesting to compare them to this more traditional interpretation. Jeremy Herrin’s 2011 production is one of the few performances filmed for the Globe’s DVD series, which I’ve mentioned before: like the two parts of Henry IV, which I watched recently, it was a real pleasure.

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The Duchess of Malfi (1612-13): John Webster

The Duchess of Malfi: Webster


(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, until 16 February 2014)

I studied this at school and it has stuck in my mind ever since: indeed, it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to forget. The Duchess of Malfi was the historical Giovanna d’Aragona, traditionally – though no longer – thought to be the sitter in the gorgeous portrait by Giulio Romano in the Louvre. Widowed young, she falls in love with her overseer, the urbane but lowborn Antonio and marries him secretly. As the years pass, she has three children with him and savours the bliss of her married life, but their match remains a secret.

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Henry IV: Parts 1 and 2 (c1597): William Shakespeare

Henry IV: Part 1: William Shakespeare

(Shakespeare’s Globe, 2010)

My first encounter with Henry IV was via the BBC’s The Hollow Crown last year, when I was unexpectedly captivated by this story of a disappointed father and his wayward son. Afterwards I wished I’d had the sense to see Dominic Dromgoole’s 2010 production at the Globe (especially since I did see their 2012 Henry V, in which Jamie Parker reprised the role of an older, wiser Hal). However, my uncle very kindly bought me the DVDs of Henry IV for Christmas and I curled up with them this week, with ever-increasing pleasure.

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The Taming of the Shrew (1590-2): William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew: William Shakespeare


(directed by Toby Frow; Globe Theatre, until 13 October 2012)

Another splendid evening at the Globe last night, although very different in character from Henry V a few weeks ago. Raucous, bawdy and lively, Toby Frow’s Shrew is rich with physical comedy and slapstick. It’s fantastic to watch something like this at the Globe, because more than ever you come to understand the vibrancy of theatre in Shakespeare’s day. The audience feeds off the exuberance of the actors, who in turn draw it back from them: to see a successful comedy in this theatre is to feel symbiosis in action.

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Henry V (c1599): William Shakespeare

Henry V: William Shakespeare


(directed by Dominic Dromgoole; Globe Theatre, until 26 August 2012)

A visit to the Globe is always a treat. No matter what you go to see, the setting is an experience in itself. You will know it by now, from pictures if not from your own visits: the stage with its golden columns and painted ceiling, embraced by the galleries with their stout posts and hard wooden benches; the pit open to the skies. The play opens with trumpeters and music – there is no curtain – and always closes with a rousing country dance. My seat last night in the second row of the Lower Galleries was particularly splendid, giving me just gave me enough height to see over the heads of the intervening groundlings.  I even treated myself to the hire of a cushion (£1).

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