Shakespeare within the Abbey

Shakespeare within the Abbey: Mark Rylance

★★★★★

All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits 

(The Globe at Westminster Abbey, 22 April 2017)

Waiting outside Westminster Abbey with mounting excitement, my mum said that she really didn’t mind what this evening involved as long as she got to see Mark Rylance. We were about to experience his brainchild: an extraordinary promenade performance which brought a company of Globe actors over the river for a magical evening among the pillars and monuments of this splendid church. For two nights only, you could wander in the Abbey and be surprised at every turn by an actor ready to share a soliloquy in front of a tomb, or to stare into your eyes and declaim a sonnet. It’s entirely thanks to my parents’ efficiency that we’d been able to get tickets and so I was keen that Mum should have her moment. And she did, though not as any of us had expected.

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‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore: John Ford

'Tis Pity She's a Whore: John Ford

★★★½

(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, October-December 2014)

Say what you like about Baroque operas (or, indeed, George R.R. Martin), but nobody does dysfunctional families quite like the Jacobeans. The Globe’s winter season opens with John Ford’s play, written around 1630, which takes place in 17th-century Parma. Here the young scholar Giovanni is in torment. He desires his sister, the beautiful Annabella, but despite the advice of his former tutor, the Friar, he sees no way to cure his illicit passion. Annabella herself is being courted by three suitors: the swaggering Roman soldier Grimaldi; the nobleman Bergetto, who has the promise of a vast inheritance but not a brain in his head; and the handsome gentleman Soranzo, whose courteous manner masks a darker temper.

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The Duchess of Malfi: 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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Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare

★★★

(directed by Mark Rylance, The Old Vic, London, until 30 November)

Much Ado About Nothing is the closest that Shakespeare came to writing a screwball comedy and I love it dearly, mainly for the barbed word-play. I’ve seen several versions (my favourite is still the sun-drenched Kenneth Branagh film) and I was very interested by the idea behind Mark Rylance’s new adaptation at the Old Vic. Here Beatrice and Benedick are played respectively by Vanessa Redgrave (76) and James Earl Jones (82): two older people who, after watching their young friends fall in love, are finally persuaded to end their age-old skirmishing and embrace their affection for one another before it’s too late. I thought it was a marvellous take on the play – but unfortunately the production doesn’t live up to the brilliance of this concept. It was rather disappointing because, with such a director and such actors, it should have been a cast-iron success.

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Richard III: William Shakespeare

Richard III: William Shakespeare

★★★½

(Apollo Theatre, London, playing in rep with Twelfth Night until 10 February 2013)

After garnering rave reviews at the Globe over the summer, this company has moved to winter quarters at the Apollo. A beautiful wooden set recalls the Globe’s stage while also suggesting the feel of an indoor Jacobean theatre: two arched doorways at the back of the stage are surmounted by a musicians’ balcony and on either side are two tiers of wooden seating. It’s a taste of what the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is going to look like.

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