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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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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Twelfth Night: William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night: William Shakespeare

★★★★½

(Apollo Theatre, London, playing in rep with Richard III until 9 February 2013)

I should, of course, have seen these plays the other way round: Twelfth Night in early January and then Richard III last night, spiced with the news that the skeleton found beneath a car park in Leicester is (almost certainly) that of the king. Anyway, it was a joy to return to the Apollo for my second encounter with the Globe company in their winter quarters. Once again I hung over the balcony watching the actors milling around as they were dressed, watching doublets and hose tugged on, bodices laced up, lead-white paint and rouge applied to faces. Even without their wigs, the actors gained a feminine elegance as soon as they were into their skirts; and I watched Mark Rylance’s hands fluttering convulsively as he was laced up, as if trying physically to shake himself into his role.

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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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