Comus: John Milton (1634)

Milton: Comus

★★★

A Masque in Honour of Chastity

(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 26 October 2016)

Comus is the first of several productions I’ll be seeing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse this season and it proved to be a curious kettle of fish. It was commissioned from John Milton by the Earl of Bridgewater, who had just been appointed Lord President of Wales, and was performed on Michelmas 1634 at the Earl’s new seat of Ludlow Castle. The three main roles of the Lady and her two Brothers were performed by the Earl’s own children, and the masque trumpeted the family’s honour, virtue and chastity. Of course, such trumpeting only hints that there was something to hide, and this production cleverly puts Comus back into context. But even the excellent team at the Globe can’t overcome the issues of the text, and Comus never quite stops feeling like a historical curiosity.

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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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Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

★★★½

(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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