Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wiving it at the Globe

It was, to say the least, an interesting day.

National Gallery in the morning – complete with red dressed, blond-haired Virgin; Globe Theatre for the ‘Merry Wives’ in the afternoon; a quick dash to ‘The Sound of Music’ in the evening. We ended squeezed in the last tube to Victoria … tired and somewhat satiated.

Nothing was quite what was expected.

I like Shakespearean comedy – you might have noticed.

What I didn’t know (because you sometimes forget that it is the ‘experts’ that have told you – and you should always be cautious and careful of expert opinion) is how good a play The Merry Wives of Windsor is.

I don't understand why there are not more school productions ... it would make an excellent school play.

After the Globe production I can’t understand why it isn’t better known or better loved. Verdi chose it for his operatic masterpiece and he obviously realized something – it is very funny.

It is also remarkably ‘feminist’ – the only sensible and solid people are the two wives … merry, and virtuous. All the men seem to be missing something – usually restraint.

In this production the women got good solid performances: As with the Romeo and Juliet production which visited Timisoara last month, it is an ensemble production – although with a full cast. There were no star performances – but that is what makes these comedies … they are not vehicles for individuals.

Falstaff was a part – and only a part, but an excellent part. He is balanced in the play with a “bugger”ing French doctor; a jealous, knuckle biting, husband; a language crunching schoolteacher and a small cheeky boy. And the production did just that – balanced.

The Globe experience is partly the stage and staging – the speed of the production (not breakneck like Romeo and Juliet) and the closeness to the audience all contribute to make the play user friendly. However, I was a little uncomfortable with the set – it had been extended into the courtyard with a walkway which seemed one step too far, I also don’t really think there was any necessity to cover the back of the Globe’s stage with a ‘mock-Elizabethan’ house front. This forced a lot of the action forward and made it difficult at times to see (I chose to try standing at the side of the stage and was acutely aware of how little the back area of the stage was used - in a previous visit I’d noticed how well it was used).

Maybe a danger for the modern productions at the globe is the designer … maybe they should just have a costume wo/man and dump the superfluous modern element of design (which was, strangely enough, the big problem of ‘The Sound of Music’ – all very impressive technicals interrupting the music)?

But that was a mere niggle: On a rain-threatening afternoon I stood for a couple of hours and laughed rather a lot … at a witty play with a social conscience delivered by a group of excellent performers giving the audience exactly what they need – an uplifting theatrical experience.

Having travelled across most of Europe for the day to see it … I was not disappointed. In fact, I'm looking at a way of doing it again.

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