Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Read not Dead at Shakespeare's Globe

It's 1611. Imagine Shakespeare, in London for the première of The Tempest, decides, through curiosity or professional jealousy, to check out the opposition at The Fortune, or one of the many private theatres in the city.
Would he have enjoyed this complicated, but often joyfully scabrous, tragi-comedy from the pen of bricklayer's boy Thomas Middleton ?
With hindsight, he might glimpse the future – a cynical, satirical look at London life that would later become Restoration Comedy. Sir Oliver Twilight, Savourwit, Lady Goldenfleece – you get the picture.
This three-hour rehearsed reading, coordinated by Jason Morell and using a huge cast, gave a pungent flavour of the style. The convoluted plot sees a boy narrowly escape marrying his sister, as a wife dressing as a Gallant Gentleman seeks revenge. Incest, same-sex marriage, given an extra frisson perhaps in the Jacobean theatre by the "boys, smooth-faced catamites" who played all five female roles...
Excellent performances from Abigail McKern as Lady Twilight [and a monoglot Dutch Boy], Ryan Early getting all his laughs as the servant Savourwit, and Michael Matus as Master Weatherwise, whose running Almanac gag was well sustained, right up to the closing lines, in which he shamelessly craves our applause:
The sign's in Gemini too: both hands should meet;
There should be noise i' th' air if all things hap,
Though I love thunder when you make the clap.
Few now know Middleton or his work – we've Shakespeare to thank for that – but it's pleasing to think that his jokes and his ingenious plotting were still capable of delighting a 21st century audience, deep in the bowels of the Globe, with a performance of The Tempest going on overhead …

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