THE LIGHTNING CHILD
at Shakespeare's Globe
The last offering this season, and the first musical to be written for this space.
Like Gabriel, the cross-over hit with Alison Balsom, it's not so much as play as a collection of disparate scenes. The writer is Che Walker, whose much-liked Front Line hit the Globe in 2008, again with music by Dr Who actor Arthur Darvill.
It's based on the Bacchae, so there is Greek drama, including some of those splendid speeches where are all the action has already happened elsewhere. But there is sex and gore on stage, too, notably when Pentheus is ripped apart by the Maenads.
But we also have, in no particular order, sloaney girls sharing a flat, Billie Holliday with Lester Young, two deadbeat junkies, Caster Semenya and Neal Armstrong.
The story is told by "Ladyboy Herald" [engagingly played by Jonathan Chambers], who tells us that time is like a multi-layered cake. You certainly need your wits about you, as characters come and go – more heraldic counsel: Don't try to make sense of all this – think about it on the train home …
There are excellent actors involved [mostly from the Macbeth company]. Bette Bourne totters around in drag as Tiresias, Phil Cumbus is superb as one of the junkies, Finty Williams has some great speeches as Agave, Clifford Samuel is amusing as the macho Pentheus who brings out his feminine side, and Colin Ryan is hilarious as the boy soldier who happily defects to the Dionysian camp.
Much of the piece is about gender – cross-dressing is rife, and even the junkies' dog is called Cleopatra. The Dionysus versus Apollo storyline surfaces every so often.
But Matthew Dunster's rag-bag production, at nearly three hours, is just too big a slice of the layer-cake.