Monday, February 24, 2014


Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

It was Lynne Truss who first suggested to Eileen Atkins that Ellen Terry's Lectures on Shakespeare might make a one-woman show.
Now that show comes to its spiritual home, the intimate candlelit auditorium of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, with just a table and an antique Complete Works for company.
It's a magical seventy-five minutes. Not an impersonation, but one legendary actress sharing the insights of another a hundred years on. Both of them looking back over a lifetime “not all beer and skittles”; both of them “of the old school”. There are priceless anecdotes: the tussle over Ophelia's black dress, Puck's toe broken in the floor trap – did Terry manage a double laugh in the punchline here, I wonder.
But mostly it's Shakespeare's women, introduced, discussed with a perceptive wit, and brought to life in some wonderful extracts. Here's Portia – the vaguely academic blue gown and the velvet trews particularly apposite – and the Quality of Mercy, Rosalind, the part Terry never got to play, Desdemona, who “has the courage to be unconventional”, Beatrice, Lady Macbeth a delicate little creature, with hyper-sensitive nerves”, and with those “Terry tears” that Gielgud claimed to have inherited, a superb scene where she plays both Lear and Cordelia.
Finally, a beautifully judged Ophelia [“Shakespeare's only timid character”], lunatic to her twisted finger tips, to wish us Good Night.

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