Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
“Shall not he dance the morris too, for the credit of the Strand?
- No, sweetheart, it will be too much for the boy.”
Beaumont's lines prove cruelly prophetic for poor Matthew Needham, playing the apprentice hero of this riotous romp. His right knee knackered during the third preview, he soldiers on, first on crutches, then with a hefty support. No understudies, or stunt doubles, at this address.
And he has all the best physical stuff, fighting all comers in action that spills over into the pit and the lower gallery.
This is the second major show to road-test the Globe's new Jacobean space, and it could hardly be more different from The Duchess of Malfi.
It's an inclusive concept, radical even today, embraced in Adele Thomas's inventive, if over-extended, staging. The Citizen and his good lady turn up to hear a play – The London Merchant – but they soon tire of it, and demand an instant rewrite “in honour of the commons of the City”, starring a Grocer Errant to be played by their best young apprentice, Rafe [the unfortunate Needham].
Sharing their popcorn and their bottles of Becks, the middle-class couple are excellently done by Phil Daniels [who knows better than most how to pronounce “sweetheart”] and Pauline McLynn, dispensing advice and home remedies, and determined to have the last word in support of her young Rafe.
Enjoyable turns too from Dickon Tyrell as the pink-suited suitor Humphrey, who makes the most of his pantomime couplets [rhymes for Jasper, or Waltham, anyone ?]. Alex Waldmann and Sarah MacRae as the young lovers [given a nice duet in Nigel Hess's accessibly romantic score], and Hannah McPake as the formidable Mistress Merrythought. Merrythought himself looks superb in his red wig and his “jolly red nose”, though since he makes a point of singing at every opportunity, a stronger voice might have helped.
A special mention for the hard-working comedy duo of Tim and George [Dennis Herdman and Dean Nolan], who make the announcement at the beginning, and, as Rafe's Steward and Dwarf get involved in much of the knockabout fun.
The piece is stuffed [or padded out, as a harsher pen might put it] with song, dance, doubles entendres and slapstick. Not to mention the megamix jig finale and no fewer than four “Interludes”, originally included for wick-trimming, but here used for more dancing, banter and incursions by hawkers touting ice-cream and beer.
As the text makes clear in the first scene, despite the fancy language and the filth, this play would originally have been performed by children. And for their next bold experiment, the Globe are doing just that for Marston's The Malcontent, opening on April 3.