Shakespeare's Globe Young Players at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
How talented were they, those “Children of the Chapel Royal” who gave the first performance of Marston's play, and whose indoor performances rivalled the Globe in popularity ?
We shall never know for sure, of course, though my guess would be that they were confident, charming performers, with the strong singing voices that went with the day job.
So this experiment, in the wonderfully varied SWP opening season, is particularly valuable. And often impressively entertaining, too.
We meet the 21st century troupe – all aged between 12 and 16, but not all boys – dressed in simple black and white, lounging around the acting area. Then a beautifully sung prologue before the fast-moving plot gets underway.
The lines are, for the most part, clearly spoken. The two protagonists, Altofronte, disguised with an eye patch as Malevole, and the ambitious Mendoza, have an authentic mastery of the lines. We know that some of the original “little eyasses” specialised in women, or old men, and here we have an ancient duke, and a superb character creation in Maquerelle [“an old panderess”] - “picture of a woman, and substance of a beast”.
And Passarello, the Fool, is engagingly played by one of the older girls.
Not all of the youngsters have the charisma to fill this space – working in the near-darkness of this candle-lit stage does not help, nor do the often-imperfect sight-lines. But the stronger performances, the silly plot, the jokes and the frequent singing hold us for the full two hours. And it is a privilege to hear, as the Jacobean cognoscenti did, all the wit, wisdom and wickedness from such innocent lips.
There is a Masque at the end, and an energetic jig, followed by that stadium roar that greets the curtain call at all the best Globe productions.