Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
History plays are big business again, and no-one does them better than the Globe, which brings its own sense of history to the table.
In David Eldridge's Holy Warriors “A Fantasia on the Third Crusade and the History of Violent Struggle in the Holy Lands”, we are asked to reflect on the effect of our decisions on the future.
‘I will show you another past. And another future. Then, King, what will you do this time?’
The King is Richard I, Lionheart, and the context is the Third Crusade.
The two-hours' traffic is neatly divided: on a superb circular map [Jerusalem, the centre of the world] covering the boards of the stage, Saladin and his sons, Richard and his family, speak of places still torn by conflict, Gaza, Tikrit, Cyprus.
The opening is deliberately paced, but effective, with incense [again] burning in ornate censers, monks processing with chanting and candles, and a solemn sword swirling from Alexander Siddig's Saladin.
Under a superb orthodox cross [design: Mike Britton], there is history and poetry in the text, though, despite obvious debts to Shakespeare, the action is often secondary to the words, and the words are not always gripping. Some strange accents, too, and uncertainty about the pronunciation of Tancred and Outremer. And “smote” clumsily used as a present tense.
Much coming and going through the yard, rose petals as the mosque is purified, explosions and gunshots. Gorgeous costumes, and atmospheric music by Elena Langer.
From his first confrontation with the “dainty, humourless” King Philip of France [Jolyon Coy], when the drama really lifts off, it is clear that John Hopkins' Lionheart is a strong dramatic presence.
And this uneven piece is largely his story. He fails to “go upon Jerusalem”, is shot by a vengeful youth, but, in this version, thanks to his mother [Geraldine Alexander's excellent Eleanor of Aquitaine] he is able to leave Purgatory and have another go - “give me my time again” - this time in desert fatigues, in modern speech and with the trappings of twenty-first century warfare. Meanwhile, key figures in the history of the Middle East have their say, key moments are swiftly shown.
Will he finish the job, make pilgrimage upon Jerusalem before the fighting season is over ? Or will he fall, unfulfilled, to another assassin ?
It is an inspired, if occasionally confusing, concept. And James Dacre's production has many fine moments, not least Richard's final speech in which he vows to enter The New Jerusalem as an eagle.
The hard-working cast brings us scores of characters – from the humble sappers to Napoleon, Bush and Blair [who gets an immediate laugh of recognition]. Impressive work from Sirine Saba as Berengaria, Jonathan Bonnici as Al-Afdal and Sean Murray as a clutch of cameos, including a dying pope and an eloquent Ben Gurion.
A difficult subject, but one well suited to this special space. Historians will continue to argue about the roots of conflict in the Holy Lands, but this epic drama makes a strong case for this particular turning point. George Santayana is quoted on the flyer: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Photographs © Marc Brenner