The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe
Hot on the heels of the rumbustious panto The Knight of the Burning Pestle, this dark erotic tragedy [with off-colour comic relief] makes equally imaginative use of the unique Jacobean space.
Literally dark, with total blackness to start before tiny lanterns half-light faces in a cinematic opening. A single taper for a soliloquy, the musicians moving through the action, iron grills keeping Bedlam's fools and madmen behind bars.
It's a story of adultery, lust and murder, with Rowley's subplot set in a private lunatic asylum. A popular play in its day [first done in 1622], it spent centuries in the wilderness before some successful revivals and adaptations in our own day.
It is not memorable for its poetry, though language is often a sharp weapon; the plot[s] are strong, the action compelling. Ironic “rewards” and just deserts give a moral dimension to the blood-fest.
Beatrice-Joanna is betrothed to Alonzo, She loves Alsemero, and recruits De Flores, her father's servant, to murder her fiancé. But De Flores is not satisfied with pecuniary recompense … Meanwhile, in the madhouse, Doctor Alibius' young wife Isabella is courted by Franciscus and Antonio, who feign madness to gain access to her, with help and hindrance from Old Lollio, servant and keeper of the lunatics.
Hattie Morahan is a feisty Joanna, seductive yet vulnerable. Her Welsh De Flores is the excellent Trystan Gravelle [RSC and Mr Selfridge], bringing a potent blend of wit and wickedness to the role. A strong supporting cast includes Thalissa Teixeira as the servant who's a willing accomplice in the bed-trick.
Two Globe veterans – Peter Hamilton-Dyer as Pedro and Jasperino, and Liam Brennan as the father. And Pearce Quigley, who does Shakespeare's fooling better than anyone, has most of the laughs as Lollio.
In his second production for this stage, Dominic Dromgoole gives us an atmospheric, pacy piece, with plenty of humour, and not just behind Bedlam's bars. We can never know how those first playgoers in Drury Lane would have seen this piece, but we can believe it could have been something after this fashion. The edgy, dynamic score is by Claire van Kampen, whose new play about Farinelli comes to the SWP in February.