Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Shakespeare’s Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Like last season’s Wonder Noir White Devil, this atmospheric production opens in complete darkness, and the tale of deception and surveillance is intimately lit by hand-held candles and oblique winter daylight from the Playhouse windows.
The design ingeniously suggests the spymaster’s trade, with built-in concealed filing cabinets and a round window - between the obscured musicians’ galleries – framing eavesdroppers and a lovely London diorama.
Anders Lustgarten’s new piece tells of a nation divided, with the whiff of treason mixed with the candle smoke, the threat of terror and a hostile Europe over the Channel. This is 1585, and a nervous, vindictive Queen, is forced to rely on the powers of darkness to deal with her perceived enemies.
So no shortage of contemporary resonances; we hardly need the crowd-pleasing comments about the tennis. We see the dark arts practised here not by spin doctors and civil servants but by the spymasters Cecil [Ian Redford] and, chiefly, Walsingham. Vague threats are embellished, double agents are rife, dissent spreads from the highest to the lowest in the land.
The playwright is at pains to emphasise the relevance to our own day; we have inherited, he maintains, the system of surveillance set up in sixteenth century London - “an apparatus of security which will never be dismantled”.
Aidan McArdle is Walsingham, a quietly determined man, racked by illness at the end, rising, like Mantel’s Crum, from comparatively humble origins to be the power behind the throne, emerging black-clad and menacing from the darkness. Tara Fitzgerald, a strong presence in richly ornate gowns, white-faced, is an arrogant, often earthy woman in this version of history, while the torturer Topcliffe is given an even less likely persona, semi-literate sadist combining his “interrogation” of Robert Southwell [Sam Marks] with take-away chicken and musings on the Queen’s quim. In fact Topcliffe was an educated landowner and MP, whose association with Cecil and Walsingham is not supported by any historical record.
A fine performance by Cassie Layton as Walsingham’s daughter, Frances, whose eventful life is usually confined to the footnotes of history, and might well be deemed worthy of a drama of her own ...

production photograph: Marc Brenner

No comments:

Post a Comment