King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

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The opening of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe is less ‘lights, camera, action’ and more a fizzling illumination and gradual realisation that, indeed, the play is starting. Beanie-clad and backpack-carrying folk make their way through the still chattering crowd and onto the stage – a huge ‘Keep Out’ sign at the set’s centre signals a disused and abandoned building that these squatters are about to claim for themselves.

Once it is ascertained that these scruffy-looking individuals must be the cast and the theatre-goers quieten down, the actors begin to tear down dust sheets, force down barricades, and make the stage into a set more fitting for their rendition of King Lear, an almost Brechtian touch. Throughout the production, the initially covered-up set becomes more and more exposed, mirroring the King’s increasing descent into madness.

Kevin McNally, best known perhaps for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing a phenomenal Lear. Joshua James as Edgar, and the character’s disguise of Poor Tom is also highly successful – disguise is certainly the order of the day in Lear, with Saskia Reeves’ Kent taking on a male identity with equally dramatic effects.

It has to be said that for such a tragic play, there are a fair few comedic moments, with plenty of laughs – in true Bard fashion there are innuendos dotted throughout, despite the depressing turn of events. Unlike Emma Rice’s previous colourful, fiesta-style version of Much Ado About Nothing however, her latest directorial work for King Lear is a wholly more subdued affair. Colours are duller, with pastel shade costumes only brightened by the odd instance of pillar box red jackets.  With the exception of the theatrical drumming scene to portray the tempestuous storm, the entire three and a half hour production (which at times feels elongated) seems slightly muted – it’s a solid rendition of King Lear but perhaps one that lacks a wow factor.  

Fiesta vibes at Globe’s Much Ado revival

Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Bankside is known for its alternative takes on the classics. Their new production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Matthew Dunstar, is no exception, bringing the Bard to revolutionary twentieth century Mexico, and boldly putting a sombrero on Shakespeare.

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Audiences will be transported back to 1914 where political upheaval meets Latin music and desert sands — romance, unsurprisingly, is central, but the strobe lighting and gunshots will remind you that revolution rumbles in the background.

This revival is part of the Globe’s Summer of Love season — Much Ado follows Beatrice and Bendick as they reluctantly realise their feelings for one another, egged on by their outspoken friends.

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Being in the midst of Mexico’s Latino vibes, the play is full of colour and creativity — this is indeed the case with the script, which occasionally veers from the original, but to the effect of much laughter from the crowd. The cast frequently also move into Spanish — whether it is good espanol or not, I cannot comment, but it undoubtedly reaffirms the Mexican setting.

The set is impressive,  featuring a freight train carriage complete with more windows and doors than you can shake a maraca at. Atop the train sits the band — heavy on Spanish guitar — whose soundtrack significantly adds to the fiesta-style atmosphere. Expect much flouncing of skirts, singing, epic one-liners and a ‘so what?’ to tradition. Hardcore Shakey fans may feel shortchanged, but this version is definitely worth witnessing.

Much Ado About Nothing runs until 15 October at Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.

 

Adapted from original review for Londonist,