The first Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613 and audiences had to wait a long time, until 1997 in fact, for it to be rebuilt. The whole purpose of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was for it to be a replica of the Elizabethan theatre and for it to be as close to the original as possible in building and production values.
So Shakespeare purists and Globe academics are not going to be pleased with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by the theatre’s new artistic director, Emma Rice, who for the past 20 years has worked for Cornwall’s Kneehigh as an actor, director and artistic director, and has had very little experience with Shakespeare.
The Globe’s first two artistic directors, Mark Rylance and Patrick Dromgoole, managed to get the groundlings to listen to Shakespeare. On the evidence of this opening production, Rice doesn’t trust the audience to do this and adds lots of songs and modern dialogue. Any time there’s a long speech it is usually accompanied by verbal, musical and visual distractions. The performance, colourful, energetic, erotic, is aimed at those who do not really want to be listening to too much Shakespeare. But Ewan Wardop is very funny as Bottom.
Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, written in 1985 when she was 25 and now revived at St James Theatre, is the most performed play by a woman writer. It’s an A-level set text and schoolgirls love it. The action is spread over four generations and deals with the aspirations, disenchantments and sheer pressure on women, their hopes, fears and frustrations. A teenager gets pregnant and hands over her baby to her mother to bring up.
The four actors – Maureen Lipman, Katie Brayben, Hilary Tones and Serena Manteghi in Paul Robinson’s heartfelt production – have to behave at times like children, which is absolutely fine when one of them is being childlike on her own; but it can be a bit am-dram when all four of them are being childlike at the same time.
Songs of the Wanderers, created by Lin Hwai-min for Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan and touring Britain, is inspired by Buddhist meditation and the quest for enlightenment. The pilgrimage, choreographed in slow motion and notable for its stamina, serenity and pictorial beauty, is accompanied by prayer, recorded soulful Georgian folk songs and religious rites. What makes this particular spiritual journey so memorable is the three-and-a-half tons of golden grains of rice that rain down on the dancers.
JB Priestley’s I Have Been Here Before, written in 1937 and rarely revived, is at Jermyn Street Theatre. It’s not a patch on his other Time plays, Time and the Conways and Dangerous Corner. A mysterious German professor (Edward Halsted, very creepy), a Jewish exile, arrives at an inn in the Yorkshire moors and seems to know what is going to happen.
A man and his wife and her would-be lover find themselves helplessly trapped in a recurring cycle of events. Can they break the spell and so avert the tragedy waiting to happen? The play may be, as the 1937 critics said, “mystical rubbish”, but it should be uncanny and urgent; instead it’s prosaic and plodding.