23rd April 2016
I’ve been hyping this up for some time, and rightly so. Making, and then screening, short films which capture the essence of all 37 plays. Making them free to the public, and putting them up on screens outdoors on the Southbank. This was a major undertaking.
It was one that was not without flaw, as you will know if you followed the comments on Twitter. On my first walk down, I estimate that around half of the screens weren’t functioning properly (there were problems with power, with picture, with sound, and even with getting the right film showing). Things improved by the time I walked back up, but that was much later in the day, and even then there were a number of plays I really wanted to see which still weren’t working or I ran out of time to get back to – Coriolanus, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew to name but three. Early on they were blaming President Obama’s visit but I think there was probably just a terrible lack of technical back-ups – unsurprising, when you consider that they had very limited time to set up all screens, outdoors, in most unusual weather conditions.
The real reason this was so annoying was because of the quality of what was on show. The little ten-minute films wove together a bit of history, previous Globe performances, and newly-shot scenes from the play into beautiful bright jewels, and I wanted to see every single one.
I’m not going to write about every single one I did see – for reasons of length and my sanity – but I’m going to split my edited highlights into two sections: the plays I have already seen, and the one’s I now really, really want to see.
The plays I have already seen – well top of the list is always going to be Much Ado, isn’t it? Clips from the fabulous Eve Best/Charles Edwards version, and Sam West and Katherine Parkinson giving it their all in a slight twenties-inspired version. Cymbeline, with Hayley Atwell as a barnstorming Imogen. King Lear, on the White Cliffs of Dover, brought a tear to my eye. My absolute favourite, though, was Richard II – Dominic Rowan as Bolingbroke and James Norton as Richard II in a bare Westminster Hall, wrangling over a crown, intercut with Charles Edwards as the king in majesty. We hung around for a while waiting for them to get that up and running – it was absolutely worth it*.
The plays I want to see – Henry VI part 2, very nearly the first one I saw, was one of Shakespeare’s improbable coincidences, but beautifully moving. Timon of Athens – Simon Russell Beale snarling his way out of Athens. Jessie Buckley was luminous in Romeo and Juliet, unsurprising for those who saw (and loved) her in the Beeb’s recent War and Peace. Peter Capaldi looked good as Titus Andronicus – alas much of his dialogue was overshadowed by the trains thundering over Hungerford Bridge (and I was very glad they had cut the whole film to keep a nice PG rating – far too early in the day for bloodshed). Henry VIII was a real treat too – so good, we stayed to watch it twice.
It was a cold, windy, rainy, sunny day. The crowds were massive. It was a perfectly bonkers way to spend eight hours on a Saturday, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Thank you Shakespeare’s Globe.
* And not just because we saw James Norton himself, in the beautiful flesh, hanging around watching it.