A hit and a miss for The Old Globe

by David Dixon

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“The Tempest” shines as a cathartic performance of one of Shakespeare’s best works. / Courtesy of Jeffrey Weiser

“The Tempest” shines as a cathartic performance of one of Shakespeare’s best works. / Courtesy of Jeffrey Weiser

Is “The Tempest” truly the final play William Shakespeare wrote alone? This is a question many critics have asked, though the answer is not certain. The intriguing mystery cannot be ignored in The Old Globe’s mystical adaptation of the much beloved comedy.

Prospero (played by booming, angry yet very relatable Miles Anderson) is a magician who lives with his daughter Miranda (the moving and mesmerizing Winslow Corbett) on a Mediterranean island. With a visually spectacular opening shipwreck scene that cannot truly be described in words because of the complex imagery that is evoked, Prospero explains to his child why he justifiably put the lives of the crew in danger. Yes, the play is nearly 500 years old, but more information on the plot will not be given away, so the show can remain fresh and exciting for the audience.

Technically, this play is a comedy, but the direction from Adrian Noble along with Shakespeare’s magnificent prose creates something that can really only be categorized as a completely unique theatrical experience. In this fictional universe, light, darkness, magic, music, goofiness, intelligence, romance, potential revenge and adventure are all displayed prominently.

For such an entertaining spectacle, there are still several moments in which the bard seemed to want to get some things off of his chest before he went knocking on heaven’s door. Prospero’s tale concludes with a beautiful poem that appears to be the end of Shakespeare’s lengthy relationship with the theater. The epilogue is a moving and unofficial farewell to an unforgettable master of the written word.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Weiser

Courtesy of Jeffrey Weiser

The script alone is a terrific work that does not solely have to be referred to as the “swan song” of the greatest writer who ever lived. On a superficial level, this is a spectacular story about how resentment can ultimately lead to unpredictable situations. The supporting characters, with too many standout performances to mention in just a single review, enhance the experience and craft the successful combination of different genres.

Noble is a strong director who is not interested in telling a dull, tedious and stereotypical Shakespearian borefest performed in the style of Old English but rather in telling a cathartic and emotionally engaging tale that has stood the test of time.

The man cares most about how modern audiences react to his particular interpretation, so he does everything he possibly can to keep the audience engaged in what could have been a fairly complicated journey.

Noble wants everyone to scream when the sound of loud thunder is produced, laugh as the silly “jester” Trinculo (the absurd, comedically talented and Tony-nominated John Cariani) gets himself into another over-the-top situation and to be completely in awe of the majestic spirits who rule the stage. His main goal appears to make theatergoers feel as many different emotions as possible before leaving the Globe. He succeeds famously in this regard.

“The Tempest” is hands down a must-see play where all the elements add up to something wonderful. Noble is deserving of a standing ovation for what he has created at The Old Globe.

Tickets and information about “The Tempest” can be found at theoldglobe.org.

 

Much Ado About Nothing

 

Several women walk onto a stage to stitch a quilt. Seconds later, the ladies croon a pretty song that has nothing to do with what they are doing. What is this moment trying to convey? Is it supposed to set the scene or add some catharsis? These questions are left unanswered, even when the same tune is reprised before the end of Act I.

It seems that the musical number does not satisfy in The Old Globe’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing” because the creative team, led by director Ron Daniels, did not truly figure out how to integrate the number into the play. In fact, the way Daniels attempts to convey his overall interpretation of the popular comedy feels forced as opposed to fresh.

Those who have seen previous productions are probably going to expect a laughter-filled riot full of comedic and romantic chemistry between the two main characters, Benedick and Beatrice (played by the very funny real-life married couple Jonno Roberts and Georgia Hatzis). Watching them bicker and insult each other is incredibly entertaining because Shakespeare’s writing still resonates and the leads put everything they have into the comedic performances. However, the strong writing and capable leads are not enough to override the direction.

Other players include Claudio (Kevin Alan Daniels) a noble count who wants to marry Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Winslow Corbett). Their love appears to be genuine, until an evil man known as Don John (Jay Whittaker) attempts everything in his power to tear them apart. As a bastard son, much like Edmund in “King Lear,” Don lashes out at the world that hates him by destroying other peoples’ happiness.

All the performers in this part of the story are perfect in their roles and yet these moments, as good as they are, seem to fall flat. It seems as if there was an emphasis on exposition, making many of the scenes slower and not as interesting as they could have been. The explanations are meant to create anticipation to lead to the biggest crisis for the protagonists but the conflict is not even fully realized until Act II.

In addition, “Much Ado About Nothing” has many other characters who play pivotal roles in the major conflicts that occur. Although this is true with practically any work of Shakespeare, the play felt overcrowded in the nearly three-hour run time, almost like a never-ending circus.

There are simply too many large and forced tone shifts throughout the play; a random moment is played completely seriously, while the next scene is very humorous. Some directors can find a way to control the juxtapositions in styles, but Daniels appears to have difficulty navigating the mood shifts, so that a consistent state of mind is nowhere to be found.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is known to be a great work of Shakespeare’s. But unfortunately, The Old Globe’s interpretation does not give it the justice it deserves. On the other hand, there will be those who leave with great respect for the performers. They are the true highlight of the night, because the entertainers do leave lasting impressions. Hopefully, Daniels will continue to grow and develop as an interpreter of the immortal bard.

Tickets and information about “Much Ado About Nothing” can be found at theoldglobe.org.

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