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Shakespeare Quarterly 52.1 (2001) 124-131

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Shakespeare Performed

This Distracted Globe: Summer 2000

Lois Potter


The Globe season of 2000 paired two famous Shakespeare plays about madness, metatheatricality, and exotic travel (Hamlet and The Tempest) with two rarities: a Fletcher-Shakespeare collaboration (The Two Noble Kinsmen), whose most popular character has always been an Ophelia-like madwoman; and The Antipodes, a Brome comedy of the next generation about the cure of a hero who has gone mad from reading travel literature. Whether these interconnections were intended or merely the product of casting needs and directorial schedules, the result was a season of unusual coherence, though, at the same time, each play could be enjoyed on its own terms. Even if metatheatricality had not been a theme of the plays, it would have been a theme of the season, since the Globe rarely fails to make one conscious of its ongoing experimentation with the relationship between actors and audience.

The theater continues to divide its productions beween the Red and White Companies, rather like Alice Through the Looking Glass. I came with low expectations to The Tempest, the Red Company's first production, because of the generally negative reviews. But spectators enjoyed it immensely, perhaps for the same reason that alienated the reviewers: its apparent lack of any obvious intellectual or political agenda. If one could forget that the play was supposed to be profound, it became quite easy to enjoy its zany comedy, its magic effects, and its Serbo-Croat d├ęcor and music, both of which effectively mixed modern and traditional idioms. Perhaps the Balkan atmosphere (director Lenka Udovicki is from Belgrade) provided a subliminal qualification of the characters' desire for freedom and their short-lived euphoria when they think they have found it. Neither Red nor White in its politics, the production seemed as much concerned with Claribel's marriage as with Caliban's status. Since the company could afford the two attendant lords who are usually conflated into one, Udovicki made one of them, Tas Emiabata, a representative from the Tunisian court, full of enthusiasm about his king's marriage with Claribel and silently furious at Sebastian's racist condemnation of it. But the idea was allowed to drop, as it drops in the text, and the same was true of other potentially disturbing issues. When the audience clapped in accompaniment to Caliban's freedom song, it was not so much supporting his sentiments as enjoying the song and dance. But maybe that was precisely the point.

In fact, despite (or because of?) the absence of anticolonial sentiment, this was probably the most Caliban-dominated show since Beerbohm Tree played the part in 1904. Whether this emphasis was a good or bad thing depends on how much actor-audience interaction you can take. Jasper Britton had a wonderful time with the groundlings, and the lines gave him a good deal of scope for it, as when he mimicked the kinds of spirits Prospero sent to punish him or offered a graphic demonstration not only of how you snare the nimble marmoset but what you do with it afterwards (not nice). Spectators threw fish and bananas at him; sometimes they must have thrown lines as well, since at one point I heard him say, "Look, I do the gags, okay?" Obviously, this Caliban was no [End Page 124] isolated monster, no representative of an exploited and colonized race, but a stage clown with lots of friends out in the yard. So likeable a character could not simply be dismissed at the end, so the production let him retain a sense of dignity: he shook hands with Prospero, put on the hat that the latter offered him, and went off.

The prevailing tone was so light that no one worried whether Vanessa Redgrave's Prospero might be plotting a horrible vengeance on the rest of the cast. This was not a "female Prospero" but a woman playing a male Prospero--here, an eccentric Scot with [End Page 125] a touch of Dr. Who. Whether intentionally or not, the result was a rather...


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