- A 2011 Gallimaufry of Plays:Shakespeare, Heywood, Marlowe, and Massinger
Playgoing in 2011 in London and Stratford yielded a wide array of celebrities, special effects, distinctive choices, and successful revivals. Included were Kevin Spacey as Richard III (the hottest ticket in London); eye-catching scenes in Doctor Faustus; a Merchant of Venice set in Las Vegas; a non-problematic ending to All's Well; a very funny Midsummer Night's Dream; a first-rate resurrection of a Massinger comedy; and a feminist reshaping of A Woman Killed with Kindness.
At the Globe, John Dove's production of All's Well had several elements worth noting. The appearance of various rings in the show was highlighted by chimes (cast members called the effect "ring music"). In 1.1 a younger-than-usual Countess (Janie Dee) first slapped a weeping Helena (as if to say "Get over it!") and then did the same to her son. This show's most distinctive feature was a more positive than usual take on the last-scene reconciliation of Helena (Ellie Piercy) and Bertram (Sam Crane) whose onstage relationship was structured around three kisses. In the opening scene the departing Bertram gave a weeping Helena a brotherly farewell kiss that generated her subsequent speech and her interaction with Parolles (James Garnon). Crane's youthful callow figure did react disdainfully to the enforced marriage ("A poor physician's daughter my wife!"—2.3.115)1 and did plan his escape, but in their subsequent meeting his brutally dismissive comment at her entrance ("Here comes my clog"—2.7.53) was delivered softly so as to be scarcely audible. Helena's begging of a kiss (a request that in most productions is not satisfied) led here to a significant link between the two that was broken by Parolles, an intervention that supported later comments that label Parolles as the instigator of Bertram's caddish behavior. [End Page 37]
As readers since Dr. Johnson have noted, the final scene displays Bertram at his worst as he wriggles, lies, and treats Diana harshly (and this behavior is not part of Shakespeare's sources) so that in most interpretations the concluding remark of the king (played forcefully by Sam Cox) that "All yet seems well" (5.3.333) and the mere two-and-a-half lines granted Bertram for repentance do not add up to a hopeful comedic ending. However, in response to her "'Tis but the shadow of a wife you see, / The name and not the thing" Crane delivered his "Both, both. O, pardon!" (307-8) with great force from a kneeling position, so that his if clause ("If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly, / I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly") and her rejoinder ("If it appear not plain and prove untrue, / Deadly divorce step between me and you!"—315-18) generated a lengthy third kiss—all this in the presence of a chastened Parolles now minus his finery. I, for one, came away with a sense of a Bertram whose Parolles side had been superseded by a determined and resourceful Helena.
Also at the Globe, Matthew Dunster's Doctor Faustus was notable for the inventive staging of several challenging moments. Mephistopheles first appeared as a huge horned head that loomed over a row of black-clad figures that parted to reveal Arthur Darvill's red-capped friar, while another set of oversized furred and horned figures clustered around the two clowns who emerged with the heads of an ape and a dog. Elsewhere clever costuming enabled Faustus (Paul Hilton) to display his severed head to Benvolio by having it stick out half way up the side of his gown, though the loss of his leg, the punch line to the Horse Courser sequence, was not staged. This Mephistopheles was adept at producing fire, and the "hot whore" who appears when Faustus asks for a wife had sparklers between her legs. The two angels were not static figures preaching their respective views but combative female warriors in armor who engaged several times in single combat with their swords; when the Bad Angel was in the ascendant Mephistopheles took away the Good Angel...