Global InconsIstencIes

Rating: 3

There are two main problems with shakespeare’s Globe. (the phenomenally bum-unfriendly gallery seating doesn’t count, because that’s, y’know, history.) the first is that it hasn’t got a roof to speak of. this isn’t a problem because of rain or cold, but because of planes. it’s not that they get in, but their noise does. and the theatre seems to be bang on the western approach to london City airport, so when summer holiday season and the Globe high season start around the same time... well, the night I went to see the Winter’s tale, the three-hour show was interrupted by tremendously loud overflights more than 30 times. (yes, i’m sad enough to have counted.) at one point jealous king leontes, mistakenly insulting Queen hermione’s supposed infidelity by calling her a ‘hobby-horse’, nearly had half the word drowned out and seemed to declare, ‘my wife is a hobbit.’

This is a pity because Will keen, who plays leontes, is a wonderful actor for showing thought processes. the entire first half of the play is driven by leontes first raising an eyebrow, so to speak, then imagining hermione paying too much attention to his neighbour king Polixenes, and gradually building to a gibbering psychosis. But to follow this, you need to hear it.

You also need to listen to it. The second problem with the Globe is the audience. This absolutely isn’t snobbery. There’s something very special about the way Globe companies can forge a bond with the crowd, especially the groundlings standing in the pit: in Blanche Mcintyre’s production, when the old shepherd (who’s been given a sex-change, no problem) finds baby princess Perdita abandoned with a note and a wedge of money, annette Badland celebrates newfound riches by high-fiving every punter within range. But it’s an audience that likes to take every opportunity to laugh, sometimes even when wildly inappropriate. I’ve seen sexual assault in measure for measure get a big yuk here, so a king going slowly insane is almost bound to raise a few chuckles.

Thankfully, the chuckles and the air traffic are both under control for the climactic scene, in its way the most magical shakespeare ever wrote: hermione, pretending to be a statue, ‘comes to life’ and is reunited with leontes after 16 years of his grieving over his stupidity. Paulina, the plain-speaking courtier who engineers all this, is played beautifully by sirine saba, who isn’t nearly as well-known as she deserves to be. But with the first half getting laughs where it shouldn’t and the rustic jollity of the second not getting enough of them, this is a show that – through little fault of its own – just doesn’t strike the balance.


Runs in repertoire until 14 October at Shakespeare’s Globe,

London SE1, 020- 7401 9919