The rest is English. Or it soon will be: this weekend’s French Much Ado About Nothing and Lithuanian Hamlet will be the last two foreign-language productions in the Globe’s season of all Shakespeare’s plays performed by companies from around the world. The finale takes place next week, with the theatre’s own Henry V in a language that has been conspicuous by its absence over the past six weeks. Here, from a groundling perspective – standing only, £5 a ticket – is a sample of last week’s offerings.
The Taming of the Shrew, Theatre Wallay, Pakistan
Here is a tricky play, writes Alexander Gilmour. The story: a young bride is “tamed” by her fiancé. She submits to him completely. Happy ending. (In one previous production, the bride slit her wrists instead.)
Theatre Wallay interpreted the story as an awfully sunny rom-com with inane gags, cartwheels and sexy badinage. It was highly attractive, proficient and often funny. But any moral doubt was missing and this groundling, for one, found it sexist and unpalatable.
The Merchant of Venice, Habima National Theatre, Israel
The furore over Habima’s invitation – with calls for a boycott because the company has performed in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories – prompted the Globe to bring in security that wouldn’t have been out of place at Heathrow, writes Eleanor Turney. This would have been a fragmented production even without the protesters who managed to sneak in, but three evictions in the first half and two in the second made it even more disjointed.
Strong acting was not enough to disguise some rather lacklustre directorial decisions. But it had its moments: Antonio on trial was tied to the pillars of the Globe’s stage, evoking a crucifixion; the casket scenes were witty and played well with stereotypes; Portia’s swaggering with a codpiece was amusing; and the image of a frail Shylock being kicked to the ground by a gang of younger men was suitably powerful – though Habima did not gloss over the merchant’s less pitiable side, such as his malevolent glee at the thought of getting his pound of flesh.
The Comedy of Errors, Roy-e-Sabs, Afghanistan
Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity was transposed to modern-day Kabul in this wonderfully farcical production, writes Griselda Murray Brown. The cast drew us into the chaos with plenty of slapstick and silliness, and the delicious plot twists were heightened by music – the musicians acting as cheeky bystanders to the confusion.
Roy-e-Sabs works against a backdrop of constant destruction: its rehearsal space, the British Council compound in Kabul, was attacked by suicide bombers last year. The play’s final reconciliation was all the more moving, and joyful, for our knowledge of such conditions.
Henry VIII, Rakatá, Spain
Madrid’s Rakatá served up this late play to a packed matinee crowd, writes Raphael Abraham. Luckily the Spaniards injected some much-needed zip, zing and earthy Iberian humour into this somewhat stodgy work. An unusually slender and supple Henry wooed a coquettish Anne Bullen with slinky moves while an impassioned Buckingham roused righteous anger in the crowd; the themes of corruption and hypocrisy were all too familiar to anyone following recent Spanish regional politics.