Wednesday, 15 July 2015

'King John' at Shakespeare's Globe

We went to see 'King John' a few weeks ago, a play I've neither seen before nor read. King John isn't really on the radar at all and all I know about him is that he was Richard the Lion Heart's brother and signed the Magna Carta. Since it's the anniversary of the Magna Carta then I suspect that's why the Globe chose to revive the play. And I'm jolly pleased they did. I can see why it's not often performed but there are some smashing speeches hidden in that play and some wonderful poetry and it's great to see a production that's not scared to bring them out.

It's ostensibly the tale of John from coronation to death-bed but we also see Richard's son Arthur and his illegitimate son (known as the Bastard), power struggles with Eleanor of Acquitaine to her dynsaty (and power) intact, wars with France, Vatican meddling and all sorts of goings on. It's all over the shop so it was good to see it controlled and focused to tell an (almost) coherent narrative. I liked the staging that had most of the action taking place on red carpets laid out in cruciform shape on the stage which reflects the cross of St George on the English flag. It also controls the action.

My favourite characyers in the play were Lady Constance and the Bastard. They were consistent in purpose and, in the case of the Bastard, he developed into a loyal supporter of the crown which he can never have. Some of the other characters were very lightly drawn, like Arthur (the heir) who should have been a stronger character but it's not there in the play.

I've never seen Tanya Moodie before but she magnificent as Lady Constance, a queen determined that her son will inherit the crown and she has a stirring speech at the end of the first half that gets the blood boiling. The wronged wife, the legitimate heir, at odds with her mother-in-law Eleanor and the she vanishes and we hear nothing more about her. I want to see more of Tanya!

The other pleasant surprise was Alex Waldmann as the Bastard, Richard's illegitimate son. I saw him in 'Widower's Houses' earlier this year and it was nice to see him in a more powerful role. He was well good and I'll definitely be watching out for him in the future. He moved from illegitimate son on the make to loyal supporter and was a joy to see.

Jo Stone-Fewings played King John and definietly strayed into panto territory but it all worked and helped to make sense of the character. I can understand why this play is rarely performed but this production helped to make sense of it all. A bit of judicious editing might help future productions but I'm mighty glad I saw this production. Another thumbs up for the Globe!

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