Monday, 27 August 2012

Richard and the Drowndlings

Audience at the Globe
You aren't supposed to take photos at Shakespeare's Globe in London, but this is a picture of the audience not the players. It was at the end of the interval of the matinée of Richard the Third last Saturday.

No sooner had Mark Rylance started to utter the first lines of the play, in soliloquy - "Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer ... " than the heavens opened and it POURED for the duration, enbellished by thunder and lightning. Indeed the rain was so loud that you couldn't always hear the actors.

In the interval the Ladies was apparently full of women trying to dry their sodden clothes under the hand-drier! You can see how many people had bought the flimsy £2.50 plastic macs but really it was such a soaker, only sou'westers  would have been a protection.

The groundlings were troopers. The only gaps you can see are because some came and sheltered in the overhang of the galleries. I don't think anyone went home. And this production was sold out. I tried not to feel guilty in the back row of the Lower Gallery with somewhere to lean my back as well as out of the weather.

It's a play absolutely jam-packed with references to the sun and the weather.
"The weary sun hath made a golden set,
And by the bright track of his fiery car,
Gives signal, of a goodly day to-morrow,"
says Richmond (later Henry Vll) just before the Battle of Bosworth Field - a forecast some were glad of.

"Who saw the sun to-day?" asks Richard on the morning of the battle. "Not I, my lord," answers Ratcliff. Mark Rylance had fun with:
"The sun will not be seen to-day;
The sky doth frown and lour upon our army.
I would these dewy tears were from the ground."

And right on cue, after his victory, when Richmond said, "Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction," out came the sun! Is God a Lancastrian?

Over on my other blog The History Girls is an impassioned post from Laurie Graham who is a Riccardian, which I am not (although I am a Yorkist). Richard is much in the news at present, with plans to dig up a car park in Leicester to find his body.

But here I'm talking about the play not the man. Rylance's performance was extraordinary - a cross between an English king and Count Arthur Strong! And yet it worked, the bumbling and vague Duke of Gloucester, disingenuously claiming not that he was innocent but that he had killed his victims out of love - first for Anne Neville and then his niece, Elizabeth of York.

That Elizabeth didn't appear in this production, but her mother Elizabeth Woodville (Queen Elizabeth) did and was very well played by Samuel Barnett. For this was an all-male cast, as it would have been when performed in Shakespeare's day. Barnett was Posner in The History Boys (on stage and in the film) and he made an excellent woman. Lady Anne was less good, though she was a lovely ghost.

My favourite female character, Margaret of Anjou, "the She-wolf of France" had been cut altogether from this rather stripped down version of the text. And that was a shame. Not only do we lose,

"Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune!
Why strew'st thou sugar on that bottled spider,
Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?
Fool, fool! thou whet'st a knife to kill thyself.
The time will come when thou shalt wish for me
To help thee curse that poisonous bunchback'd toad."

but that wonderful incantation:
"I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
I had a Harry, till a Richard kill'd him:
Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard killed him ..."

in the scene she plays with Richard's mother, the Duchess of York and Queen Elizabeth, widow of Edward lV.  I missed that.

image by Georges Seguin (Okki)
Mark Rylance limped on with a white rose in his hand and gave it to a woman in the front row (I hope it survived the storm). The White Rose is the traditional symbol of the House of York so all the more puzzling that the programme carried the red rose on the front (a symbol of the House of Lancaster though the scene in which the rival factions pluck their blooms in "Henry Vl" was invented by Shakespeare).

I wonder how often Shakespeare's groundlings were drenched to the skin? And how much fun the actors had improvising round the text on a really wet day?


catdownunder said...

I have often wondered what the weather did to their performances too as well as the lack of microphones, lighting etc. My father and I recently saw some documentaries about traditional Japanese and Indian theatre. In both cases mention was made of the way costumes, makeup and sometimes other effects have had to change because of modern lighting and equipment. It was fascinating.

maryom said...

How did they cope back in the day? Not even plastic macs then!
I know this was a high quality, paid-for event so not really comparable to street theatre but I've never seen people move so quickly as when the heavens opened in Edinburgh on a Fringe crowd - and I've never seen such a rush for an art gallery, the nearest cover!

Penny Dolan said...

Such a wonderful description of the play as played,Mary.

This is a production I'd love to see - though fear I won't - but perhaps not on such a rainy day.

I suppose in the past you tried to shelter as best you could but otherwise just got on with it? The streets can't have been very pleasant underfoot.

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh I'd love to see that production - with Mark Rylance too! Even in the rain - though I'd rather not have been a 'drowndling'!

frances thomas said...

Sounds as though you inadvertently had a genuine Elizabethan experience; I'd love to see it. Omissions and messing about with texts are always irritating, though for practical reasons they have to happen sometimes.The otherwise excellent Henry V on TV was spoled by some crucial omissions. As long as the integrity of the text is preserved....(we must carry on our discussion of King John some time....)