Oh dear. I really wanted to like this so much. Firstly the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe is possibly my favourite theatre. It is an absolutely beautiful re-creation of one of the first indoor theatres. It’s an intimate space in which you feel almost feel the actors’ breath, and it is lighted, with a few exceptions, entirely by candlelight.
Not being a great fan of Jacobean tragedy I was really looking forward to seeing how the play would work in a space for which it could have been written. And on an extremely positive note, this production really used the theatre to the best effect of any staging I have seen there. There are candelabras which can be lowered, sconces (some with mirrors) and candles holders and candelabras for the actors to hold. In this production the candlelight was held back, so that shadows and darkness really dominated the stage. The play started in darkness, and even when the candelabras were lighted, not all candles were used. Also the candelabras were lowered below waist-level more than I have seen before. Candles were used for a footlights-like effect, and when the actors held candles, the light from them really added to the intensity of the atmosphere. The trap and the inner rooms were also used to very good effect. I also really liked the costumes which were a sort of steampunk Jacobean. They balanced original and contemporary without detraction or distraction.
But oh!if only the acting had been on the same par. Admittedly I was tired when I saw it and I knew nothing about the play at all. But really, did everyone have to shout so much? It was all on such a heightened pitch that (ironically considering the staging) there was no light or dark in the emotional playing of the text. Of course the plot is a bit bonkers, but that is no reason to play out the text at such a monotone. It’s always a bad sign when I am willing people to die, and the body-strewn finale couldn’t come quick enough for me.
There was one moment when I saw what a great production this could have been. A floor standing candelabra was placed between two characters who were playing out a soon-to-be consummated sexual attraction. One by one, alternatively the actors blew out the candles as they spoke. It could have been a truly erotically charged moment in an intense, dark and despairing tragedy. Instead I was left despairing of the tragic missing of an intense, dark opportunity.