Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...
Braving the rain at the Globe Theatre and the making of Gone With The Wind.
The Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames, directly across the river from St Paul's, is a replica of the kind of theatre Shakespeare used to work in; where those strapped for cash could stand around the covered performance area in the open air whilst the better off sat on benches in the roofed galleries.
The majority of its repertoire now is Shakespeare plays in period costume, but what stops the whole thing being some ghastly living-history tourist experience is the robust, often hilarious quality of the productions which keep the long uncomfortable evenings very lively.
A second more recent initiative is that the company also regularly present new plays for short runs and living playwrights can attempt Shakespeare’s revered chemistry: mixing crowd pleasing comedy with drama, pageantry and action.
The P.R. legend is that actor Che Walker, who I know, conceived the theatre’s latest new piece, THE FRONT LINE, whilst playing a small role in Othello at the Globe and analysing what did and didn’t work in the space. The result is an infectiously lively evening in which the kind of lovable low-lifes we enjoy in Shakespeare’s tavern scenes, (or in a play like Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair and the gangster fables of Damon Runyan), spew across the stage – except these street-wise characters represent contemporary Camden.
There are drug pushers, fast food sellers, bouncers, dodgy entrepreneurs, religious nuts, prostitutes and many shades of eccentric all playing out interconnecting stories on the pavement outside a night club.
The action comes at you thick and fast, several scenes are often presented at once, but this is all so cleverly orchestrated that it soon builds into a gripping kaleidoscope of little tragedies and romances.
No one story is quite engaging enough to hold our attention for a whole evening but collectively the effect can be mesmerising.
Even standing in torrential rain the first night audience of company friends certainly roared their recognition and approval of the rich street vocabulary whilst the middle classes in the galleried seating enjoyed the warm glow that comes from feeling “down with the kids”.
Kurt Weill attempted a similar effect on Broadway with his 1930’s slice of New York urban life, Street Scene, about to be revived for a few performances down the road at The Young Vic Theatre. If it’s as good as this seeing both could be a very special experience, linking the gritty lives of the urban poor across the decades.
There’s fruity language too at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre where they’re reviving their recent hit MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS, a very funny play by Ron Hutchinson, that locks a producer, writer and director in a room for five days in 1930’s Hollywood as they try to hammer out a better script for the classic movie Gone with the Wind when filming of an earlier version isn’t working.
There’s lots to enjoy here – insider movie gossip and in-jokes about this celluloid favourite but what really grips is the merciless portrayal of egos under pressure as the three descend from blokey civility into exhausted, ulcer busting desperation and confrontations that never quite camouflage the men’s affection for each other.