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‘Bartholomew Fair’ review

Theatre, Comedy Shakespeare's Globe , South Bank Friday September 27 2019 - Saturday October 12 2019
3 out of 5 stars
Bartholomew Fair, 2019, Shakespeare's Globe
© Marc Brenner Forbes Masson (Humphrey Wasp)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A lively revival for Ben Jonson’s bawdy comedy – but why wasn’t it staged outdoors?

If only there were some sort of large, raucous, open-air theatre in London that could stage this rare revival of Ben Jonson’s sprawling outdoor-set 1614 comedy ‘Bartholomew Fair’…

Seriously, though, Blanche McIntyre’s Sam Wanamaker revival has a lot going for it, but it seems mad that it’s not part of the outdoor programme of Michelle Terry’s second summer season. The programme notes say it’s okay because Jonson’s play was likely only staged indoors during his lifetime. But you could say that of a lot of Shakespeare plays, no?

Anyway, McIntyre’s spirited revival – a longtime pet project – is fun, albeit sometimes bewilderingly so as it tries to condense a four hour, 30-plus character play into a two-and-a-half-hour one performed by 12 actors. 

Loosely speaking it follows the extremely misguided attempts of lawman Adam Overdo (Dickon Tyrell) to go undercover at the notoriously bawdy Smithfield fair, which began in 1133 and was finally discontinued in 1855 for being too much fun. It does not go well, and at the risk of spoilering, at one point in McIntyre’s production it results in Overdo being battered by a giant Pikachu toy.

The joy of the thing is the rude, eccentric sprawl of life it presents, which is amplified via the quick-change modern dress costumes and Ti Green’s vivid sets. It’s one of those plots where it’s simultaneously very easy to follow the main thrust while feeling constantly bewildered at *precisely* what is going on in front of you. It’s a pleasant sort of confusion.

The production is afflicted by accentitis, that gratingly stagey phenomenon whereby virtually every character in a revival of an early modern comedy has a different accent. (NB I am so so bored with Brit directors deploying an Eastern European accent to denote a character’s otherness).

What it really lacks, though, is a sense of bustle and hubbub. For all its undoubted spirit, the production feels a bit contained, and never really has the feel of an actual fair, which is a shame because the Globe’s outdoor stage could have been so perfect for this. Apparently there were ambitious plans for the production to take place all around the Globe building, but they were scuppered by logistics. Ropey accents aside, McIntyre has made a good fist of her pet project, but it feels like maybe this wasn’t the production of her dreams. Maybe not all the fun of the fair, but most of it.

Details

Venue name: Shakespeare's Globe
Venue website: www.shakespearesglobe.com
Venue phone: 020 7902 1400
Address: 21
New Globe Walk
Bankside
London
SE1 9DT
Transport: Tube: Blackfriars/Mansion House/London Bridge
Price: £7-£62. Runs 2hr 30min
Opening hours: Globe Exhibition and Tour daily 9am–5pm. Closed Dec 24 and 25. (Check in advance for dates when the tour is not available.)

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