Thursday, 18 June 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Fifteen

King John, Shakespeare's Globe, London. June 2015.

Completely by accident I managed to book us tickets for this show just one day before the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215.  Of course he didn't stick to it but this is what he is probably best remembered for in history.

Shakespeare's King John doesn't mention the document at all, and in this production it is name checked thanks to lines from another play The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England being incorporated to the script - it has to be said this was very well done as I had only read the play a few days before seeing the production and I couldn't spot any 'sore thumb' lines.

This production has been touring around the country and the staging was very striking in the Globe setting, with a big walk way stretching into the Groundling area as well as two extra parts of stage to either side of this - sadly from where we were sitting in the Upper Gallery we couldn't see these although the acoustics of the venue did mean that we didn't miss a word.

 The view from our seats, the walk way went on much longer and there were two other free standing stage areas.

King John is about succession, relations with France and relations with the Papacy. The falling out with the British aristocracy which so marred John's actual rule is a very small side story towards the end of the play.  For such an episodic play I found the narrative clear and followed the twists easily, although some of the cross casting did seem to confuse a few people sitting near us.  I think that I might have been more confused had I not read the play in advance of seeing it!

The first act of the play had some amazingly strong female characters - some of the strongest I've seen in Shakespeare - and I loved the idea that as well being, possibly, not the legitimate ruler of England John was also still ruled by his mother.  The three main women are sadly forgotten by the second half (original play and not directing choice) but they certainly drive the first half and in many ways set up the action for the second.

As for King John - I couldn't help but like him as he was certainly channelling King John as portrayed in the Disney cartoon Robin Hood and that has always been my favourite classic Disney film even though it is very cheesy!

I wasn't sure of the production at the interval but it has grown on me.  The simple staging was good and it was nice to see the musicians so clearly during the production but after a while they did become a little distracting and made the stage seem cluttered.

Minor niggles as I did like the play overall just a little sad that we did miss so much of the action visually.

Disney's King John from 1973

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