First Nighter: Shakespeare Globe Smartly Does the Bard's Jacobean Works

LONDON -- During the winter months the Shakespeare's Globe crowd--as the current artistic director Dominic Dromgoole is about to depart--is bringing William Shakespeare indoors. Rather than offering four of the Bard's works in the open Elizabethan round, the deciders are presenting Pericles, The Tempest, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale in the enclosed Jacobean auditorium, which is lit exclusively by candles and sometimes torches. The idea is that the works would have debuted not at the Globe but in the enclosed Blackfriars theater north of the Thames. Initially, the Globe mavens thought the design they were using for what's called the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is from the pen of Inigo Jones. It turns out to be a blueprint from Jones follower John Webb--the subsequent venue being one Shakespeare would never have seen but was considered close enough. I was able to see only two productions, but based on the quality of both, I'd wager the others are equally accomplished:

Pericles--In no other Shakespeare play is the leading character thoroughly good. He hasn't the hint of a tragic flaw. Nothing, not an inkling. Rather, he's a man to whom evil is done--not unlike, when you think of it, the innocents in Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Upon learning his intended bride, whom Pericles (James Garnon) has won as the result of a court guessing game, has been incested by her father, he attempts to do something about it. But the monarch puts a hit on the intrepid lad, which results in Pericles's experiencing a series of hairbreadth adventures. There's a wife supposedly dead in child birth and a daughter also menaced. Many of the playwright's usual themes and incidents--shipwrecks, lost children, deceased spouses revived--materialize but this time more as a picaresque tale than a tragedy. At one point, as abandoned and desolate daughter Marina (Jessica Baglow) is on the (knife) point of being done in by jealous queen Dionyza (Dorothea Myer-Bennett), she's kidnapped/rescued by pirates literally bursting onto the scene. And on Pericles and Pericles go. It's narrated start to finish by Gower (Sheila Reed), who's full of lively iambic pentameter. Dromgoole has no end of fun directing a cast, six of whom double admirably. They're all ready, willing and able to join in the macabre hijinks. It's difficult to imagine the first of the late romances ever being anyone's favorite Shakespeare opus, but rendered with this degree of creativity, it's undeniably entertaining as it passes.

The Winter's Tale--At director Michael Longhurst's bidding and in Richard Kent's period finery, Shakespeare's saga of death and rebirth is getting an almost relentlessly impassioned interpretation. The chandeliers, candelabra and sconces by which the so-called "romance" is illuminated are further enhanced by torches. They're employed most effectively when Paulina (Niamh Cusack, endlessly sympathetic and accusatory) reports the death of Hermione (Rachael Stirling), who succumbs after being wrongly accused of adultery by Leontes (John Light), king of Sicilia. The mood changes when Perdita (Tia Bannon), abandoned as an infant but now 16, has fallen for prince Florizel (Stefan Donnelly) and the romps abound. That's until their love idyll in Bohemia is threatened. The cause is his father, Polixenes (Simon Armstrong). There's nothing amiss in the production, and certainly not with the aid of Simon Slater's music and Fleur Darkin's often-boisterous choreography. The same goes for the performances, which James Garnon boosts immensely with his lip-licking Autolycus.