THEATRE / The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare's Globe, Londong groundling-pleaser

The light faded. The rain fell. But Mark Rylance's first production at the reconstructed 'Wooden O' came home safe and dry. Paul Taylor finds himself pleasantly surprised by an invigoratin...

The thrust stage of Shakespeare's reconstructed Globe theatre famously features two pillars that support its canopy roof. To choose for the inaugural production a play which stars a dog might seem, therefore, to be asking for trouble - the stage baptised in more ways than one. But the canine kept continent and so - on the second night of Jack Shepherd's spirited staging of The Two Gentlemen of Verona - did the heavens. Until, that is, the final act, when a couple of brief showers treated the groundlings - the 500 spectators who stand in the yard of this "wooden O", exposed to the elements - to a tantalising trailer for the full-scale downpour that began the moment the performance finished.

I've never liked shows that cast the audience in a fake role: the Good Old Days-style of dressing up in period gear, say, for a repro old-fashioned evening at the music hall, replete with a formulaic participation ritual. The previous night, I'd been at a musical which trades on the pretence that its audience are Sixties swingers at a rock festival, so the falsities of this set-up were very much in my mind.

Any worries that the Globe would encourage, or even pander to, such tastes were quickly dispelled. The actors, like the audience, are in modern dress (Ray-Bans, peaked caps, sneakers, etc). This produces a bizarre, dislocating sense of incongruity at first, rather as if one were to turn up at the Lloyd's building and find that it had been taken over by toga'd Romans. Like the colour-blind, accent-deaf casting, it's a welcome signal that this is not to be a theme park or hive of stuffy antiquarianism. The intent (to offer a fresh perspective on the plays by exploring them in the original staging conditions) clearly does not involve a nostalgia-fogged turning- away from the present.

First impressions of the place: I hadn't expected it to be anything like as intimate. The drawback to this is a certain amount of discomfort: I sat in the front row of the highest of the tightly packed galleries with their backless wooden benches and if anyone wanted to get past to a seat, the entire row would have to move right out. The other thing that came as a big surprise is the light - not the daylight, but the absence of lighting effects when it gets dark. The fact that there's no discrimination between how the stage and the spectators are lit produces a rather drab evenness of tone across the former. We're so used to having our attention focused by lighting that the eye feels a trifle awkward exercising its greater freedom here.

Usually seen as the weak forerunner of the later, much greater romantic comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which explores the conflict between the claims of love and of friendship, would not be everybody's first choice for an inaugural production. The comparative baldness of its dramaturgy (it depends, almost exclusively, on soliloquy, duologue and aside) does, however, let you see how certain features of the Globe stage work very clearly. The pillars, for example, make handy hiding places for eavesdroppers, as when Lennie James's Valentine sees his intended about to be raped by his friend Proteus. Now disguised as a boy, Stephanie Roth's Julia sits behind one at a cafe table, listening stricken, while upstage her lover vainly serenades Anastasia Hille's elegant, balconied Sylvia.

The fact that the actors can see the faces of the audience and perform so close to the groundlings leaning on the edge of the stage makes the soliloquies much more of an interplay. Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe and the actor playing Proteus, works the crowd brilliantly in such sequences as, fundamentally unconvinced himself, he tries to persuade us of his casuistical justifications for betraying friend and lover. Even as he speaks, the bad conscience behind the bluff is comically apparent in the nerviness and repression of the body language. Proteus is, in many ways, a sneaky shit but Rylance's natural sweetness and miraculous audience rapport convince you that he is a good person gone astray. Whether this carries you through the notorious near-rape and Valentine's subsequent absurd gesture of friendship is another matter.

The duo who steal the show are Jim Bywater's excellent cloth-capped northern Launce and his impervious dog Crab, which looks out at the audience with an expression that says, "Do you see what I have to put up with?" while ignoring and driving to distraction its ridiculous master. To say nothing of heroically resisting those pillars.

To 15 Sept. Booking: 0171-401 9919

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?