Footsbarn's Christmas Cracker, Shakespeare's Globe, London
Wednesday 30 December 2009
Braving the elements like some communal version of King Lear, the utterly idiosyncratic Footsbarn collective have mounted the first yuletide show at Shakespeare's Globe. Performed in cold, rainy but elatingly festive conditions on the night that I attended, Christmas Cracker ends in the same joyously eccentric, wondrously witty and indissolubly Shakespearean manner that has marked its progress over two unequal portions. Streamers suddenly fall through wintry air, spring suddenly puts in an inordinately early and floral appearance and the company joins in a bonkers but beautiful rendition of "Summer Is Icumen In".
A tightrope is slung over the stage across which performers winged like angels make their perilous progress while below, sometimes in counterpoint, sometimes in full concordance, meme-like snatches from the Shakesperean canon career around in a kind of reason-in-madness quasi-chaos. With the lighting and the bunting, the Globe looks like as though it has half-mutated into an Edwardian music hall. You long for these effects to be immortalised in paint by Walter Sickert; you feel that the Angela Carter, who created Fevvers in Nights at the Circus and the highly Bard-influenced Wise Children, would go weak at the knees with delight if she could time-travel to this event.
With gigantic grotesque puppets and sketches that seem to range in influence from Monty Python to Samuel Beckett, this is a bill that will tickle the fancy of first-timers to the Globe and to excite the imagination of fully paid-up Bard-botherers. There's a hilariously idolatrous Nativity scene in which the ass is the transformed Bottom and the new-born babe a quill-clutching Tudor infant in full-period swaddling wraps. The ethos is, throughout, identifiably, if sometimes ineffably, Shakespearean – there's a real, resilent feeling for how in the midst of life we are in death and vice versa.
My favourite act was the woman who comes on dolled up as a human-size white maggot while skilfully playing an accordion with just one hand. After a ditty about how she has eaten her way through the corpses of various big-shot Shakespearean character, she moves to the back of the stage and launches into a bizarre, but extraordinarily haunting version of Dido's Lament from Purcell's great opera. Mulled wine; magically mulled-over Shakespeare; an unmissable holiday treat.
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