Not quite the Bard - but daggers, lust and gore galore

There's nothing timid about the Globe's policy of mixing Shakespeare with his contemporaries. So rare is Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy (circa 1610), performed three times this century, that the man next to me, clutching a battered copy, said his father had borrowed it from the school library in 1927 and had never returned it (that's quite a fine). Cheaper perhaps to buy one of the 700 copies rushed out by the education department at pounds 5.

But don't read it first: this helter-skelter, erotic thriller is more fun when you've no idea what's happening next. It has a neat twist. The handsome young Amintor (Jonathan Slinger) chucks the demure Aspatia (Anna- Livia Ryan) to marry the sexy, socially ambitious Evadne (Geraldine Alexander): it's the king's orders and no one is more loyal to him than Amintor. Trouble is, on their wedding night Evadne tells her husband that she sleeps with only one person, and that is the king. How can Amintor revenge the man to whom he swore undying loyalty?

As a writing duo (according to the diarist John Aubrey) Fletcher put the fancy stuff in, and Beaumont took it out. The mix works well. At times the plot could be tailored for Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. The dialogue bristles with tough, knowing sexual conflict. At other times, as you watch a bedroom murder, suicide by sword, self-justifying soliloquies and the ramblings of an old courtier, you think how much - in terms of plot devices - these writers shared with Shakespeare.

Nicholas le Prevost is formal and lascivious as the king, who cannot resist a look of expectant pleasure when he wakes to discover his mistress has tied him to the bed (she knifes him to death). As the mistress, Geraldine Alexander has the terrier-like quality of a woman on the make. If Slinger overworks Amintor's emotions early on, the play catches up with him. Mark Lewis Jones is robust and forceful as the soldier Melantius, and Patrick Godfrey is comically aggrieved as old Calianax. Lucy Bailey rightly directs this entertaining drama for its brisk highs and lows. The audience giggles when the blood-soaked bodies pile up, but the actors play it admirably straight.

Shakespeare's Globe, SE1 (0171 401 9919), today (4pm), Wed & Fri (7.30pm) & in rep to 19 Sept.

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