The Honest Whore at Shakespeare's Globe
The question that is always asked after a neglected play has been resurrected is 'was it worth it?'. With the Globe's new production, there's an interesting slant on that question as director Jack Shepherd has revived two plays - by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton - and conflated them into one. Unfortunately, such generosity has not doubled our pleasure but has led to one of the most tedious experiences in the theatre that I have had for a long time.
The trouble is that the plays are based on some preposterous plots. This is not an unusual criticism for plays of this period (some of Shakespeare's plots are far-fetched beyond belief), but what often rescues them is the magnificence of the language. By stripping the two plays of all extraneous material, Shepherd (and his partner in crime, Globe director, Mark Rylance) are just presenting the bare bones of a story that doesn't bear much examination.
The play(s) is a comedy of sorts. The fact that there are scarcely any laughs in nearly three hours succeeds in seriously depleting the Globe audience who began drifting off well before the end.
For those who are bothered, the play revolves around Bellafront, a prostitute who seeks to make herself respectable by marrying. She makes the inappropriate choice of Matheo, a murderer, thief, gambler and liar. In the first play, Hippolito is stricken with grief at the death of his beloved Infelice, but on discovering she lives (don't ask), hatches a plot to seize her from her disapproving father. In the second half, the virtuous Hippolito has been transformed into a lecherous seducer, relentlessly pursuing Bellafront (whom he had rejected in the first half of the play). The final scene takes place in Bridewell prison, after the police have arrested just about everybody except Mark Rylance's Hippolito (although as co-adapter and hammiest actor, he deserved a good long stretch) and it all ends happily ever after.
Lilo Baur as Bellafront and Clarence Smith as Matheo work hard to make their characters believable. Unfortunately for Sonia Ritter, Infelice is too small a part for any actress to do something with, although Ritter's performance does suggest that this is a wife not to be tangled with.
The only actor who emerges with any real dignity is Marcello Magni as the ever-patient Candido. He produces the few laughs of the night - his forbearance is worth cherishing on a night when the audience's patience is so sorely stretched.
The Honest Whore continues at the Globe until 18 September 1998.