A Mad World, My Masters at Shakespeare's Globe

Anyone who missed the Carry On films with their double entendres, implausible plots, teeth grindingly awful puns and excessively silly names had best hurry down to the Globe for an example of British bawdy humour at its best in Thomas Middleton s A Mad World, My Masters.

Even the Carry On team at its most inspired would be hard pushed to come up with names such as Penitent Brothel for a lecherous seducer or Master Shortrod Harebrain (and can't you just hear Julian Clary relish that name?).

Unlike the Carry On films, however, there is an underlying seriousness to the events unfolding on stage. As the director, Sue Lefton, points out in the programme notes, the play was written in 1605, a time of great social upheaval. A new king on the throne, a move towards a new degree of solemnity in religion, the rise of the merchant class and the growing importance of the City of London meant a shake-up of long-held ideas - and of course, provided many new targets to satirise.

There is certainly satire a-plenty, although all the characters are now more than caricatures for Middleton's playful pen. As far as the plot goes, it is best not to dwell - the audience is expected to swallow quite a large number of implausibilities. To sum up simply, Lady Gullman, beautifully played by Belinda Davison, wishes to cease a life of prostitution, and get married, while Wil Johnson's Dick Follywit tries to connive a fortune out of his grandfather, Sir Bounteous Progress. Nothing is quite what it seems and there are some unlikely events, but the audience seems quite happy to suspend disbelief for such a merry romp.

One of the joys of coming to the Globe is seeing such dedication to ensemble playing - there are no star turns here and the excellent cast is warmly received at the end. One should, however, reserve special praise for Jonathan Cecil as the put-upon Sir Bounteous Progress. His playing is a masterpiece of comic forbearance and his delight in having the last laugh could not be done better.

Even if the interplay between audience and cast is slightly less obvious than is usual at the Globe, this is still a wonderful night for all the spectators. This production fizzes with fun and is another must-see from the Globe.

A Mad World, My Masters continues until 19 September 1998.

Maxwell Cooter