The Lightning Child (Globe)

Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill’s musical at Shakespeare’s Globe proves a baffling affair

The Lightning Child
The Lightning Child
© Simon Kane

Some people have left, others are on their feet cheering while the rest of us are applauding politely while exchanging confused glances. We have all just sat through almost three hours of something which appears to have been edited by a child with a crayon and whose costumes have been designed based on an accidental order of too much gold Lycra.

There are some genuinely funny and poignant moments in The Lightning Child and a few people who might actually “get” this new musical, however, the vast majority of those who see this production will likely leave feeling like they've missed something important which could fill the void currently taken up with confusion and befuddlement.

The first musical at the Globe, Matthew Dunster, Che Walker and Arthur Darvill's ” The Lightning Child” based on Euipedes’ The Baccahe doesn’t really fit the musical format at all. There are a couple of songs in it and some tribal chanting but they appear to use these in order to try to tie together the madness.

So, let me try and piece together some sense from the “plot” which, as suggested by the narrator at the beginning, I attempted to figure out on the train home. The Baccahe focuses on Dionysus who is the god of everything taken to excess – drugs, drink, partying. Set everywhere, modern and ancient, with real and unimagined characters, this production claims to explore universal themes of sex, power, envy and retribution.

It begins with Neil Armstrong arguing with his wife about his imminent trip to the moon; obviously. We meet our guide for the evening in the form of Ladyboy Herald – a literal man in the moon. This is followed by singing and dancing in Africa, drug addicts in London, a viola player and her jealous flatmate and a scene with Billie Holiday and Lester Young… yes that’s right, you read correctly. All of this is interwoven with a vague nod to Euripides’ original play, some shocking violence, plenty of gratuitous swearing and endless self indulgence.

Although this all sounds bad, there are nevertheless a couple of strong performances that kept me in the theatre. Jonathan Chambers as Ladyboy Herald is very entertaining. His camp style and ease with the audience made me feel he could bring order to any bizarre role. Alongside him are Clifford Samuel's exceptionally narcissistic Pentheus, who mades the audience touch his six pack and mines genuine laughs when he's persuaded to dress as a woman to visit the gods. Finally, Tommy Coleman‘s husky tones and snake like hips make for an enjoyable Dionysus.

All told though this is a seriously self indulgent “musical” with a lot of swearing and a baffling plot. Having sat through the three-hour production, read the synopsis and trawled through the program for clues, I am none the wiser. But there are beautiful women, a carnival atmosphere, a lot of gold spandex and men with shiny silver nipples (I don’t know why). As Ladyboy says, “Don’t worry if you get lost… don’t try and make sense of it.”