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Michael Coveney: Bugles and beatbox sound brazenly across the Thames

Edinburgh's always a bubble, but even when spending several days there last week I knew I wanted to see Gabriel at the Globe the minute I returned to London; more so, even, than I wanted to see (and hope I soon shall) the acclaimed Sound of Music in Regent's Park. The latter has surprised some commentators with its nuns and Nazis grittiness during the Anschluss, but it really shouldn't have after Jeremy Sams' superb revival at the Palladium a few years back.

The show's clearly assumed a new dimension in being performed in the outdoors setting of the park, a trick artistic director Timothy Sheader has been keen to apply to all manner of dramatic writing in his tenure so far, and it's good to see Rachel Kavanaugh returning successfully to the venue where she directed one of the best productions of Much Ado About Nothing of recent years during the Ian Talbot regime.

Just as Sheader has loosened the Open Air's grip on Shakespeare, so Dominic Dromgoole at the Globe has consistently sought new ways of using the Globe as a sounding board for new writers beyond the Bard, and Samuel Adamson's Gabriel - billed as "an entertainment with trumpet" - is simply glorious, a riverside pageant about the beaten brass blower with a series of embedded playlets and a constant stream of brilliant, irresistible music by our greatest British composer, Henry Purcell (with a couple of bits of Handel), played by Trevor Pinnock's consort led by the virtuoso trumpeter crumpet Alison Balsom.

Alison Balsom
© John Haynes

Before last Thursday's matinee, Dromgoole told me that Balsom had come to him with the idea of the show, chiefly because brass instruments sound so good in the Globe. But they didn't want to do just a "boring" biography of Purcell. Enter Adamson with his idea of hanging the music around some contemporary mini-narratives in the England of William and Mary at the end of a century of civil strife.

(Actually, Dromgoole was also filling in his senior colleague in the producing lark, Michael Codron, who was rightly chuffed with the news that his, and my, old Oxford college, Worcester - where the Inigo Jones drawings come from to provide a basis for the designs of the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre opening next year - has lately dubbed him an Honorary Fellow.)

So, we get the story of a family of trumpeters, one of them a drunken fanfare wallah who gets his privates stuck in his own horn; the travails of a cuckolded waterman ("I 'ad that Purcell in the back of my boat once"); the tantrums of an encephalitic prince and the death of Queen Mary; a story of a lovelorn celibate and an operatic soprano - both roles played and sung beautifully by Jessie Buckley, the lost (but increasingly shining) star of the television search for a Nancy in Oliver! - in the theatrical age of Thomas Betterton and the "semi-operas" typified by Purcell's masterpiece The Fairy Queen.

We get a terrific slab of that latter work - its quartet of tangled lovers cleverly refracted through the "outer" play - though not a single note of Dido and Aeneas (which is smart) as well as forgotten songs, rondeaus, birthday odes, chaconnes and funeral music. It's all so beguiling and seductive I could have sat through the whole thing all over again.

In fact, I nearly did. At the curtain call, Dromgoole ambled onto the stage to explain that the afternoon's in-house filming had been spoilt by various "cock-ups" in the first five minutes, and would we all mind staying on for a mini-reprise; I sauntered downstairs into the yard to join the groundlings and Japanese tourists while the effervescent company started all over again. And when they stopped, I really didn't want them to.

The waterman recalls the days, before the first Globe burnt down, when the trumpet calls from all the Bankside theatres would roll across the waters and make his work sweet. There's just as intriguing a cacophony emerging from the National Theatre further along the riverside in Nadia Fall's new production, Home (as in not having one), in the Shed.

I admit I'm not as "up" on my beatboxing as perhaps I should be, but what Grace Savage is doing in Home fair floored me almost as completely as Henry's plangent melodiousness echoing round the Globe; Purcell puts order into feeling, says the chaste Arabella in the play, "while I sing to live." And there's the same kind of inevitable urgency in what Savage does with her microphone, producing an array of percussive sounds, rhythms and glottal stopping what-nots (I can't possibly summon the vocabulary to describe it; she even "talks" in beatbox) that suggests a whole new dramatic language.

Following on from Hush, you can begin to see this Shed season as an extension of the musical language, sound effects and soundtrack experiments in some of Katie Mitchell's NT work, and certainly in Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork's London Road. This strain of work is having a remarkable cleansing effect on our theatre. But, as the old soap powder adverts sort of used to say, Purcell still washes whitest.