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Review Round-up: Do Globe Mysteries Work Miracles?

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The Globe Mysteries opened earlier this week (10 August 2011, previews from 5 August), directed by Deborah Bruce using Tony Harrison's new, conflated adaptation of The Mystery Plays.

The production sees a cast of 14 (including William Ash as Jesus and David Hargreaves as God) play over 60 parts between them to tell Bible stories from Genesis through to Doomsday.

The Globe Mysteries plays off classic medieval mystery theatre, one of the oldest forms of drama and an important influence on English theatre. The mysteries predate Shakespeare's own productions and often employ aspects of medieval life in dramatic theatrical interpretations of the Bible.

It continues until 1 October 2011 as part of the Globe’s The Word is God season.

Theo Bosanquet

“There's something undoubtedly incongruous about sitting in the Globe, watching one of the oldest forms of drama, and hearing references to Wembley Stadium, George Bush and mobile phones … It's ancient themes with modern jokes. Lucifer reimagined as a slapstick comic, Cain and Able as canny Geordies, Herod as a fetishistic pimp. There are no end of winks and nudges, and never is the mood allowed to darken too much, even after a brutal depiction of Herod's massacre of infants. But for all its well-intentioned joviality there's something rather monotonous about this modern take on a mediaeval staple … There is much to enjoy, including a scattering of sharp visual gags (the best of which involves an unexpected rendering of Da Vinci's Last Supper) and a spectacular crucifixion scene. But the endless gurning, contemporary referencing and elemental rhyming does eventually begin to grate.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"The plays cover events from the Creation to Doomsday. Many episodes will be familiar to anyone who has even a sketchy acquaintance with the Bible, and Harrison celebrates the articulate energy of ancient texts while adding a defiant, eloquent sensibility all of his own … There are many amusing touches. Herod appears in a shed, presiding over a bloody pile of slaughtered infants - a scene so exaggeratedly gruesome that it's in fact charmingly droll. Better still is the earthy construction crew that erects the cross for the Crucifixion; the workers approach their task with a slouching surliness yet afterwards survey their handiwork smugly, with one taking snaps on his mobile phone. And the decision to split the audience into ‘The Saved’ and ‘The Damned’ yields thunderous laughs … At times the action lacks intensity, and while the flexibility and snappiness of Harrison's verse are impressive, we're not emotionally engaged by it as often as we should be."

Paul Taylor

"The abiding charm and emotional power of the plays arise from their assurance that a cosmic drama can be presented in terms of the colloquial, the homely and the concrete. This is communicated anew here in Bruce's revival with a 14-strong company that audibly relishes the alliterative, down-to-earth thump of Harrison's Yorkshire-accented couplets. William Ash, a slight, sweet-natured figure in simple T-shirt and jeans, is affectingly fallible and fragile as Christ, pulling you into the tormenting tussle between duty and fear that stems from obeying the will of David Hargreaves' God the father. But the experience is too rushed and short to weld the audience into the kind of agnosticism-shelving body of witnesses we became during the all-day promenade at the National."

Patrick Marmion
Daily Mail

“Those who do not fear God need not fear this play. It is flippant in parts and there is arguably too much knockabout in a story that was also intended to inspire awe and wonder. But it manages to retain the spirit of the original mediaeval pageants: hail and hearty events performed by peasants and artisans … It may fall short of a miracle, but there are some clever illusions involving Jesus after the resurrection. As God, David Hargreaves bears a striking resemblance to Michael Heseltine. William Ash, playing his son, is an easy-going, dreadlocked dropout. And Paul Hunter’s Satan is like Noddy Holder in long johns and - what else? - snakeskin boots.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“This ought to have been a perfect marriage between theatre and production … But Tony Harrison’s great adaptation of these marvellous plays, telling the Bible story from the Creation to Judgment Day in alliterative, vernacular verse with a strong northern accent, needs time to work its magic … At the Globe, however, the text has been brutally cut to cram the plays into three hours. The action hurtles along with little time for the characters to establish themselves or the spiritual themes to emerge. There are times indeed when The Mysteries merely feel like one damn thing after another, cursorily told, and roughly acted. Like the great NT productions, Deborah Bruce’s staging employs modern dress and simple props, but creates nothing like the sense of community between actors and audience of those earlier shows … The Globe Mysteries may begin with Genesis but they certainly don’t end with theatrical revelation.”


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