The Globe Mysteries

A new version by Tony Harrison
Shakespeare's Globe
(2011)

The Globe Mysteries production photo

Crafts- and tradesmen presented The Mystery Plays to a medieval audience, performing Biblical stories with cheeky bits of self advertising and trade knowledge over the course of a day – The Globe Mysteries is mercifully shorter, though still long, giving an abridged version with some interesting updates.

Tony Harrison’s version, all in rhyme, starts with an adaptation of the usual message to switch off all mobiles. Although not normally a part of the show, the message deserves a mention for setting up the proceedings beautifully, easing us into the rhyming structure and introducing the show as funny and just a little bit rough and rude.

The actual start of the show is the Creation and the fall of Lucifer. Paul Hunter as Lucifer is wild eyed and funny as he rebelliously takes God’s seat on his on-high platform before being cast down. Hunter is delightful to watch throughout, both as Lucifer and later as Herod, with his expressive face and brilliant comic timing.

As the play moves on through the Bible, Deborah Bruce’s production finds fun in creating props and set – a balloon tree of knowledge grows out of a box, the traditional blue cloth becomes various bodies of water – keeping the audience engaged when the production threatens to become a bit wordy. Some regional accents add to this in keeping in the spirit of the rough and ready. A particular favourite was Matthew Pigeon’s Scottish Beelzebub.

Bruce’s production also has fun with some modern updates, mentioning Wembley and Blair and Bush, though the mix of modern and traditional costumes does jar in places. It works best when the overall image is consistent; when Jesus is being crucified, those nailing him onto and erecting the cross all wear florescent jackets and hard hats and take pictures of themselves on their mobile phones.

The second act does begin to drag a bit after this though, and the inventiveness dwindles. There is some good use of the standing audience as the actors wander through, making them part of crowd scenes, but the novelty of this surely wears off during the three hour long production and the audience are left just shuffling rather than shuffling out of the way. The three hours is made to seem longer with moments that would end the act nicely if they were in fact the end of the act. Although Judgement Day is amusing as it splits the audience into the saved and the damned, it does go on a bit.

A dance at the end tries to perk the energy back up again, but it just seems peculiar and out keeping with the rest of the show. The Globe Mysteries is a nicely done production, with the strong set of actors playing a wide variety of roles, but runs out of steam.

Reviewer: Emma Berge