The Golden Ass

Peter Oswald
Shakespeare's Globe
(2002)

The final play in the Cupid and Psyche 2002 season at the Globe Theatre is Peter Oswald's version of a classic of Roman times by Lucius Apuleius.

This is an allegory on human lusts of every type. It is also a vehicle that allows the company's artistic director, Mark Rylance, to show off many different skills. He moves from slapstick comedian through confused ass to a man who has become wise as the result of his experiences.

In this production by Master of Play Tim Carroll, there is every kind of theatrical genre demonstrated, from puppetry to circus and silent movie to opera. In fact, with a cast including musicians numbering some forty people and three hours to play with, this could almost be a history of stage performance.

In that it is so diverse, it is perhaps inevitable that some parts work better than others. The first act is a rip-roaring success, always fast and funny as Lucius, played by Rylance, moves from gauche innocence to sexual knowledge as he meets the beautiful, bewitching Photis (played by Louise Bush), who is Servant to John Ramm's Milo and his rather mysterious wife.

While love is great, Lucius decides that he wants more and he wishes to imitate her mistress and asks Photis to transform him into a bird. Unfortunately, she is an amateur and he becomes an ass.

The second act shows him passed through an assortment of hands and, in addition, there is a lengthy operatic puppet show telling the sad tale of Cupid and Psyche. While this is very well performed, it takes some of the drive from the narrative, which rather loses its way.

The last act finally allows our hero to escape from the body of and ass and emerge to tell world of his errors and to live an honest and decent life.

There is much to commend this excellent production. It is constantly inventive and there is an underlying wit which is rarely far from even the most serious moment. For example, the goddess Isis, a key figure in the play, is presented as an ice-cream vendor on a tricycle. A very funny pun much enjoyed by the whole audience.

There is a kind of end of term feel to the production as the White and Blue companies of the Globe come together from their separate incarnations, seemingly with the intention of having a whale of a time and carrying along the audience with them.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher