Shakespeare's Globe has started its international multilingual festival with a real sizzler despite the rain. This wonderful production by the South African company that brought Carmen, The Mysteries and The Magic Flute to London was musical theatre of the very highest level. I've been to the Globe many times but I think this is the first time I've seen an opera -- and it was magnificent! Led by Pauline Malefane (unforgettable as Mozart's Queen of the Night at the Young Vic), they acted, danced, sang, joked, played percussion and marimba, mimed , puppeteered and created two hours of heart-stoppingly beautiful theatre.
Shakespeare's piece of sly erotic verse isn't a play, but Mark Dornford-May's adaptation used the story to create a subtle and eclectic blend of visual, physical and musical elements which all fused together. The ensemble have a terrific vocal range, though in this production the musical highlights mostly belong to the women. The role of Venus was shared between Malefane and six other singers, who wound a white sheet around each other to signal the transfer from one to the next. Without scenery and with only white sheets as props, the company created a rich spectacle, moving from one South African language to the next and from comedy to tragedy. The music by Madisi Dyantyis was a haunting mix of modern and traditional, ranging from arias that could have been written by Benjamin Britten to township jive and reggae.
The Globe has always prided itself on accompanying Shakespeare with great musical accompaniment, but this show was on a totally different level. Please can we have more music and opera to supplement Shakespeare?
The bad news is that Venus and Adonis is now over; the good news is that Isango are bringing three shows to the Hackney Empire from mid-May -- La Boheme, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists and Aesop's Fables. I am sure they will be magical.