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New Plays at Shakespeare's Globe

The Frontline
by Ché Walker
8 May 2009 at Shakespeare’s Globe

Nana Agyei-Ampadu, Zawe Ashton, Nicholas Beveney, Ben Bishop, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Huss Garbiya, Trystan Gravelle, Robert Gwylim, Matthew J Henry, Fraser James, Jonathan Kerrigan, Paul Lloyd, Amelia Lowdell, Kevork Malikyan, Jo Martin, Matthew Newtion, Chris Preddie, Niamh Quinn, Ashley Rolfe, Patrick Godfrey, Golda Rosheuvel, John Stahl, Beru Tessama

Director Matthew Dunster
Designer Paul Wills
Composer Olly Fox
Songs by Arthur Darvill, Olly Fox, Ché Walker
Choreographer Georgina Lamb

8 May 2009

The frontline is music theatre at its most gutsy, raw and relevant. Actor/writer Ché Walker and the Globe's team have managed to mythologise some lived experiences at the rough end of the social spectrum, to create a theatre piece accessible to all. The spotlight moves around two dozen or so characters coming and going, or just hanging around Camden Town Underground Station, the set dominated by an adjacent red-lit phantasy enducing sexbar.

Refugees, drugs dealers and addicts, sex workers, religious fanatics, misfits and the mentally deluded collide in a shambolic maelstrom. The audience becomes part of the chaos, trying to keep track of the ever shifting events, with the half-heard, half-understood interactions and overlapping dialogues as in an Altmann film.

Everyone has to work hard for a foothold on these shifting sands. Bonds of recognition, identification and sympathy are built up, not least on the side of the increasingly vociferous spectators responding to a few green shoots of affection and dignity amongst all the degredation and violence.

Olly Fox with his colleagues has created a pulsating soundscape to underscore the speech rhythms, a multiplicity of musics to mirror those of identities and ethnicities which collide at this Frontline. Percussionist Stephen Hiscock, supported by Earle Smith on trombone (a very effective instrument in the Globe's space) and Emmanuel Waldron, piano, held the proceedings together throughout the show with a vibrant musical thread.

There could be no better venue than Shakespeare's Globe for this work, but one hopes it can live on elsewhere. The Frontline is published by Faber. Catch it if you can during this month of May.

Alexa Woolf


A New World - A Life of Thomas Paine

Trevor Griffiths - World Premiere

Daniel Anthony Will
Keith Bartlett Franklin
Michael Benz Peter/ Short/John Jay
Philip Bird Dickenson/Bell/Burke/Aitken
Sophie Duval Ma Downey/Swedish woman
Peter Gale Morris/Barker
James Garnon Sam Adams/Danton
Gregory Gudgeon Smith/Buck/Marat/Cloots
Brendan Hughes Rittenhouse/Silas Deane/Lafayette
Sean Kearns Gouverneur Morris/Joseph
Jack Laskey Anderson/De Bonneville/Monroe
John Light Thomas Paine
Trevor Martin Swedish man
Jamie Parker Gottschalk/Jefferson/Matlack
Julia Reinstein Lotte
Alix Riemer Carnet
Laura Rogers Marthe
Dominic Rowan Washington
Ewart James Walters Sailor/Guard/mourner
Jade Williams Philly/Mrs Monroe
Musicians Mark Bousie, Melanie Henry, Stephen Hiscock, Oren Marshall, Adrian Woodward

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
Designed by Tim Shortall
Composed by Stephen Warbeck

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London, 3 September 2009

'We have it in our power to begin the world over agai
Thomas Paine's Common Sense, 1776, referenced in Barack Obama's inauguration speech, 2009.

For readers of Musical Pointers, Benjamin Britten's doomed Billy Budd, singing about his old ship Right of Man, is most likely what the name of Thomas Paine brings to mind.

Trevor Griffiths' worthy, well-meaning old/newish biography of a writer, regrettably disappointed. It reminded me of long-ago BBC Third Programme historical documentaries...

Writing for the stage about a writer is difficult; Griffiths began c. 1990 and a decade later reached a 6 hrs 'definitive' draft for a Richard Attenborough film that never got made. For Shakespeare's Globe the script has been pruned down to about three hours with interval and Keith Barlett as Franklin [R] to bridge the gaps.

It still felt long, and was not always audible, partly due to the efforts of Jan Rowles to coach the actors (most of whom took rapid change multiple parts) in French language and numerous dialects, for action that moved between a nascent America, France after the Revolution, and an England resistive to change.

It's good, but not Shakespeare, says Thomas Paine's printer (pictured L) about one of pamphlets offered for publication. The same has to be said about Trevor Griffiths' script, which quotes Paine himself but does not enliven his writing sufficiently to make you want to read the originals; indeed, many playgoers might have sbeen left with the belief that they had absorbed enough.

That would be a tragedy; I recently bought Paine's Rights of Man and found it a riveting, unexpectedly easy read. Fabulously good writing, which takes you from thought to thought, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph [follow my link above & you will be able to read several pages of the book, courtesy Amazon.co.uk !]. Its stature is well characterised in A C Grayling's essay in the programme book, rather than by Griffiths' interview, also there, about the protracted gestation of his play.

The reviews are very mixed; my reaction is well expressed also by Peter Brown in London Theatre Guide. For appreciation without reservations, The Guardian

Peter Grahame Woolf


James Garnon as Danton & Keith Bartlett as Franklin, John Light as Thomas Paine
(Photos by John Haynes & Tristram Kenton)