The Globe Theatre, Sam Wanamaker‘s magnificent replica Elizabethan theatre on Bankside. I last attended a production here in 2005. The reason I remember this is because – just as now – the Ashes were on and I recall during the interval having to catch up on the score from Old Trafford.
Yesterday evening we were transported not backwards in time from Shakespeare’s London, but forward to the London of the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary: Wren’s London, a London fizzing with religious tension, the Catholic James II only recently having been shown the exit. The streets, houses, palaces and the Thames, of course, are the scenes for a brand new production by Samuel Adamson: Gabriel.
Gabriel is a large ensemble musical play. It is a play rather than a musical, really, because although there are songs, they are relatively few. It is, nonetheless, a play about music: Purcell’s music; baroque music; specifically music for trumpet. Along with the violin players, cellists, woodwind tooters and kettle drummer, the cast includes at least four trumpets, led by virtuosa Alison Balsom.
Early on, two of the comic characters – a fictitious, sickly Royal prince and an alcoholic trumpeter – assert that the trumpet can only be used for rousing, martial-like music. From here the production comprises a series of scenes and stories which serve to disprove this clearly simple-headed thesis, through the music of Purcell. These pieces are in turn rousing, sad, funny, tragic, bawdy. All are wonderfully done. The writing, acting, music and performing are all rock-solid and delivered with great confidence and panache, a wonderful achievement for the opening weekend. A special mention must be made for the costumes and, in particular, wigs. Fantastically over the top, yet realistic for the time. The leading ladies’ frocks are particularly stunning.
There is good swearing, boasting, joshing and violence from our friends, the Watermen who live up to their historic stereotype. There is some near total nudity (socks), unfortunately only male. A trumpet comes in handy in these circumstances. Another scene features a wonderfully written and delivered diatribe against lovers of the English Opera amid much farting (delivered, of course, via trumpet special FX) and giggling.
Just wonderful. Congratulations to all concerned.
More about the play, including interviews etc, and booking, here.
Gabriel runs until 18 August.
Until the 20 July, London Historians members can book tickets for just £10, saving up to £29, an astounding discount. If you’re a Member reading this, email email@example.com for the promotion code. And if you’re not? Go anyway, or join us in the tent.