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FringeReview UK 2022

Low Down

Directed by Amy Hodge (Assistant Director Connie Treves), Designer Georgia Lowe.

Co-Composers/Orchestrators/Arrangers Tom Deering, Maimuna Memon, Joley Cragg (Percussion), Genevieve Dawson (Narrator/Singer), Nina Harries (Double Bass), Garance Louis,   (Accordion), Shirley Tetteh (Guitar)

Movement Director Aline David Fight Directors Rachel Brown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown.

Head of Voice Tess Dignan. Globe Associate Text Giles Block

Costumer Supervisor Sydney Florence supervises costumes made by a team of twelve, Head of Props Emma Hughes, Head of Wigs and Make-Up Pam Humpage. Head of Stage Bryan Paterson, Head of Wardrobe Emma Seychell, Casting Becky Paris, Production Manager Wayne Parry, Stage Manager Felix Dunning, DSM Carol Pestridge, ASM Rachel Middlemore, Company Manager, Marion Marrs and DCM Kristy Bloxham, Producers Sophie Curtis, Shani Lockwood.


Till October 21st.


So it’s not just like that apocryphal audience member of Hamlet complaining it’s full of quotations: in this case Gertrude’s; or Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Henry IV/2, Pericles down to Sonnet 116 and 3 (‘the lovely April of her prime’, that bit). Almost anything but the play we’re watching. We’re in on that.

It’s not Katherine of Aragon the Musical. Though that’s closer. Co-Composers Tom Deering and Maimuna Memon offer a superb score supporting Hannah Khalil’s re-moulding the Globe’s Henry VIII as female narrative, nailingly sung by Narrator Genevieve Dawson as lament and triumph – with a beautifully-fretted band. Lyrics with an earworm refrain (‘women women women with no wit/women we have no choice in it’) will stay with you. As such, with the women actors, it’s a revelation; which references another Elisabeth in its carnivalesque. And there’s a draw above all these.

This is Katherine, not Henry VIII. Back in 2016 Cymbeline was renamed Innogen: this should have been re-branded too. Bea Segura, in the (re-)title role is outstanding. As a famous Spanish actor playing the Princess of Aragon who once married Henry, she commands the stage as even supplicatory power is stripped from her.

She also speaks more commanding, more pointed English than anyone else, as can happen. We hear every syllable. Segura inhabits the role, swivels herself exactly on the stage so all focus on her even when she’s being pushed about in an invalid chair with the other speaker’s voice vanishing for seconds. Not Segura’s. Walking into the audience as supplicant, she silences us.

And of course Segura has the best lines, as director Amy Hodge points out. Happily, unlike much else (sometimes for good), these are neither cut nor substituted. Segura in Katherine’s abject pleading, fury and crushing by Wolsey and Cromwell, never lets dignity slip. Here those henchmen physically abuse Katherine. The threat we’re told is always there (Katherine’s daughter was so threatened by Norfolk), though this overplays populist thuggery.

Has Khalil gone far enough? In cutting down half the play, to allow substitution but above all music in two hours-thirty-five, we’re left with little recognisable Fletcher, and Shakespeare’s drowned out by his earlier self. Would some bold re-inventions of key lines have been more honest, closer to the play than cut-and-paste faves to shrink-fit? There are exceptions.

Naturally Khalil has fun. ‘Methinks the lady’ of another lady raises a laugh, and Janet Etuk’s Anne Bullen – in a miserable part made palpably miserable here – has that ‘I wasted time and now time doth waste me’ sung around her like a bone-bracelet by Dawson, while she herself lifts off a bit of HIV/2: ‘heavy lies the head that wears the crown’ as Anne has intimations. Her birth scene billowed out with clergy looking in, is a vocalese of viscera and violence: Etuk’s screams tell us almost more about her character than anything she’s allowed to say.

Natasha Cottriall’s Princess Mary seethes superbly, lent agency. Indeed she’s lent Lear with a purpose as she plots revenge. ‘I shall do – what they shall be…’ you get it. And so does Mary seventeen years later. Cottriall palpably warps to retribution, denied sight of her mother.

Two Women roles arise wonderfully out of the wastage of men. Debbie Korley and Anna Savva double-act as unnamed Women; and Patience and Hope. They pop out of courtyard boxes with green toys, tattle court then, named, attend the queens. They’re witty, altogether lift those roles. Korley’s Patience too is shockingly slapped down as bloodied waiting woman by Henry, discovering the child’s a girl; he flings down coins, there’s revenge plotted here too. It’s fitting Korley makes this good as a mature Elizabeth at the end.

Men fare less well. Adam Gillen’s sweeping Henry touches Thersites, with a self-satirising pitch. His majesty is violence – there’s much of that here, in dark knockabout Globe-mode. It can distract. It’s a papery part: Shakespeare daren’t lend self-overhearing. It can in some, trouble into majesty. Gillen does though possess Henry’s almost terrifying energy; a vigour not yet Holbeined into a human Toblerone.

Jamie Ballard’s Wolsey seems academic, as indeed he was. He lacks the jowly gravitas, dark massy plotter reach-me-to-death Wolseys usually have. Ballard projects a nervous man whose go-to analgesic is to plot executions to sleep better. So his fall’s congruent with his life. His affecting farewell to Cromwell (Esmonde Cole, also Surrey) makes you believe their humanity as you disbelieve Ballard’s a dastard. His staged stripping evinces pathos, though distends till Ballard shivers out near-naked into the courtyard.

Cole’s Cromwell – a towering enforcer – elsewhere strides and glowers; though sometimes his clothes don’t. His reds as Cromwell suit him better than court-purpled Surrey, a Bullingdon-boy.

Sydney Florence’s costumes dazzle lilacs and purple (bar Katherine’s blues). Her simpler smocks (blood-stained for Korley) range to buffs and burnt orange, especially for Elizabeth’s time-travelling apotheosis.

Kevin McMonagle’s sneak-voiced Chamberlain with iron-grey Thomas More wig, is embrowned; again a neat class distinction as he insinuates  precarity and ambition.

Baker Mukasa as Sands and Norfolk is garbed in purple to the hat you see on Barry Humphries’ Sky Arts ad; or Larry Grayson in the mauve. Mukasa’s jackal-voice cuts through court as aristo-fool and murderous Joker.

Jonah Russell’s Buckingham sets up nobility at a run, sadly not on the run, as noble victim to Wolsey his towering entitlement’s brought low. He’s not allowed to finish his execution address (nice totalitarian touch). As Cardinal Campeius from the Pope he’s Rome incarnate; faster with legs to run away. Russell finally rips as a courtyard clown.

This is Katherine’s tragedy though. She’s supplanted by a woman who’ll last less than a seventh of Katherine’s time. And Katherine’s fall animates the second quarter of a play where all who get too close to Henry fall: Buckingham and Katherine by Wolsey, then Wolsey himself, and only after a painful fall even of Anne, in one sense, an apotheosis of Elizabeth, in a pageant that bridges one Elizabeth to the other.

And when Katherine calls down judgement it literally thunders as the heavens vent rain if not fury. As close to reading Shakespeare in flashes of lightning as Hazlitt (of Kean) could have imagined. And Segura deserves that rate.

Georgia Lowe confirms carnival in livid colours and pop-up courtyard boxes; huge orgiastic golden phallus and balls recalling Peter Barnes’ 1974 Bewitched, about Carlos V. An explosion and purple rain falls. Oops. Henry’s propensity for popping puce balloons, letting blue ones alone speaks blue for a boy. England/France trade bunting’s taken down during a speech – it’s distracting as each time people stop listening. A huge cross falls eventually for an E, an HVIII stays till E’s alone.

Lowe’s coups are Katherine’s. As Segura prays a procession of veiled women surround her like wraiths: Lorca, Allende, magic realism. Deeply Hispanic, it’s a tableau out of Frieda Kahlo.

These moments, the wonderful score and musicians, above all Segura’s titanic act of shrivelling, make this a must-see.