2010 is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Old Globe Theatre in beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Given several fires, the death of legendary founder Craig Noel last April, and a succession of Artistic Directors who have departed for other work possibilities, Executive Director Louis G. Spisto was faced with a dilemma: how to bring about a thrilling Shakespeare Festival to celebrate the 75th Anniversary.
Adrian Noble, the former head of the Royal Shakespeare Company, was brought on board to give the Festival new excitement. The results bear out Spisto’s choice. The productions have a new dynamism and scope. 2010 Festival seems new and fresh; Noble directed King Lear, a grand task by any reckoning, and continued the trend to showcase non-Shakespearean works, in this case The Madness of George III. Ron Daniels, the former director of the RSC’s Experimental Theatre, The Other Place in Stratford on Avon, directs The Taming of The Shrew.
The first thing you notice as you enter the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre is a new stage designed by Ralph Funicello. This magnificent new structure offers increased opportunities for variety and theatricality, with a huge back gate and long ramps on the side of the stage for entrances. In The Madness of George III Funicello has placed a series of mirrored doors in front of an open area in the back which is sometimes covered with huge doors and at other times is open to a background of trees in Balboa Park. For King Lear Funicello covers the ground with autumn leaves and uses a wide and long platform that comes from the back and acts like a tongue, thrusting the action into the space. In the first scene Lear’s throne sits on top and reminded me of the isolation he feels at the top of the play. For Shrew we find a large neon sign spelling out The Taming of The Shrew with one letter askew. Seated onstage were two rows of the audience, and the cast mingled before the play and at intermission with the gathered spectators. Though I had some qualms about parts of these designs, they did open the space up.
Noble is a director of theatrical spectacle who gives his productions a sort of grandeur. He also makes sure the audience understands the language by having the actors speak clearly, at a proper pace, but nevertheless providing them with individual microphones, which give tremendous clarity, and words aren’t lost when the actors face upstage. Noble used the space extremely well and kept a theatrical tension going at all times.