“It may suit the crude palates of ruffians, but there’s more tune in the one derisory ditty my flunkey can play on his fiddle called ‘Lumps of Pudding’ than there is in an entire afternoon of this inflated chronicle of Purcellian shit”
Alongside their much-vaunted productions of Shakespeare’s work, the Globe theatre is a sterling champion of new writing for its theatre as well. The results have arguably been a bit patchy (Globe Mysteries…) but in some cases simply divine (the glorious Anne Boleyn) and so I approached the new first offering of the season – Samuel Adamson’s Gabriel – with cautious optimism. The caution came mainly from hearing that this wasn’t so much as a play as “an entertainment with trumpet”, and I have to say that for me, only the second part of the description was true.
Adamson has written a series of playlets set in late-Restoration period London (1690s) about life and love and sex and music, which are threaded together by a series of musical interludes from the English Concert Orchestra led by trumpeter Alison Balsom who takes us through a selection of Purcell’s music. It’s a strange mixture and one which never really quite finds a satisfying balance – the snippets of drama mainly crude and banal, the rare moments of enlightenment over far too quickly to really give gratification. And the music feels constrained by its setting here, constantly interrupted by the dramatic diversions and of a far superior standard.
One can hear the creative thinking behind this ‘entertainment’, hoping to cast off stuffy stereotypical images of classical music and bringing it to a new audience, but the format precludes genuine engagement with the material on either side – neither the drama nor the music can really flourish with all the chopping and changing. And with the levels of bawdiness at almost unbearable levels – I simply do not understand why people find farting jokes so funny – I found this a most trying afternoon indeed. That said, I did go home and buy Balsom’s album of Purcell and Handel music Sound the Trumpet, so maybe it did the job after all!