There's no place quite like Shakespeare's Globe. We already know, of course, about its heart-stoppingly beautiful setting beside the Thames, and its authentic and atmospheric recreation of an original Shakespearean playhouse. Regular attendees will also know about the thrilling, intimate rapport and dramatic immediacy that is established between stage and audience in its wrap-around 360 degrees wooden 'O'.
But this week the Globe has revealed something else that I didn't know about before: its dogged determination in the face of serial adversity and the triumph that can be plucked from seeming disaster. One of the co-stars of its new production of Anthony and Cleopatra Clive Wood missed five performances before it opened, owing to a virus. And no sooner did he come back than the veteran James Hayes was injured during a performance and missed the press night.
But the show must go on and it did. Even though the Globe has no understudies, another Globe regular Christopher Saul was drafted in to read Hayes's triple parts. And as the cast applauded him personally at the end, you could feel the surge of relief of how he had saved the day and the play.
This is the living, breathing reality of putting on plays, just as it was in Shakespeare's day. Though artistic director Dominic Dromgoole made a pre-show speech about the circumstances, there was no talk of asking critics to come another time. Instead, as their press officer told us in a note issued to critics the day before, "We are still hugely proud of the show and - battered but far from beaten - we are happy to go ahead with press night."
This is a dense, complex play of shifting power politics - both personal and public - but the great virtue of Jonathan Munby's production is how accessible and clear it makes it. The Globe has a big, wide stage and Munby's actors populate it fully with an epic sweep and dramatic grandeur.
Globe shows often end with a company dance - this one opens with one, and it sets the tone as well as providing an invitation to audiences to be swept along by the action.
The Globe also fields one of its most stunning trump-cards: Eve Best, who returns to the theatre to star as Cleopatra after playing Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing a few years ago and directing Macbeth on this stage last year. (Could it be far fetched to suggest her as a future possible artistic director after Dromgoole departs next year?) She is one of our most thrilling and formidable of all modern classical actors, and she brings to Cleopatra exactly the right notes of physical allure and dangerous passion.
No wonder Clive Wood's Antony is so smitten by her. The stocky, strawberry-blonde Wood has an austere, imposing intelligence, if not quite the same physical allure, and there's strong support from Phil Daniels as his friend Enobarbus.
The result is a blistering roar of a production of this frequently thrilling play.
"With luck, the production will gain in emotional power as the run progresses, but at present this Antony and Cleopatra - simply, and in truth, somewhat drably designed by Colin Richmond - short-changes its audience when it comes to poetry and passion."
Charles Spencer for Daily Telegraph
"I have never seen the transition from living woman to regalia-laden icon effected with such uncanny stillness or with such a quietly painful mix of triumph and pathos as when this Cleopatra congeals into the statue of herself."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
" ... a fleet, intelligent production that not only conveys the polarities of Rome and Egypt, but also suggests the lovers themselves inhabit different worlds."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Eve Best makes a superb return to acting at Shakespeare’s Globe ... She’s an appealing, often magnetically humorous Cleopatra."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard