The Lightning Child at The Globe Theatre

I have had a whirlwind few months in which I have become a bona fide bestseller. My thriller novel, The Girl On The Bus, stayed in the UK top 100 bestsellers chart for over nine weeks and is still the number one selling hardboiled thriller on Amazon. And all of that for less than a pound!

Self promotion is great, but sometimes you have to take a break from life as a writer and spend a little ‘me time’. It was with this in mind that I went to the Globe Theatre in London to see ‘The Lightning Child’, a new musical by Che Walker and Arthur Darvill.

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If you have never been to the Globe Theatre then you are missing out. It is an authentic reconstruction of one of the theatres that Shakespeare himself used at the turn of the 17th Century. There is a large open air space for standing spectators and wooden benches arranged in the round. Be warned that umbrellas are strictly forbidden so if you do decide to go and see The Lightning Child (it runs until October 12th) then be prepared to be rained on. The Globe is in London’s Bankside area, just down from the Tate Modern and its uniqueness helps to create a real atmosphere of conviviality and fun.

You may think that The Globe will be a bit stuffy, that it will be Shakespeare-heavy? Well, rest assured that The Lightning Child will prove you wrong. It is loosely based upon the ancient Greek drama ‘The Bacchae’ by Euripides (teacher says to her pupils: ‘give me a sentence with Euripides in’, little Johnny replies: ‘Euripides trousers, you pay for dese trousers!’). And the emphasis here is on the word loosely. As in: ‘The Daily Mail is loosely a newspaper’.

How loose is Walker and Darvill’s interpretation? Well it begins, for no apparent reason, with Neil Armstrong arguing with his wife. He dons spacesuit, climbs a ladder and meets the man in the moon who acts as the emcee of the show, or a version of the Greek chorus if you like. This character is called ‘Ladyboy’. There is no subtlety to this show. There is no structure to this show. There is no sense to this show.

Ladyboy himself constantly tells the audience not to try to make sense of what is happening, urging the crowd to ‘figure it out on the train home’. It would have to be a long train ride to figure this one out.

Somewhere amidst the chaos there is a re-telling of The Bacchae – that most bloody of Greek tragedies. Around this tale of Pentheus and his demented pursuit of Dionysus there are several seemingly unrelated strands. No, let’s be fair – they are unrelated. There is nothing to bring them back to the main plot. Two heroin addicts adopt and then kill a dog. A neurotic housemate mutilates the fingers of a concert pianist. Most bizarre of all is a completely out of kilter section about the romance between Billie Holiday and Lester Young. The play as a whole is far from dull but this particular sequence was dull and incongruous. The only possible explanation is that Walker had at one point produced a biopic about Billie Holiday, had it rejected but was determined to resurrect it, or at least part of it, at some point. It should have remained sleeping.

Castor Semenya also makes an appearance. There are lots of references to trans gender issues, and more cross dressing than you can shake a stick at. There is also foul language of the filthiest kind and lashings of blood, sex and graphic torture. It was all most enjoyable. Or do I mean that it was almost enjoyable? You will have to work that one out on the train home.

The cast had a great time, and there were some excellent performances – particularly from Clifford Samuel as a muscle bound Pentheus fighting to contain his feminine side and from Tommy Coleman as a Hendrix like Dionysus.

Be warned, that this is in no way a play for children. Some parts may be too shocking for the more sensitive out there. The scenes where Pentheus is ripped apart by the Bacchae and by his own mother was particularly gruesome – no part is left unwaved. Another bizarre scene follows where a Nigella Lawson like figure makes love with the carcass of a deer. Two people fainted on the night that I was there – one in each half. That will teach me to wear my Hai Karate aftershave. Most of the audience though loved it, hooting and hollering throughout.

And I loved it as well in a special way, because I love chaos. I love boundary pushing. I love unpredictability. Make no mistake that this is a shambles of a show, but what a glorious shambles it is.

So how would I rate The Lightning Child? I can’t give it one rating. If you are a Shakespeare fan it gets a zero tortoise shell rating. If you want to see something modern yet cohesive with a good plot it gets a three tortoise shell rating. If you want to see something completely out there, in a fantastic location that is fabulously bonkers then it gets a five tortoise shell rating.

I’m glad that I saw The Lightning Child and if you aren’t prone to fainting then I think that you would be as well.

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