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Gabriel at Shakespeare’s Globe

Marion Marples

Gabriel is an unusual unfolding of post-Shakespearian themes of London life, the position of women and the role of the trumpet in the works of Henry Purcell.

In a series of masque-like tableaux we get to know Arabella, who 'married' a woman, a boasting waterman ('I had that Charles II in my boat last night'), the Shaw family of royal trumpeters and life in the protestant England of William and Mary.

The stories are framed by scenes with the young Duke of Gloucester, suffering with hydrocephalus, but disarmingly clear in his perceptions of life and relationships. For him the trumpet represents the army and war. He is won over by Purcell's beautiful Birthday Ode for the Duke of Gloucester.

The play has been devised by local playwright Samuel Adamson as a vehicle for trumpet player Alison Balsom, who of course makes the trumpet sing as sweetly as any voice. She is accompanied by other members of the English Concert – musicians who act – as well as Globe actors who can sing. They carry the action forward with excerpts from the Fairy Queen, Hail! Bright Cecilia, ending with the sublime Funeral Music for Queen Mary.

The language is not quite Shakespeare and is quietly spoken. Tourists around us found it hard to follow the unfamiliar words and style. But the language of Mr Purcell's music suffices for a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience.

Gabriel is at Shakespeare's Globe until 18 August

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