Holy Warriors @ Shakespeare’s Globe

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The Third Crusade is an epic subject for a play. As broad as anything Shakespeare touched on and with as diverse a cast of characters. To take such a subject and then spin off from it through to the present day makes one suspect that Holy Warriors might be epic in length as well as scope. The truth is very different however, with David Eldridge’s script packing nearly a millennium of history into around two hours of theatre.

Even before the show itself begins musicians are attacking their instruments while Merit Ariane Stephanos stands on the Balcony of the Globe’s stage and sings soaring Arabic songs. By the time the sun sets we’ve covered the third crusade, the forming of an Islamic state and even popped in on Blair and Bush. Richard I is in purgatory, his mother regaling him with the atrocities spilling out across the world due to conflict in the Middle East and Richard is reborn in the modern day to once more face off against his chivalrous foe Saladin.

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The cast of 20 here play somewhere in the region of 75 characters, sometimes switching at almost dizzying speed. We dwell in the most part on Richard and Saladin though; the former bluff and bombastic, the latter genteel and sophisticated. John Hopkins embodies Richard perfectly, his booming baritone filling the Globe and soaring above even the highest seats. He revels in the funnier lines but delivers Richard’s most impassioned moments with equal aplomb. Alexander Siddig makes Saladin a soft spoken diplomat whose delicate exterior hides a will of iron. Eldridge isn’t afraid to have us realise that the Arabic argument might just be the more just when the subject turns to Jerusalem and the thorny matter of which religions (if any) hold preference over others. The real message here seems to be that for all that has changed since Richard led his crusade we’ve really not moved on at all and are just fighting the same battles and having the same arguments over and over again.

Critics will tell you that this play lacks cohesion, that Eldridge tries to cover too much ground in too little time and that we never stop in one place long enough for characters to really develop. Are they right?

Well, yes and no. There are moments when Holy Warriors feels extremely rough and ready in a way that works wonderfully in the Globe under James Dacre’s pacy and simple direction, but would probably give the impression of the piece being unfinished if presented differently. That said Eldridge’s piece is not presented as a classic play in the making. This is a provocative piece of theatre designed to make you question your views and to really think about whether we can change events or the courses of nations are truly predestined. In short, this is a piece that makes your brain do some work and I for one welcome that!

All photos by Marc Brenner courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Matt

Matt has been writing on all manner of subjects for over 15 years. He has written for a number of music magazines, made appearances on BBC Introducing and regularly contributed to local newspapers. These days he mostly writes about rugby and is passionate about providing insight into women's rugby! He also writes on theatre and regularly reviews shows across the south.

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