The Malcontent

In September 2013 the Globe held auditions for their Globe Young Players, a new initiative aimed at giving new young talent a once in a lifetime opportunity to train with the theatre’s professionals, nurturing the next generation of actors in the UK and working towards a performance of early modern drama, in this case The Malcontent by John Marston.

Consisting of some of the finest young actors in the UK aged between 12 to 16-years-old, the Globe Young Players end the Globe’s first winter season in the newly constructed Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a beautiful new space only lit by candlelight, enchanting its audience with an authentic 15th century charm. Originally performed by a company of child actors, this performance will mark the first time The Malcontent is staged by young actors in the UK in 400 years since its premiere with the Children of the Chapel at Blackfriars Playhouse.

Altofronto, the rightful duke of Genoa, has been banished by his brother Pietro and is left in exile. Determined to win back his title he disguises himself as a ‘malcontent’, a sarcastic jester named Malevole. At court he learns that Mendoza, the power behind the throne, has committed adultery with Pietro’s wife and plots to dispose of the Duke and take the kingdom himself. Malevole, sent by Mendoza to kill Pietro, instead reveals the plot to the Duke and together they plan to take the power back from Mendoza and expose him and his crimes at a masque for everyone to see.

The Malcontent is a funny, epic masterpiece that suits the intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse perfectly, atmospherically half-lit, making it a space for intrigue, passion and play. The play suits the Globe’s programming beautifully and the Young Players take on the massive challenge with professionalism, sincerity and bravery. All the young actors are incredibly talented, skilled in verse and text as trained adults, and they take you back to a time where Jacobean plays were as relevant to children as adults and accessible to both. Joseph Marshall has charm, wit and an engaging stage presence as Malevole, Sam Hird is a comical natural as the snobbish, ageing Maquerelle, and Ben Lynn delightfully naïve as Duke Pietro. However it is Guy Amos’s venomous and scheming Mendoza that steals the show. His presence is impressively professional, he holds the audience in a firm but cunning grip and like a young Iago he controls and manipulates fellow actors as well as the audience. He is intriguing to watch and will no doubt go very far in this industry.

Angela Davies’s design is traditional, inventive and suits the space, and composer Olly Fox creates a score that both drives and supports the text and action. Director Caitlin McLeod has taken this very challenging idea of The Malcontent played by young actors and shaped it into something very grown-up, professional and exciting. However, that might be the play’s problem too – it’s very grown up, and funny as it is it does contain adultery and sexual puns en masse. Played by young adults – some 12 and looking even younger, it does jar a bit and it feels like the children on stage are trying to be too grown-up too soon and not celebrating what they do have – youth, innocence and energy that could have been explored even more in a play not about sex and politics.

That said they do live up to it as actors, and hats off to the Globe for doing such a great initiative fuelling the next generation of great actors in this country. Hopefully we’ll see more projects like this in the future. 

The Malcontent is playing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe until 19 April. For more information and tickets, see the Globe Theatre website.