February 2016

Rice pudding at The Globe

Rice puddings were a staple of my childhood diet; a thick, glutinous stodge with the only saving grace being the over-browned skin covering its surface. This was the dessert course equivalent of the crackling on the pork or the marrow to be sucked from stew bones.

Beyond that, rice was an unappetising dish, dressed up in its fancy cloak in a failed attempt to make the mundane appealing and even exciting.

In the intervening years, this grain has assumed a far more tasty role as we have become familiar with exciting dishes from the sub-continent, the Orient and even Europe.

Curry and rice,  sushi, risotto, paella and numerous other once seemingly exotic creations have become firmly established on our menus, within the home as well as when eating out. And, of course, and perhaps predominantly, when indulging in that ubiquitous convenience the takeaway.

Yet for all that, it is still that duplicitous dessert – alluring on the outside, such a stodgy mess within – that first jumps to mind whenever the word “rice” is mentioned.

And so it was when I read that Rice is now on the menu at London’s Globe Theatre. Not any old rice, but Emma Rice. She who has emerged through the ranks of the theatrical fringe to become the director of that most esteemed playhouse.

The very name has me running for the exit – or, rather, speeding past the box office without a stop for tickets.

I have tried – oh, believe me, how hard I have tried – to succumb to the allure she holds for many theatregoers; or cultists, as they seem to have become in their fanaticism.

But every time her productions leave me underwhelmed.  Many nights I waded through muddy fields to get to the Kneehigh theatre’s tent pitched in a Cornish meadow to join her acolytes in another night billed as exciting, edgy theatre but which transpired as chaotic, and eventually boring, mayhem.  The final straw was her much-vaunted production of that theatrical classic, Rebecca, which departed the tent and toured the nation’s theatres.

Oh dear, what a mess we weave when we attempt to be different. Such a mishmash. It aimed at times for humour, at times for high drama and at times for farce – and failed on all fronts. Many a ticket-holder departed at the interval, clearly overfed on another Rice pudding.

And before she has even taken the reins at the Globe she has promised to shake things up  That dreary old “innovation” of casting women in men’s roles is to resurface, the audience is to be encouraged to talk and shout, and mewling babes in arms will be welcomed and embraced.

Oh dear, as if  things aren’t bad enough with plays being uprooted from their writers’ original settings for no rhyme or reason, incessant chatterers on mobile phones and the regular explosions of flashlight Instagrammers.

She will cut Shakespeare’s plays to make them shorter (for the TV generation with short attention spans), rewrite the texts to make them clearer to society’s dimmer and dumber members and, of course, disrobe her actors and clothe them in modern dress.

But this is what happens when one builds a coterie of adoring followers who will hear not a word of dissent. Oddly, it was Rice herself who mentioned “the emperor’s new clothes” when expressing disdain for prevailing attitudes to mainstream theatre.  Perhaps it might be equally applied to those who so blindly follow this beguiling but mess pudding-maker.