Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe, stars in that theatre's production of Peter Oswald's version of Lucius Apuleius' story The Golden Ass.
The play, in rep with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night until this year's season closes on Sept. 29, is on one level very different from Shakespeare and deliberately programmed as such - just as the Open AirTheatre in Regent's Park varies its annual summer Shakespeare productions with a musical.
However, Shakespeare was often strongly influenced by Ancient Rome - most notably in the plays Coriolanus and Julius CaesarAntony and Cleopatra.
The Egyptian goddess Isis features strongly in The Golden Ass - she eventually rescues the central character, Lucius (played by Rylance) from his accidental transformation, through swallowing the wrong magic potion, into an ass. There are obvious references to this in Bottom's transformation (of his head, at least) into an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the programming of both shows into the same season is clearly meant to reflect this connection.
Magic features in Shakespeare too, benevolently (more or less) in The Tempest and not so nicely in Macbeth - so not so nicely that in theatrical circles it is considered an unlucky play, which is why it is often referred to by actors as "The Scottish play" rather than by its title.
The real magic in the air at the Globe, however, is the extraordinary atmosphere that the theatre has, and the quality of summer light on the stage. This can be an almost overwhelming experience on the first visit - you concentrate on the building and the spectators rather than the show, as there is a bizarre feeling of having accidentally wandered onto the set of Olivier's film of Henry V, or of Shakespeare In Love.
On further visits, especially when the production is in Elizabethan costume, there is still a great sense of atmosphere but this it's of watching a real Shakespearean performance rather than of being in a film about one.
The structure of the theatre, the being open to the sunlight -and, all too often, the rain - gives the Globe a unique quality, and one that is always associated with the summer. Just as the last night of the Proms heralds the end of the English summer for many people so, now, does the final performance in the Globe's calendar. Which means that, however cold it gets from now on, you still have a little over a month to enjoy a sense of summer at the theatre.
—by Paul Webb Theatrenow