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I'm a keen theatre goer, but tend to overlook Shakespeare's Globe. I've only been three times in the 14 years I've lived in London - compared to 50-odd trips to the National, this isn't too impressive. I tend to see it as a bit too touristy.
As I'm sure everyone knows, The Globe was the theatre owned by Shakespeare's company, The Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was situated on the South Bank of the Thames about 200 metres away from the modern version. It burned down due to a misfiring prop, was rebuilt, and eventually torn down by the Puritans in the 1640s, as they thought theatre was inherently sinful.
Back in those days, it probably was. Southwark, just out of the jurisdiction of London-proper, was home to all the disreputable attractions. You wanted to see a play, watch a bear being mauled to death and then catch the pox? Southwark was the place to do it. Theatre was on the same level as brothels and bloodsports, a stark contrast to the polite middle-class entertainment it's become.
The modern South Bank, perhaps sadly, has become 'that place with all the culture'. It's where the Southbank Centre is (unsurprisingly), and Tate Modern. Shakespeare's Globe is poised slightly awkwardly between being a tourist attraction and somewhere for the chattering classes to go and see things to chatter about. It's right next to Tate Modern. The closest tube is probably Southwark, but it's a more pleasant walk from London Bridge (about 10 minutes) or Waterloo (about 15) as you can stroll along the river (or at least, the bits they aren't currently renovating).
The modern theatre was opened in 1997. There's an exhibition about the history of the Globe, both the original and the modern versions, but I've never been to that. It costs £10 to get into, and for that kind of money nothing less than the ghost of Shakespeare shackled to some kind of scrying stone would satisfy me. This is therefore a review of the theatre only.
It's a seemingly authentic recreation of the original (although I'm not sure whether they actually had old plans to copy or just guesstimated). It's constructed entirely from timber. There are only a few modern innovations, like electric lights. There are sprinklers on top of the authentic thatched roof, in case it should burst into authentic flames and rain authentic burning debris on the tourists below.
The theatre is smaller than you'd expect. The stage sits at one end of the theatre, with a round (O-shaped) auditorium surrounding it. Sometimes they add extra bits to the stage so it juts out into the audience more. There are lovely painted decorations around, which may or may not reflect the kind of thing that was painted on the original version. The Globe was used in a Dr Who story a few years back (Shakespeare fancied Freema Agyeman, but hey, didn't we all?).
To give the 'authentic' Elizabethan experience, although there are plenty of seats, a large part of the audience will act as 'groundlings', standing around the stage as actors and ushers move through them. (I wonder how far we'd be allowed to take this authenticity; I've yet to see anyone loudly booing the performance or throwing rotten eggs). The seated tickets tend to be pretty expensive, generally in the region of £30 a pop. The standing tickets are only a fiver.
I've done both, and frankly neither is ideal. Standing for an entire play is extremely arduous - these things are generally longer than two hours. Large numbers of the standing audience generally drift away during the performance (usually someone in the audience faints, too). You can't really sit down because then you won't see anything. If you're lucky you'll be close enough to the stage to lean on it, something which isn't discouraged. You're also very much at the mercy of the weather. They sell waterproof ponchos and give out free cardboard sunhats.
The seats are benches with very little legroom and no backs to them - so not only can you not lean back, but you'll likely get kicked a lot by whoever sits behind you. While certainly not as bad as standing, this still requires rather more stamina than most theatre visits. Last time I went a lady sitting behind me fainted. It's baking hot when the sun's out, and the benches are hard (you can hire a cushion for £1, and they also hire out seat-back contraptions). The seats on the higher levels look as if some of them have backs, but I'd imagine it gets more difficult to hear from up there.
The theatre only performs during the summer months - lighter evenings and clement weather are both necessary. The rain can pose serious problems, as mentioned (the stage is covered, though, so the actors can soldier on regardless). Although the walls of the theatre block sound from the river, there's not much that can be done about helicopters, which seem to pass overhead every half hour or so in that part of London. There are also blackbirds roosting in the theatre somewhere, which fly around the upper levels and chirp noisily. This is a lot more annoying than you'd imagine.
The acoustics aren't bad, but the actors do tend to be a bit more shouty than they would be elsewhere, which inevitably detracts a bit from their performances. The emphasis in staging is again very much on authenticity, with plays performed in Elizabethan dress. Although women weren't allowed to act in Shakespeare's day, they do at the modern Globe, which only rarely does all-male productions (and, very occasionally, all-female ones).
It's worth going once just for the experience, as everyone goes to a lot of effort and things like this are worth supporting. It's possibly the only place you'll see people actually react with shock at plot developments in Shakespeare plays (most everyone going to the RSC will know the stories inside out; here there are plenty who don't). People move around a lot, and leave and enter the auditorium as they like, so it's a very different atmosphere to the overly reverent way people behave in mainstream theatres. But the trouble is that it does make it next to impossible to really get into what's happening on stage - there are too many distractions, from the uncomfortable seats to the people milling about.
Given that it's a surefire tourist hit, it's very commendable that the Globe has resisted the obvious temptation to just do Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream over and over again. They put on a varied, actually quite bold programme in which one or two popular plays will be joined by a few obscurities: revived Jacobean plays, Shakespearean apocrypha, and even occasionally new plays. That's why I've been back there twice - it's a good place to tick things off the list. Henry VIII - probably Shakespeare's least popular play these days - is on at the moment, which I've wanted to see for ages. Yes, it's a dull play, but the production at the Globe is sprightly and does what it can with the material. They sometimes lure in star actors, too (or star theatre actors, at any rate). Roger Allam is currently playing Falstaff there, although I don't need to see those plays again just yet.
I don't want to give the impression that it doesn't matter what you see at the Globe - that's clearly not true. But you will probably remember more about the general experience of being at the Globe than about the play itself. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. We have probably become a bit too reverential about theatre as 'high culture'. But I'm not sure the Globe itself can entirely decide whether it's there to let tourists 'experience' Shakespeare or whether it's trying to break new ground artistically. Either way, it's worth at least one visit.
I'm a co-owner of the New Globe Theatre in London. Yes, indeed. One brick is mine! In the 1990s I planned and prepared a trip to London with my German A-level students of English, but a short time before our departure I had to be operated on all of a sudden. A colleague stepped in. In order to comfort me my dear students, who knew how I had looked forward to the trip, bought a brick for me at the theatre and gave me a nicely ornamented document about the transaction as a present. Whenever I go to the Globe Theatre now, I wonder where 'my' brick is.
The first time I visited the Globe was when it was still a building site, one could go on guided tours then and learn about the history of the place and the way the theatre was being built. It was a rather noisy experience what with the workmen hammering away but very instructive.
The official name is New Globe Theatre, in fact it's the third theatre on the South bank of the Thames in Southwark. The first ever theatre in London was built in 1576, soon further playhouses opened. The Globe Theatre (1599) was the most famous, it was built by the company in which Shakespeare had a stake. It's said that not only plays were performed there but that the theatre was also a gambling house and brothel. Theatres were not only for the intellectual elite then, the commoners would pay 1 penny to stand in the 'pit' as groundlings, i.e., in front of the stage, to watch the plays, move around and perhaps even interact with the actors. The gentry would sit in the galleries and noble people as well as the Royal Family could sit on the side of the stage itself - and interact as well if they were bored or mischievous.
As there was no electricity in those days, the plays were performed in the afternoon. The Globe theatre was extremely popular and attracted many spectators. This does not mean that a play was on for many years like it happens today with successful plays and musicals. I once read that Hamlet was performed 16 times and then every Londoner who wanted to watch the play had done so.
In 1613 a too realistic performance of Henry VIII destroyed the theatre. A cannon used for special effects such as the announcement of great entrances was loaded with real gunpowder and wadding. Unfortunately, the thatched roof caught fire and soon the whole building burnt to the ground. The theatre was rebuilt the following year, however, it was closed in 1642 when the Puritans issued an ordinance forbidding all stage plays in theatres. The Globe was demolished in 1644 and wasn't rebuilt when theatres opened again in 1660.
Fast forward about three hundred years. In 1949 the American actor, director and producer Sam Wanamaker visited the site and when he found only a plaque on the wall of a brewery mentioning the Globe Theatre, he decided to raise money and rebuilt a replica. He founded a trust in 1970 and after 23 years of fundraising (selling bricks, for example!) the construction started. Sadly, he died three years before the New Globe was completed in 1997.
What we see now is as faithful to the first theatres of the Tudor and Elizabethan period as possible, traditional materials and working methods were used if they still could be got and used. The shape is a large 'O', the outside walls are rather austere in black and white, they're well visible from a boat tour on the Thames. A thatched roof covers the galleries and the stage but not the central area where the groundlings stand. This thatched roof is the first of its kind since the great fire in London in 1666, it's made of Norfolk reeds and has been coated with a special fire-protective liquid, a concession to the strict fire regulations of our time. Another concession is that there are fewer seats nowadays due to the fact that people have become taller and fatter.
The pillars standing on the stage support a roof called the 'Heavens' with pictures of the sum, the moon and the zodiac. The price you pay for a seat varies according to the view of the stage you have, if the pillars cover some part of the stage for the spectators and they can't see all the actors all the time, the price is lower.
I've seen The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Macbeth over the years. Not only does one have the impression to be in a theatre of the Tudor times, the plays are also performed in a way that would have pleased the audiences then (in the opinion of Shakespeare experts). When the spectators go to their seats before the beginning of the play, they see the open stage and one or more actors frolicking around, teasing the groundlings near the stage and behaving in a silly, often obscene way. In Macbeth it is the Porter's task to entertain in this way, he does this also during the break. If one isn't informed about 'comic relief' being an integral part of Shakespeare's plays, this can be quite disturbing or even shocking. And I don't know if it happens anywhere else in the world where Macbeth is performed that when the play has ended, all the actors come onto the stage and perform a Scottish dance accompanied by bagpipe music. I'm sure Shakespeare would have like this.
Besides the theatre proper the building also houses an extensive exhibition on Elizabethan Theatre in the 'Underglobe', a gift shop, a snack bar and a restaurant. Educational tours of the theatre can be booked. Tickets can be ordered online, you can see how much of the stage you can see well from your seat with a click. The tickets are sent to you by post.
I don't go to London so often anymore but if I go, a Shakespeare play at the Globe is one item of my to do list. It doesn't matter which play is on, I know that it will be an unforgettable experience. I know it's not the real thing, the occasional plane or helicopter flying over the theatre during a performance remind me of this, but I don't mind. It can be argued that replicas are kitsch per se, but my imagination is not so vivid that I can see Shakespeare's theatre before my inner eye while watching a play of his in a modern theatre building. Shakespeare's plays can be performed well anywhere, of course, but a performance in the Globe Theatre adds a certain something which I (and millions of other people) cherish.
Here's what you have to do:
Get yourself onto the London Underground network and take the Central Line to St Paul's. When you arrive there are signposts to direct you down to the Thames and across to the Globe Theatre. When you get to the river, just stop for a moment by the Millenium Footbridge and enjoy the view. Straight ahead of you is the towering phoenix of Tate Modern. If you've got a couple of hours to kill before your play starts, go in - it's free. Doesn't matter if you like or dislike modern art, the place is awesome, and there's a great cafe at the top where you can look out over the cityscape.
To the left of the Tate is The Globe. If you can't quite make it out, look for the ice cream van out front - it's always there. Make your way across the Millennium Bridge and try counting the number of shocks you get from touching the handrail. Once you reach the south bank, don't get straight off. Turn round and look back at the City (not the city), spend a couple of minutes letting the crowd hustle past you while you soak in the magnificence of Christopher Wren's cathedral.
The reason I'm giving you this is because going to the Globe is about so much more than a trip to see a play you may not understand, on your feet for three hours come scorching sun or biting rain. It is a London that embraces its past, present and future, harmoniously and energetically. I am totally in love with this little piece of Bankside, as some who have looked up at the Taj Mahal or floated through Venice must feel.
Don't just come here to see a play, as some kind of tourist list-ticking exercise. Give yourself the day, and spend half of it letting the Globe experience gently guide you through the changing face of this place. Remember, the dream of the Globe has been in existence far longer than the reality.
Having crossed the Millennium Footbridge to the south bank and turned left, a couple of minutes walking will bring you to the Globe visitor centre. Buy your tickets and (I can't stress this enough) get yourself booked on one of the tours. I have been on two of these now, both very different. The wealth of knowledge and skill of delivery the tour guides had made the hour fly by. We were never more than a couple of hundred metres from the theatre but there was so much, anonymously blending in with the landscape. For instance, we saw the area where the bear fights took place, and an odd petrusion from the wall of a building turned out to be a ferryman's seat, in the days when there was only one bridge across the Thames.
The visitor centre itself is spacious, and rarely has many people inside it. There is an excellent collection of stage props and reconstructed workshop. There is also the opportunity for you to recite and record lines from Shakespeare's plays. Make sure you are in the right place when they run the presentations - I spent 15 minutes watching someone kitted up in the garmants that would have been worn by an actor in performance.
You'll be done here in about an hour, so exit the visitor centre, turn right and follow the wall around until you get to the main entrance of the theatre itself. Before you get there, you'll walk past an iron gate and, if the doors are open, catch your first glimpse of the Globe's stage.
The foyer of the theatre is modern and there is a box office, cafe and giftshop. There are lots of doors the public can't go through, and I like the fact that the theatrical performance is merely the tip of the iceberg - the Globe is a continuous hive of activity, research and theatrical experimentation. I took students there once and had an hour's workshop on a play with one of the Globe actors - any teachers, I recommend this!
It does get very busy here prior to a show, so I suggest you get there a little early if you want to have a table for your coffee cup. While I'm finding fault, I'll give you my other gripe - there aren't enough toilets at the Globe. Be prepared, when the interval comes, to move very quickly or wait for a long time!
There, moan over. Now, having had a little look in the visitors' shop, head outside and wait to get into the theatre. While you wait, look at the names on the paving slabs under your feet. Every name paid a donation to the theatre and it was these donations that helped Sam Wanamaker reconstruct the Globe, his life's ambition. Sadly, he never saw it completed, but even today the Globe remains self-supporting, and there aren't many nationally significant artistic institutions that can say that.
Now, my friend, you get to walk into 'the wooden O'. The first thing you'll probably notice is the buzz from the crowd. The stage thrusts out into the audience, and three hundred people will be stood around it. This is the way I have always seen shows there, maybe because it feels like the authentic way to watch, maybe because I'm still too tight to pay more than the five pounds it costs (compare that to forty pounds for an average seat in a West End musical). There is an energy and enthusiasm...for Shakespeare?
The theatre itself is stunning, recreated as accurately as possible. Health and safety mean there are extinguishers and emergency lighting, but we don't want the place to burn down again, so that's a good thing. The ground is also no longer covered with straw and theatre-goers (luckily) can't pee on it. But do nothing other than look around the theatre, the three-tier auditorium and the stage, with it's paintings, pillars and balcony.
In my opinion, the plays have got better and better here. I saw a lacklustre Romeo and Juliet a couple of years ago and last year saw a fantastically dark Titus Andronicus. The space has limitations, but it seems designers and directors are embracing this and creating more and more imaginative productions.
Finally, sit back (or stand) and watch your play. There is nowhere else in the world where that language combines with its setting and audience so perfectly. If visiting the Globe is my love-affair, watching a play there is the kiss, and I will keep coming back. Maybe, if you give it the chance to work its magic, your heart will beat a little faster as well.
I had never even heard of Timon of Athens before deciding to see it at the Globe. Not being a fan of Shakespeare's comedies and being offered a chance to go to the Globe I opted for this as the only other option currently available. I was worried that I wouldn't understand anything that was going on but found that I need not have worried.
Admittedly I did read the synopsis on Wikipedia before I went but I think even without this I would have been fine. There were of course some sections of speeches that I didn't follow completely but it is a credit to the actors and the director (Lucy Bailey) that the majority of the story comes across clearly despite the words.
<B> The Story (very briefly)</B>
Timon (pronounced tea-mon) is a rich man at the beginning of the play and generous with it. As a result of his generosity he is surrounded by many people who he considers his friends. Later Timon falls on hard times (echos of the current credit crunch here) and looks to his "friends" to come to his aid. None do. Timon leaves Athens to live alone in the wilderness where he becomes slightly mad. He stumbles across a hidden stash of gold and becomes rich again but he is now disillusioned with money and sets out to show his old friends the error of their ways.
<B> The Production </B>
The stage scenery is very simple leaving plenty of time to examine the beauty of the globe theatre and the stage itself. The most interesting feature of this production is net which is cast across the top of the theatre upon which actors dressed as vultures move throughout the performance on bungee ropes. This is not as distracting as it might sound!
The play itself includes lots of light humour, including some toilet humour, chocolate coins and a very little bit of male nudity, all of which help to break up the speeches and keep the interest up in this little known play.
<B> Being a Groundling </B>
If you are going to the Globe and are reasonably fit I would recommend being a groundling. Not only is this the cheapest option (£5) leaving you spare money for coffee, beer or burger in the interval, but it is a lot of fun. The benches in the Globe are not particularly comfortable anyway and being a groundling you are free to move around as you like. It is also easy to get out during the interval and get to the toilets before the queue.
The disadvantages are that you cannot see the lower part of the stage very well especially if you are short (although there are plenty of seating areas with a worse view) and you are more vunerable to the Great British weather! I also ached a lot the next day from 3 hours of standing!
In conclusion I would say that an evening or afternoon at the Globe is great and cheap entertainment. Timon of Athens would not be my first choice of play to see but it was very enjoyable and I do not regret seeing it at all.
At the very end of the 16th century, James Burbage was running a theatre company in Blackfrairs, London, of which William Shakespeare was then a member, an actor and a playwright of some renown, even in those days. Following James' death his two sons, as a result of a dispute over the lease of the theatre that they were then using, leased a plot in Southwark, south of the river Thames, on which to erect a new theatre. That theatre was the first Globe. It was close to the equally famous Rose Theatre, and rivalry between the two theatre companies was intense.
That original Globe burned to the ground during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry VIII but, as with many such disaster in those days, they quickly rebuilt it and carried on performing. Fire in London was much more common in those days than it is now. The theatre was finally demolished for good during the Commonwealth reign of Cromwell, under the influence of the Puritans, such humourless people that they could probably give the Taliban a run for their money!
Fast forward to 1970. Enter American Anglophile-supreme, the much loved and talented actor and director, Sam Wanamaker, father of Zoe who is much present on our TV screens these days. Sam was a huge fan of British theatre and especially of the works of Shakespeare. So enthralled was he with the thought of once again seeing Shakespeare's works as they were originally performed that he made it his raison d'etre for the remainder of his life to somehow get the Globe rebuilt.
Unfortunately it could not be rebuilt on the original site as that is now occupied by a modern office block. However, if you happen to be walking westwards along Park Street towards where The Globe is now then look through a set of railings on your left where there is a plinth beside the road and there in the courtyard of the offices you will see a ring of black stones emerging from the side of the building, set into the surface of the car park. Those stones mark the visible part of where the perimeter of the original Globe Theatre once stood.
Construction of the "New" Globe started in 1987 and it opened for its first performance ten years later. Sadly Sam had passed away three years before the opening, but at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that his dream would be realised. Without Sam Wanamaker the reconstruction of The Globe would never have happened, that is certain. It was his tireless work to obtain grants and raise donations and subscriptions that made it happen. Fortunately there are thousands of like-minded people who have shared his dream and have continued his work to the present day. It is without any shadow of a doubt that The Globe is one of the premier jewels in London's crown as the greatest city on Earth (with the possible exception of Paris).
In 1993 he was awarded by the Queen a thoroughly deserved and long overdue honorary CBE. But for the fact that only British and Commonwealth nationals can be awarded knighthoods (something I've always thought bizarre) he surely would have been ennobled and deservedly so. However, he remained an American citizen to his death, despite the McCarthy persecutions he suffered during those dark days in recent American history, which was the reason that drove him to England to live for the rest of his life; their loss, our gain!
The new Globe is as close an approximation to the original as it is possible to get whilst allowing for such compromises as are required by things like modern Health and Safety regulations. There exists little by way of contemporary descriptions of the original that were available to guide the architects and so, much has had to be guesswork together with comparison with that which is known of similar theatres such as the Rose. Nevertheless, the moment that you enter the site you just know that this so right. Enter the auditorium and, could it possibly have been any other way? It just reeks authenticity.
The site consists of more than just the theatre itself though. Adjacent is the entrance with the Box Office and, up a flight of stairs the shop where you can buy your memorabilia and a bar and restaurant. There is also an exhibition of the life and times of Shakespeare. This building complex has been designed in a style which, though different from the theatre itself, is very sympathetic to the area and the style which, though not contemporary with the original, is still very appropriate.
If you want to take away with you something by which to remember your visit then be sure to buy before the evening's performance. You are unlikely to find the shop still open afterwards, which I found strange. There were plenty of visitors who also seemed bemused by the lack of any attempt to draw more money out of very willing pockets!
The restaurant I have not tried so can give you no advice about whether or not you should give it a try. The reason is that this area of Southwark is redolent with the dozens of restaurants waiting to satisfy the appetites of hungry theatre goers, and others. The Globe site could not possibly be better located. How Sam managed to get his hands on this prime location is beyond me. As a potential office development it must be worth billions. Overlooking the Thames and right beside the Silver Jubilee Walkway that runs along the south bank of the Thames, down to Waterloo, with St Paul's across the river and the Tate Modern virtually next door, views just don't get better than this anywhere in the World.
We have taken to eating before the performance in Tas Pide, a Turkish restaurant immediately across the road from the entrance to The Globe. This excellent eatery always seems to be packed out. You are strongly recommended to book well in advance. They recognise that many are attending the theatre and service is prompt and courteous so as to get your fed and on your way so as not to miss the show. I have asked Dooyoo to create a new category and will write a review in due course.
On entering The Globe the immediate thing that you notice is that the floor is almost entirely paved with slabs of stone into which have been engraved the names of the many thousands of people without whose contributions The Globe would never have come to fruition. Sadly I noticed that a few very well-known names had been misspelled; I won't name them to save their embarrassment; If you go there yourself, see if you can spot them.
The courtyard separating the entrance from the theatre itself has high gates that allow access back onto the riverside. These gates are only opened during the interval, for the audience to take their refreshments along the river bank. You can buy drinks and snacks at kiosks set up in the courtyard for the purpose or else from the "Mr Whippy" who seems to have bagged himself this prime location, against stiff competition I would guess.
The auditorium is circular. The audience is seated if they have paid for seats in one of the three tiers of the Galleries that form the outer wall and which are covered from the elements. Other than the Galleries the only other option is to stand in the Yard between the Galleries and the Stage, which projects out into the Yard in traditional fashion. If you stand here then be aware that you will be standing for the entire performance. Be also aware that the Yard is open to the skies and performances do not stop for rain. Be also aware that umbrellas are *not* allowed! If the forecast is inclement then be sure to bring a hooded "Pacamac" and wellies.
Seating in the Galleries is on solid oak benches. There is no relief from a numb bum unless you have had the forethought to rent a cushion from one of the kiosks in the entrance hall. The seats don't have a back either so, unless you are seated on the back row against the outside wall then you may also want to hire a back support as well as your cushion.
We have so far only sat in the Lower Gallery but, rest assured, this is built sufficiently high above the heads of those standing in the Yard that your view will not be obstructed for that reason. However, the upper Galleries are supported on thick oak columns and if you are seated adjacent to one of these then your view may not be as good as elsewhere. When booking your tickets you are warned where the seats in question have a "restricted view". Nevertheless, I've not found it to be too much of a problem in practice.
As the seating surrounds the stage on about three quarters of the circumference it is inevitable that many seats will have a side-on view. The pricing of seats takes into consideration the quality of the view that they present. Nevertheless, the action takes place all over the stage and so there is always something going on wherever you sit. For those in the Yard this means in many cases really getting up, close and personal with the actors. The action doesn't just take place on the stage. More than likely you may find part of the performance taking place right beside you as actors proceed to the stage, declaiming their lines, from the back of the auditorium, weaving their way through the audience in the Yard. Theatre doesn't get much more exciting than this.
We have had the great pleasure and huge privilege to have attended two performances at The Globe now. Last year we attended what was one of the final performances of the acclaimed production of Othello, starring amongst others, that brilliant actor Tim McInnerny. If you didn't see it then that is sad. This was by far one of the very best I have ever seen. Every actor was on the top of their form and that audience responded in kind. It was one of the best theatrical experiences I have ever enjoyed save perhaps for a performance I saw of The Merchant of Venice at the Old Vic some 45 years ago, starring a very, very young Diana Rigg as Portia, which showed that here was an actor with an exciting future.
Our most recent experience was on this year's Midsummer Night, for a performance of A Midsummer's Night Dream. This time we were accompanied by our son and daughter. Once again the performance was outstanding. Although the weather forecast was not good, the rain held off and a packed audience enjoyed a wonderful and memorable experience. My daughter, who had never seen Shakespeare for real before, commented afterwards, "I never realised that Shakespeare was so funny!".
One word of warning before I close, unless you go to the box office at The Globe to buy your tickets, you are as likely as not to be passed off onto one of the booking agents to buy you tickets by phone. You can book on-line but for such as A Midsummer's Night Dream, most especially for the Midsummer's Night performance, tickets are at a premium.
I was on the phone for five hours to try to get tickets and by then most of the best had already gone. When I eventually got through I got tickets but tried to pay for them with my Cahoot Webcard. The agent with whom I was dealing claimed that the transactions (I tried three times with different numbers) had been rejected by Cahoot. I later found out from Cahoot that in fact they had been approved although the actual transactions were never processed. I was forced to use a "real" credit card, something I'm always very edgy about doing over the phone or on-line.
The Globe is within easy walking distance of Waterloo Station and the District Line stations, Blackfriars and Mansion House on the north side of the river. The Globe can by reached from there across the "bouncy bridge" (The Millenium Bridge), which bounces no more. Head for the Tate Modern on the south bank and then turn left. Be aware also that, although south of the river, this part of Southwark is in the London Congestion Zone charging area so, if heading for one of the car parks in The Borough, you may still get caught, anywhere above Elephant & Castle, unless it is at a weekend.
A visit to The Globe for a performance of one of Shakespeare's masterpieces is in my opinion one of those many things that you simply must do before you die.
See you there next time?
When my daughter told me, earlier in the year, that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of the plays being produced at the Globe Theatre in London this year, to book tickets was a must. When she told me a few days later that there was to be a Midsummer Night’s performance at midnight, well, there was just no other date that we could book was there? Even though it had only just been announced that this performance was going to take place, tickets were in short supply. We managed to acquire two in the lower stand, on one side of the stage. We had a restricted view, but what the hell! To see A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer’s night beginning at midnight, I think I’d have even gone as a Groundling again! Apparently they attempted to put on a midnight matinee last year, when Macbeth was playing, but had to cancel, due to lack of support. Not so this year. It was a sell-out very soon after the tickets went on sale. The thought of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer’s night beginning at midnight certainly appealed to a lot of people! Walking along Bankside from London Bridge, you get a very different view of the river from the daytime one. St. Paul’s Cathedral looms large on the opposite bank, and all the bridges are lit. Although it’s a walk through old streets and tunnels under the bridges, we both commented on how you felt safe there, even when passing the old Clink Museum! On arriving at the Globe, the previous performance was just finishing, and seemed to be getting rapturous applause. We wandered around the Globe shop, then sat down outside, watching the river, until it was time for the doors to open and let us in. For anyone who has never been to the Globe, it has been recreated to be as near as possible to how it was in Shakespeare’s day. Therefore it is advisable to either take or hire a cushion to sit on! The benches are not very comfortable! It is
also open-air, and the show does not stop for rain! Umbrellas are not allowed, so if you are watching from the Yard, be prepared! The same goes for if the sun is shining too! There is very little shade. At 11.59 precisely, the musicians came out, followed closely by all the cast, dressed in pyjamas, nightshirts and dressing gowns! Well most of it does take place at night! I will put the cast here next, as it will make the rest of the op somewhat easier to follow. Several characters doubled up, but as I will show later, it was easy to follow who was who. Geraldine Alexander (Hippolyta/Titania) Louise Bush (Helena/Fairy) Keith Dunphy (Demetrius) Ryan Early (Starveling (Moonshine)/First Fairy) Paul Higgins (Theseus/Oberon) Richard Katz (Lysander/Fairy) Patrick Lennox (Snout (Wall)/Fairy) Gary Lilburn (Egeus/Fairy) John Ramm (Bottom/Fairy) Philippa Stanton (Hermia/Fairy) Simon Trinder (Puck/Philostrate) Paul Trussell (Peter Quince/Fairy) Jem Wall (Snug (Lion)/Fairy) THE PLAY I don’t intend giving the full story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream here. Suffice to say it is a play within a play. It is set in Athens, where young girls were expected to obey their fathers’ wishes regarding marriage partners, with the death penalty, or a Nunnery for disobedience! Hermia, who is in love with Lysander, has been promised to Demetrius with whom Helena is infatuated. Hermia and Lysander decide to run away, followed by Demetrius, who in turn is pursued by Helena. They find themselves in a magical forest, where Oberon, the Fairy King, is in dispute with Titania, the Fairy Queen, and he decides that the balance of the forest has been upset. He sends his trusty servant, Puck, on a mission to redress the balance. Puck gets things base upwards, and the fun starts! Also in the forest is a band of would-be actors, who have chosen the dead of night to practice their p
lay, in the hope of being chosen to perform at the forthcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta in Athens. Needless to say, the players get caught up in the magical happenings, with hilarious consequences! As you can see from the cast list, several of the actors played more than one part, and yet the way it was done prevented any confusion, in spite of there being no costume changes and very few props. All the players were dressed in nightwear of one form or another, and when the cast changed from being people into being fairies, they simply lit up chains of fairy lights which hung around their necks, and turned them off when they became people again. Simple, but very effective. THE PLAYERS. People who perform in Shakespeare’s plays are known as players, rather than actors. The casts in productions performed at the Globe are traditionally drawn from little known, or totally unknown players. This particular cast was made up from a real Heinz variety of accents. There were Cockney accents, Irish accents, Scottish and Yorkshire, as well as Queen’s English, and yet the whole thing worked. Puck was played by the impish looking Simon Trinder (Yorkshire accent), who pranced and danced across the stage, bringing to life the mischief-maker, just as Shakespeare must have intended him to be. Helena, portrayed by Louise Bush (Queen’s English) was as annoying as annoying can be. She came across as being slightly simple as well as somewhat irritating. If you are in any way familiar with the play, then I think you will agree that this is exactly how the writer meant her to be played. Philippa Stanton played Hermia brilliantly. I think the highlight for me was the part where Helena refers to Hermia as “dwarfish”. Philippa must have been around 5 feet tall, which made this scene really come to life! John Ramm’s performance as Bottom the Weaver was perhaps the best performance o
f all. Sev eral times I nearly fell off my rather precarious seat, I was laughing so much. In fact at one point, my daughter told me to shush! Easier said than done! The other player that remains in my memory was Ryan Early, playing Moonshine. A more morose figure you could not wish to see, which made it all the funnier to see him holding up a lamp which looked like a toilet brush holder, dangling a fluffy dog on a string, and almost going for Theseus (Paul Higgins) in the final scene. That final scene, the performance by the townsfolk of Pyramus and Thisbe at the wedding of Theseus and Hyppolyta, has to be the most hilarious thing I have seen in ages. Picture the wall (played by Patrick Lennox) with a plaster cast on his arm and hand to form the “chink” through which the lovers whispered, a lion with a bathroom mat around his face to represent his mane, and the moronic moonshine, and you can only go a tiny way to seeing the hilarity. At almost 3 a.m. in the morning, I wouldn’t have wanted to be living in the luxury flats close to the Globe! The squeals of mirth were enough to wake anybody up! Needless to say, when the play ended the players were given several standing ovations. They had performed this play twice that night, it was 3 a.m. and they were still going strong. WOULD I RECOMMEND IT? Well I can’t recommend that you go to a midnight matinee, because there was only one, and I was at it! After all, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on any other night than Midsummer’s Night just wouldn’t be the same would it? However, if you get the chance to go and see this play at the Globe, then I would say take that chance. Simply being at the Globe, watching a play written by William Shakespeare himself is a real experience. To see this play, especially if it is your first time at a Shakespeare play, is well worth booking. We had seats from which to view, but the rea
l experience at the Globe is to go as a Groundling for your first viewing. Groundlings stand in the Yard, some even leaning on the stage, and the players really perform to this audience. We’ve been as Groundlings, last year, when Macbeth was showing, and we also experienced the same play from the top gallery. You definitely do not get the full atmosphere from up there. If you really cannot face standing for 3 hours (with a 20 minute interval), and having done it, I can tell you, it hurts, then try and book seats in the lower gallery, on a level with the Groundlings. You will be a bit further away from the stage than if you stand, but you do get more of the atmosphere than up on high. PRICES Prices range from £5.00 to be a Groundling, to around £27.00 for the best seats, those with an unrestricted view. We paid £12.00 for the seats we had, to the right of the stage. We could see most of what was going on, but our view was somewhat restricted by the huge stage pillar that holds up the “heavens”. Pre-booking is a must. Don’t expect to simply turn up and get tickets, as they sell out very quickly. Groundling tickets are probably the only ones you would be able to buy on the night, unless there are any returns. And even these are sold out for some performances. ME ON MY SOAP BOX Shakespeare is one of, if not THE most famous of English playwrights. It took an American to rebuild the Globe, just a short distance from the site of the original. We have noticed that the majority of the audience, on each occasion we have been to a play there, are not English. We have such a rich heritage, and yet we don’t seem to support it as others who visit us do. The Globe Theatre should be a must for anyone remotely interested in English history. It isn’t expensive, and everyone I’ve spoken to who has been there, wants to return. Support our Heritage. Be proud of it. Go on. Go and se
e A Midsummer Night& #8217;s Dream. I will certainly go again, if I can get tickets!
When Sam Wannamaker's proposal to rebuild the Globe close to its original site was first mooted, I was dismissive of the idea. I thought that it would just be another ride in "England-Land", that commercial construction of a fantasy England, and a siren call intensifying that dread English desire to avoid the present by living in the past. What is more, I always thought that reconstructing Shakespeare in this way would have been an indication of a desire to pickle him - and you can only embalm the dead. When I saw a broadcast from the Globe after it had opened, I began to revise my opinion. When I actually went there, I blessed the memory of Sam Wannamaker. I can only describe my first two visits to the Globe as tinglingly thrilling. It may be an illusion, but the staging was such that I actually believed that Shakespeare was substantially more accessible than I had credited. The productions I saw were high energy. The fact that you can get a very large audience in very close proximity to the stage means that you get both the intimacy and the spectacle. And they strive hard to give an insight into the original staging without being slavishly over-authentic. The text takes on extraordinary depth in its original setting (though by no means all of Shakespeare's plays were written with the Globe in mind) - a male actor playing a Cleopatra lamenting that one day a thousand years hence a piping boy would be representing her on the stage. I love Stratford and the RSC, but a bit of me thought that they are going to have to look to their laurels. The Globe palpably reminds one of the fact that, really, truly, Shakespeare belongs to London and not to Stratford. Mark Rylance - the artistic director, leading man, or whatever they call him - is hugely talented but it would appear that, in the spirit of authenticity, the Globe companies have eschewed the conventional director as an early music ensem
ble might eschew a baton conductor. The result of this is that Rylance lacks a restraining hand. He would be even better if someone could rein him in a bit. It was nice to have a seat on the ground floor (but, oh boy, hire a cushion, or bring your own, those benches are HARD) - this gives you the choice to go walkabout amongst the groundlings. The Globe highlights the fact that stage and dramatic convention is very deceptive. All kinds of things that a former generation would have regarded as very avant-garde are normative for the Shakespearean stage - staging "in the round" (or near enough), contemporary cum contemporaneous costume, reflexive remarks about staging (which we might think of as Brechtian), the minimum of scenery. If you would like to like Shakespeare, go! If you love Shakespeare and aren't stuffy about him, go!
The original Shakespeare's Globe burned down in 1613, and a detailed reproduction based on drawings of the time has been constructed on the South Bank in London. The building techniques, where fire safety legislation has allowed, have mimicked those used at the time, to produce a fascinating building, as per the wishes of the late Sam Wanamaker, whose brainchild the reconstructed Globe was. The theatre only operates in the Summer, which should come as a welcome relief to those "groundlings" who stand in the centre of the theatre in front of the stage, and are encouraged to jeer and cheer the players, as the theatre hasn't got a roof - and is open to the elements! The seated areas of the theatre are covered over, but you lose something of the experience by sitting - plus it's only £5 to stand through a play, and if you get there early enough, you can lean on the stage! Seated tickets range from £10 to £26. Each year, two of Shakespeare's plays are put on, along with a couple of other plays from the Elizabethan period. Performances vary in quality, as does the acting, however, most are of a very high standard. Last year's (1999) performances of "Julius Caesar" and "The Comedy of Errors" were both very good, but this year's (2000) "Hamlet" and "The Tempest" were less impressive. Having said that, there were still some excellent performances, Mark Rylance's Hamlet was absolutely first rate, and Vanessa Redgrave made a surprisingly good (and appropriately gender-bending, given the venue) Prospero! There is a tendency for the Globe's productions to focus on the more comedic aspects of the plays, and I suspect this is a deliberate ploy to appeal to the tourist market. Nonetheless, the plays work extremely well, and it's about the cheapest theatre ticket in London! Plus, the accessibility of the performances make them entertaining for all ages.
Ticket availability is generally very good, with groundling tickets often still available on the day of the performance. However, obviously it's better to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Personally, I prefer to go to the matinee performances, because it's warmer than in the evenings, when it can get very cold in there - that's the problem with a roofless theatre! The Globe's location, very close to the Tate Modern on the increasingly tourist-friendly South Bank, makes it very easy to get to.