When I moved to London, one of my numerous pledges was that I would make sure to take advantage of having so many cultural highlights on my doorstep. Understandably, this was almost entirely born of spending the previous four years in the remote backwaters of St. Andrews (appropriately nicknamed ‘The Bubble’). Given that I have always been an avid reader of Shakespeare’s plays, and continue to count Hamlet among the greatest works of literature, it was entirely inevitable that visits to The Globe would feature as a large part of my London love-in.
After some fantastic experiences last year, with particularly memorable performances of Richard III and Henry V, I decided to give my obsession an even longer-term dimension by signing up the be a Friend of the Globe. Apart from the completely awesome membership card (justification enough), I also get access to priority booking for the season to come. Needless to say, as soon as the 2013 Season dates were released back in January, I went on what can only be described as a ‘booking frenzy’. I won’t lie, it was pretty manic. The Globe is always fantastic value for money, with seats in the galleries coming in as low as £15. Unfortunately, the combination of being on a student budget and a determination to see every play of the Season, means that I do not afford myself the luxury of sitting down. Instead, I choose to visit The Globe as the majority of the audience would have done during Shakespeare’s time – as a yard-standing peasant. Because that’s the way I roll.
The Globe, as it currently stands, is a modern reconstruction dating to 1997. It was conceived by Sam Wanamaker (father of the actor, Zoe Wanamaker – known, among other things, for playing Madam Hooch in Harry Potter), as an authentic remaking of the original Globe theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s acting troupe, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The current theatre, in Southwark and just next door to the Tate Modern, is located close to the original site. Interesting side note, the theatres were located Bankside, outside of the original boundaries of the city, because they were considered too bawdy. Thankfully no longer the case (although whoever thought it appropriate to allow Equus and Daniel Radcliffe’s full-frontal nudity a place in the world, has a lot to answer for).
Watching a performance of Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe is unlike anything else and,standing in the Pit, although not good for the back, is perhaps the best audience experience that it is possible to have in London. Performed in their original style (with costumes, traditional music, and some truly brilliant dancing at the end of each show), this is absolutely a case of Shakespeare brought to life. It is nothing short of magical to watch the actors engage with the audience and hear the audience respond with boos, cheers, and extremely vocal comments. I fully believe that even the biggest of Shakespeare-doubters out there would be hard pushed not to enjoy the experience. It is, quite simply, a journey back through time, to entertainment at its very best.
This previous Sunday marked my first visit back The Globe for the 2013 Season, to see a production of The Tempest that has been touted as one of the theatre’s best. While not one of my favourite plays, I have had the pleasure of seeing a number of fantastic performances of The Tempest, most recently a birthday trip to watch Ralph Fiennes play the challenging role of Prospero. With The Globe’s 2013 production featuring the talents of Roger Allam (from The Thick of It and Endeavour, among many other things) and Colin Morgan (Merlin!!), I was unbelievably excited to see the play come to life in its original form. And it didn’t disappoint. I still believe that The Tempest is one of the hardest of Shakespeare’s plays to stage – the storm scene at the start is a huge challenge in itself. But it was carried off unbelievably effectively, given that special effects are non-existent and the stage space is relatively tiny. The acting was fantastic, as expected, and James Garnon’s Caliban was completely the highlight – terrifying the audience at the front of the Pit by intermittently slapping their heads and ruffling their hair. The only issue I did have was Allam’s take on Prospero. Playing the character as partly comic, Allam’s angry outbursts at his enemies were hard to believe. Whereas Ralph Fiennes dominated the role by emphasising Prospero’s terrifying power in a unrestrained way, Allam’s attempts to play Prospero as the protective father made it difficult to appreciate the power behind the character. I liked the comedic aspects but I think this Prospero rather missed the point. And I feel that, if you were to see this production of The Tempest with little knowledge of the play, you would be hard pressed to understand Prospero’s personality and motivations. Overall though, this was an amazing production, and a true testament to Shakespeare’s work.
For those of you in the UK or anyone planning a trip to London, I absolutely recommend a trip to The Globe. I know that many people feel that school-time study of Shakespeare has killed any appeal that The Bard might otherwise hold for them. But I can guarantee you that seeing these plays in their original setting is an incomparable experience. It is an experience where you will find yourself shouting and laughing with the best of them, cheering the heroes and hissing the bad guys. It is pantomime as Shakespeare wrote it and, at The Globe, performed with his intentions at heart.