Getting Shakespeare at 'The Globe' by Tony Webb
A personal account of rediscovering Shakespeare at 'The Globe'
Rediscovering Shakespeare may seem daunting, for some; those who, like me, were taught, at an early age, to loathe his work, by teachers, seemingly, with greater indifference than imagination. Yet, dismissing perhaps the world's most revered playwrite, as an adult, is questionable and so I sought to fill the void, with movies by Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh; specifically 'Hamlet' and 'Much Ado about Nothing'. They were, of course, impressive; far more so than I had expected, but many years would pass before I'd, finally, venture to see Shakespeare's plays performed on the stage.
My initial experience was, again, of 'Hamlet'; a popular production at the Wyndham's Theatre, in Charing Cross Road and then, the lesser known 'Troillus and Cressida', at The Globe. Both plays thrilled, but, for me, Bankside was the better and I've since returned many times
Discovering 'The Globe'
Visiting The Globe is extraordinary. I point this out to ensure reluctant attendees that, aside from the play itself, there are wonders to be seen. Few buildings could inspire the imagination more than Sam Wanamaker's remarkable recreation of the original seventeenth century theatre; the towering auditorium, with its quaintly thatched roof; the mock marble columns, with ornate gold enhancements; the heraldic symbols, adorning the railings; but, more than anything, the sheer intimacy of it.
The stage, itself, varies greatly, for each production. Intricate walkways are often employed, together with touches of grandeur, to suggest palatial halls; yet, with 'Troillus and Cressida' the very opposite was true. My first visit had me almost wondering whether I'd arrived a few days too soon, as we filed through the door and made our way toward a stage strewn with white cloth and little sign of anything else. To me, it looked, for all the world, as though the decorators were in; yet somehow, with the performance underway, it instantly made sense. The evening was, in fact, breathtaking and I was mesmerised when watching the finest of actors, perform, at such close range (even if suppressing an inexplicable desire to tickle their toes, proved, at times, trying!); but that's the wonder of it, for 'groundlings' (those who pay a fiver to stand and in turn get the best 'seats' in the house, so to speak). With their ticket, they are handed a rare opportunity to study the actor's craft, much as one might have wished to stand beside the working hand of Monet, or Renoir. Every tilt of the brow: every flicker of a smile; every opaque stare, is there to be seen and understood in ways previously unknown; and the voice's subtle intonations; and the clashing of steel. I promise you; it's an extraordinary journey.
For the masses?
You may, though, harbour concerns of class. Isn't Shakespeare, after all, for the elite?
Well, certainly, that wasn't the case and perhaps the Globe's greatest achievement has been in reclaiming his works, for the masses. It's quite true, that some of the words are prohibitive; they are to me and must be still more so, for those with only a loose understanding of the English language; yet, what's most extraordinary (and I've seen this repeatedly) is the way everyone seems to, ultimately, 'get' the plays. Looks of reticence vanish, well before the interval and at the conclusion, visitors are unmistakeably enthralled. The best approach, I've found, is to focus on the dialogue from the start and not worry too much about phrases you don't understand; just appreciate its rhythm and be open to the essence of the work. See it that way and it's my guess you'll soon find yourself swept along.
To further advise, I'd suggest that much can be gained from choosing your play carefully; for example, productions such as last season's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' include magical moments for the young, whilst 'Henry IV' (also very funny) will be geared toward a more adult audience and 'Macbeth', of course, is notoriously brutal and gory (warnings to this effect are, commendably, displayed at the box office). Expect, too, the unexpected; for a recent 'Macbeth' production, a giant tarpaulin was, ingeniously, installed, through which groundlings could poke their heads (optionally, as alternative standing space was available). This provided the intended sense of floating in some kind of hinterland, along with cover for the witches, who would pass, unseen, through the audience, to emerge amongst them. It also offered, on my visit, welcome protection from the rain; which brings me to my final point: Take with you, a coat, or at least a thick sweater, because, when the sun descends it can get surprisngly chilly; yet don't be deterred, because a visit to this extraordinary theatre, is a joy to behold and you may well find that it becomes an essential part of your summer.
I was pleased to, recently, conduct an interview with leading Globe actor, Michael Bertenshaw; the transcript of which can be found here http://thoughtbubbleinterviews.blogspot.com/Sincere thanks go to Mr Bertenshaw, for his participation.