the globe

Part of my effort to see every Shakespeare play.

I pitched The Globe to my friends as “this theatre that was made by a mad American who decided to recreate a sixteenth century theatre in its entirety and then put on Shakespeare plays as they would have been performed then, complete with audience participation and dance numbers”. They agreed to come to the midnight matinee of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And it was, uh, not quite as Shakepeare would have performed it, though I imagine if he had had the budget it wouldn’t have been too far off. I wasn’t the only one who thought it a bit much:

“The entire show is pitched somewhere between a first-week freshers’ party and the birthday celebration of a really spoilt five-year-old. There are piñatas, streamers, glitter face paint, pink hair, loads of deely boppers, audience interaction on the level of a Christmas show and giant balloon letters. ” –

Titania and Bottom (as donkey) in a wheely bin.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fantasy story, with two lovers running off to the woods to be together and getting caught up in a lover’s tiff between the King and Queen of the fairies. Love potions are pulled out, identies are mixed up and amid it all, six trademen are trying to practice their amateur dramatrics to be performed at the upcoming wedding. It is ridiculous, it is touching, and it is very funny, and remains one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays.

And perhaps because of that, Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only Shakespeare play that I had in fact seen before starting this project, though my memories of it are very dim (it was an outdoor performance, and I was eight years old, and spent much of the time sitting in a pillow feeling very uncomfortable). Nonetheless, I was still fairly ignorant of what happens and there were quite a few changes to the play that I could not appreciate until looking up the reviews afterwards, particularly of note:

“One of several inspired choices by Holmes is the way the character of Puck is shared around the cast, adding momentum to his sometimes sluggish soliloquies and laughs where often there are none. He also gets an audience member to play Starveling, turning this normally insignificant mechanical into a star turn and adding a useful foil to the buffoonery of Bottom (a show-stealing Jocelyn Jee Esien).” – Time Out

I didn’t actually realise that the role of Puck had been dished out among several people until reading this review afterwards – I just thought there were a band of fairies in the play and Puck was the famous one. I suppose that as one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, directors are able to take risks and assume their audience will understand what is being played with, but I personally was just a bit lost.

However, please do not take this as a negative review. I very much enjoyed this performance. The Hackney Colliery Band were the orchestra, and opened with their own ska performance with tuba, drums, trumpet, trombone and saxophone. The two lovers at the centre of the comedy were very good, if very eccentrically dressed. It’s an extremely high energy performance, with all of the actors hurling themselves around stage, into the audience, towards each other, on the floor, etc., with the exception of the Duke of Theseus/Oberon, who is played by an actor in his seventies, I think, and spent most of his time standing in a costume that sadly I can find no publicity photos of but which made him look like some kind of psychedelic oyster.

The main plot however, was quite overshadowed by the mayhem of the “rude mechanicals” trying to rehearse their play. As in Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare in creating the role of Bottom created a role for a great comic actor and wow, the woman who played Bottom was amazing. Her comic timing was genious. For this performance, they picked a random member of the audience to play one of the players, who was apparently not briefed beforehand, and performed the play around him. They did his best to direct him and give him lines, but there was one moment where Bottom rushes on stage, head transformed into a donkey’s head, and all of the bickering performers run away, while Steve (I think he was called) continued to stand on the edge of the stage.

Bottom: “Why do they run away?”

[Sees Steve]

Bottom: “Run away, Steve!”

Steve then suddenly looked terrified and ran away out the back of the stage, before being sent, head hanging, back into the audience by the cast members. I cried with laughter.

Absolute master of comedy.

Steve also ended up riding some bicycle powered machine at the end that I can’t remember the purpose of, but personally I was more taken with Titania’s buggy that she enters the yard in for about twenty seconds for no particularly good but quite visually impressive reason:

Titania’s cart stashed away at the interval in the grounds.

The midnight matinee performances were set up as a gimmick that went so well that The Globe kept doing them. Practically, because everyone turns up at midnight fairly sloshed to begin with and keeps drinking, it means that the groundlings in the yard are pretty well-disposed to be entertained and inclined to express their entertainment loudly, which made for a cracking atmosphere. They laughed, they booed, they ahhed, which kept me going at the play isn’t cut short for the late hour. It did mean I got home at 4am, so I don’t think I will be repeating it, but I’m glad I went.

I think I may have to go and see another Midsummer Night’s Dream though. That passed by in a bit of a, well, a dream…


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Part of my effort to see every Shakespeare play.

It’s been said, not unreasonably, that Henry IV Part 2 is something of a filler story between the clash of titans in Henry IV Part 1 and whatever happens in Henry V. Both of the two plotlines of the first part are carried forward – the continued rebellion against Henry IV and the jollies of Falstaff, with Prince Hal transitioning between the two, but this time the stories are more separate. Hal has made his commitment to kinghood and he and Falstaff barely speak. The rebels have been scattered and their leader is dead, so much of their story involves people standing in corners frustratedly shouting at each other. Consequently, much of the play is taken up with the adventures of Falstaff.

Prince Hal steps up to kingship.

This was not an accident, Falstaff was an extremely popular character when he first appeared on stage and so takes a larger role in the sequel and then got a whole play to himself in the Merry Wives of Windsor. He is a ridiculous unrepentant layabout and Helen Schlesinger again gives it all in gusto. She took advantage of the protuding stage into the audience in full, striding over and taking audience’s cans of beer and swigging them while delivering her monologues about sack. I noted to myself “not a lot happens but it’s great”.

As with Henry IV Part 1, there is a stripped down cast with each playing multiple characters, but in this performance, it had been made more explicit. I watched in absolute amazement as a scene in a brothel with Falstaff and his servant Ancient Pistol emptied out, leaving only his Mistress Doll Tearsheet, who slowly started to remove her garments and wipe the lipstick from her face until King Henry IV was before us. I had not noticed they were the same actor, at all, until that moment. It was probably the most striking part of the play for me.

Doll Tearsheet/Henry IV
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

The monologue that Henry IV goes on to deliver mentions his intended promise to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to make up for stealing the crown of Richard II, which I had seen staged seen earlier in the year. It was one of several moments that were essentially fan service for those who’ve seen all the plays. Henry IV then dies and Prince Hal becomes Henry V, to the rapture of his former drinking buddies including Falstaff, who hurtles down to the front of the stage/London to await his coronation. Unfortunately and to Falstaff’s great surprise, King Henry V repudiates him in public and moves on. The actor played it brilliantly, and you could feel his genuine sorrow underneath the bluster.

The play then ended rather abruptly, which I was somewhat surprised for what is, after all, a product of one of our greatest playwrights. I’ve looked at the text and there is an epilogue that I believe was missed out of the performance, perhaps because it references Falstaff appearing in Henry V, which he doesn’t, or perhaps because it was a bit to Elizabethan (asking the audience to pray for the queen). I don’t know, but that might at least solve the mystery.

This was also another play where I took someone along who had never seen a *play* before, never mind Shakespeare, but had absolutely loved it and said that he’d never thought of Shakespeare as something performed in front of drunks cheering you on (they weren’t that drunk). Falstaff for the win!

A scene from Henry IV Part 2 or Falstaff by The Globe Ensemble @ Shakespeare’s Globe

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