Friday, 21 January 2011

All Manner of Excitement from Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe is one of my favourite places in London.

If you asked me why, I'd say there are lots of reasons. My interest in Shakespeare started pretty early: I can clearly remember being asked to read Sir Toby Belch's lines from Twelfth Night in class aged about 11 or 12, and, just like Latin and languages (at the time!), I was fascinated by the pull between the familiarity and strangeness of the words... Also, the sweet feeling of release when you were allowed to talk out loud in class...

Then, my Mum and I became regular visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon; as tourists, as something to do with your youngest kid when the others were off having fun; as people for whom anything recognisably historic, particularly Tudor, was going to be of interest...

When I played Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream aged 14, learning the lines felt quite easy; it was the same when we were asked to study Othello for A Level. I was quite happy noodling away reading A C Bradley's thoughts on the Moor (totally unnecessary for passing A Level) while my French grades slipped: the result was 100% in the "Shakespeare and the Drama" module, which really stood for "she's read more than she should."

Mum and I made a cardboard model of the Globe Theatre (the one in London, that didn't exist at the time; this theatre, to my mind, was from ancient history) when I was still a young teenager. It wasn't easy either; it was fiddly, awkward and took what felt like a very long time to complete. The sense of accomplishment (combined with the smell of the glue) when we were finally finished was amazing.

Later, the idea that they'd built this complicated not-at-all circular when you're constructing it from card structure for real, in London, blew me away. My parents sent me a postcard of the new Globe when they first visited, while I was studying in Liverpool. It was around the same time as Shakespeare in Love came out on video, and probably around the year I took a module called "Stage to Page to Stage" about how to actually put Shakespeare's words on stage. Joseph Fiennes plus a relatively sexy tutor meant my lifelong fascination was complete.

When I was a language teacher, I took one of my more proficient students to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe, having explained the love potions and silly plot to her beforehand; it was great, and she loved it too. Since I started reviewing for londonist, they've been kind enough to offer me review tickets many times, and I've always enjoyed the experience, if not every play.

It's just a classy place: the staff, the programmes, the posters, the standing for a fiver, the shop, pretty much everything about The Globe pleases me. Just seeing a picture of it, looking so pristinely black and white, so pleasingly built-for-purpose, so alien to the modern blocks around it, will make me smile.

Recently, I've been engrossed by this blog by Tara Hale about her designs for the new season's programmes.

And then there's two these two bits of exciting news from the Globe in just one day. First, that the Globe team are as suitably ambitious about celebrating multiculturalism in 2012 as we are with our World in London blog:

Twenty-eight plays. Twenty-eight languages. The simplicity of it is lovely. The incredible amounts of work involved; terrifying. I can't imagine how hard it must be having, say, four different acting companies using one theatre, its rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, props cupboards. Making it run smoothly with 28 just seems gobsmacking. Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole described the festival as "terrifically clear and simple and slightly bananas". Got to agree with him there.

And secondly, that they're expanding. From 2013, the Globe's season will no longer run from around Shakespeare's birthday (23 April) to around mine (10 October). They'll be doing shows indoors as well.

I'm so chuffed with this news. Below are some of the pictures of what this new theatre will look like.

Exterior of the indoor Jacobean theatre at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo by Nick Robins

Model box interior of the proposed indoor Jacobea theatre. Created by Jonathan Fensom, photo by Fiona Moorhead
There'll be 320-seats, with two tiers of gallery seating and a pit area. From this model, it looks like it'll be as "challenging" on the arse as the current theatre.

Plans for an indoor Jacobean theatre, by kind permission of the Provost and Fellows of Worcester College Oxford
The theatre is based on these designs, above, from Worcester College, Oxford for a 17th-century indoor theatre. These plans are believed to be by Renaissance architect Inigo Jones or his protégé John Webb (I think more people might adhere to the latter theory?) and depict a venue similar to the Blackfriars theatre where Shakespeare and his contemporaries would've put on plays. They're the earliest plans for an English theatre in existence. (Wow.)

So, we'll be able to see plays like The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles and Cymbeline in a theatre super-similar to the ones they were written for, from as early as winter 2013. I can only imagine good things will come of the Globe's company having more space and more time to fill.


  1. People really should notice how well Bristol's Old Vic Theatre compares proportionally with the playhouse shown in these drawings, reputedly by "Inigo Jones". When Professor Martin White organised the construction of a replica of the theatre shown in these drawings (inside Bristol University Theatre Department's Glynne Wickham Studio Theatre), even he failed to notice how well it compares proportionally with the plan of Bristol's Old Vic Theatre. I also showed in "Around the Globe" (2010) how remarkably close the dimensions and geometry of the surviving Old Vic Theatre at Bristol compare with the Rose Theatre (1587). It's time everyone interested in Shakespeare started noticing Bristol's Old Vic - England's oldest working playhouse.

  2. As part of his research on the drawings, White discovered that the Worcester College Archivist dates them to c.1650-60. This means they cannot possibly have been drawn by Inigo Jones, but are more likely by his successor, John Webb. They may show drawings for a private playhouse built by William Davenant or another Lord or knight of the realm. Certainly, it is interesting to compare them with Bristol's Old Vic because that theatre is known to have been modelled on the 1674 Theatre Royal Drury Lane. So, once more there is another link between these drawings and Drury Lane.