On visiting Shakespeare's Globe


My first visit to the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames saw me in 'The Gentleman's Box' perched above the stage. The show was Twelfth Night, an 'original' production in terms of the acting space, the costumes, the period musicians and an all-male cast.

The evening was fun. The production lacked the subtext of menace that I like so much but the theatrical space showed that such things matter scarce a jot. They were Shakespeare's worldview and intelligence leaking into farce. Subtext is great for academics and silent auditoria but pretty redundant in the bearpit of the theatre in which he was producing.

What I loved most was the sheer and obvious pleasure of the audience standing in the main arena. They were young, a wide ethnic mix, and whooping and laughing with delight, animated like a rock music crowd rather than sedated like a regular theatre audience. Faces kept opening in laughter, siding with characters, sympathizing with distress, happiest of all when true love found a way. This was tremendous popular theatre, different scenes pumping across the stage so attention was never dropped. I'm sure the tragedies work well in such productions too, with their streams of dastardliness and horror.

It must have been great as Shakespeare, whoever he was, to have such an audience as a barometer. The play's tested by their reaction all the time, and has to keep passing the test to survive. Many in this audience had English as a second language, it wasn't so much about what was said but what was shown. The whole show was a great wind-up ... keep the audience spinning till the slam of the final conclusion. Henry Fielding did it as a novelist, I see that's where Salman Rushdie is aiming, Dean Koontz gets the momentum without the thrill of language, Marquez can do it when he's angry rather than sentimental. Maybe it's the South Americans who are really carrying the novel forward in such terms at the moment, with thrust and scale.

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