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Shakespeare’s Globe: A Wooden Stage in a Concrete Jungle

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As you wander across the entanglement that is the Millennium Bridge, under the watchful stare of St Paul’s Cathedral, your eyes cannot help but gaze across the flowing Thames towards the grandeur of the London skyline. Concrete, steel and glass all burst skyward; the night sky illuminated by thousands of lights dancing out of window after window. You watch in awe.

What is this?

Situated on the South Bank, a white oddity with wooden beams and a thatched roof seems to have nestled itself amongst the greyness. It seems to be alive; its lungs breathe with the roar of applause; its heart beats in harmony with the poetry. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre does not disappear into the background. It lives.

Walking in anticipation towards your destination, you cannot help but notice its majesty. Reconstructed in 1997, thanks mainly to the noble efforts of actor Sam Wanamaker, the ‘new’ Globe sits only 230m away from the site of the 17th century original. The building acts as a perfect time capsule that speaks our history to us. Composed to almost exactly the same specifications as the previous theatre and built (as far as modern building regulations will allow) of the same materials, Shakespeare’s Globe is a unique entity within London.

The wooden doors swing open. 

As you walk into the Globe, you naturally savour every footstep. It is a new world, but somehow familiar. It is imposing, yet welcoming. As your eyes amble across the three-tiered gallery, your mind already populates each seat with a face full of anticipation for the work of Britain’s most iconic wordsmith. The poetry sprung from the lips of star-crossed lovers and the cries of kings killed before their kinsmen dance in the air in faint whispers. All the while, the night sky lingers above.

For my first trip to the Globe I had tickets to a historic tragedy which was first performed over four hundred years ago. Richard II is the perfect blend of political thriller and human drama. What is it that makes a good ruler? How do we cope with loss? How can a man become a better person? Questions like these were continuously provoked throughout this excellent play, directed by Simon Goodwin and starring the magnificent Charles Edwards.

It is obvious that the team at the Globe do the best they can, pig’s blood aside, to bring authenticity to their performance. The costumes are fantastic; the use of music energetic; the acting faultless. Every part of the stage, from the upper-balcony to the trapdoor, is utilised.

But for me, a first-time groundling, the most impressive aspect of Shakespeare’s Globe is how involved the audience become in the production. Rather than being shrouded in an anonymous darkness, we are an integral element without which the play could not function. When Richard contemplates isolation, who is there to hear? When York bounds after his riding boots thrown into the pit, who will aid him back on stage? The answer is always the audience.

 

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