Another London gem – The Globe Theatre

As the actors withdrew, they left the wooden stage strewn with roses. They bowed and bade farewell not only to an adoring audience but also to a run of almost four months of All’s Well that Ends Well. Night fell on Shakespeare’s open-air theatre, and I was spellbound.

Sunday couldn’t come quickly enough. We’d booked to go and see the last performance of this Shakespeare comedy at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank in London. We met up with our friends at a great Turkish restaurant next to the Thames River, and enjoyed a relaxing late afternoon meal before wandering down the South Bank – under a beautiful summer sky – ahead of our planned feast of Shakespeare.

According to their website, The Globe Theatre is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse, first built in 1599, where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his great plays. It is an outstanding and totally special venue. The courtyard of the theatre complex is paved with stones that bear the names of benefactors to the beloved project of American actor, Sam Wanamaker, whose dream resulted in this amazing theatre project overlooking St Paul’s. He caught the vision to recreate Shakespeare’s theatre, on his first visit to the UK in 1949; he died in 1993 and the theatre was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1997. His life’s work breathed life into this modern-day shrine to Shakespeare.

I love that The Globe Theatre describes itself as being “designed with the 21stcentury in mind. An additional exit, illuminated signage [health and safety is king in the UK], fire retardant materials [Shakespeare’s own theatre burnt down in two hours during a 1613 production of Henry VIII, when some stage cladding caught alight], and some modern backstage machinery are all concessions to our times. The reconstruction is as faithful to the original as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship can make it, but for the time being this Globe is – and is likely to remain – neither more nor less than the ‘best guess’ at Shakespeare’s theatre.”

A borrowed view of The Globe Theatre to show another perspective - we were seated on the top level (king-lear-at-the-globe-theatre-ii)

The season runs annually from April to October, and features productions of Shakespeare’s work, and the work of his contemporaries and modern writers. We were four of the 350,000 audience members annually who experience the ‘wooden O’. We sat in the gallery, while many stand “as a groundling” in the yard, just as they would have done 400 years ago.

The actors meet the audience before the play begins (our own image)

The tickets for the standing area – where peasants would have stood centuries ago – cost a fiver and, honestly, if I’d been 20 years younger, I would have done that. However, we’re not 20 years younger, and nor are our friends, so we all sat in the relative comfort of the gallery on wooden seats with the luxurious addition of hired cushions. I felt sorry for that poor dear old lady who stood in the bard’s mosh pit and clutched on the corner of the wooden stage for, what seemed, dear life. She also appeared to droop lower and lower as the play went on.

Getting up close and personal before the play begins (our own image)

Before the play began, the actors came on to the stage, singing, and we were welcomed to the theatre. The play was set in France, so one actor engaged us in a lesson in basic French: “les telephones portables?” he ventured and, with wildly flailing arms, shouted, “Non! Les cameras videos et les cameras flashy-flashy ou non flashy-flashy? ABSOlument pas! Parapluies? [here he mimed an umbrella opening up] PAS du tout!” He closed his lesson with, “D’accord?” before apologising to anyone in the audience who might actually be French-speaking. And then the play began.

House rules in French - n'est-ce pas? (our own image)

It was a delightful play and the actors were fabulous. They took us on a typically fast-paced romp through mistaken identity, cowardice, lust, war, greed, miracle cures, covetousness and that rarest of elements: true love.  Each character carved his place in the creation of the tale, and they took us along for the hilarious ride.

As dusk fell over the open-air theatre, and pigeons landed on the stage roof, the play grew ever more complicated (ingewikkeld, as you would say in Afrikaans). Inevitably, all the knots were loosened, true identities revealed and each character predictably came face to face with himself. And, as the play drew to a close, all was indeed well that ended well.

An actor stepped forward and reminded us that as the play ended, the King was again a beggar and all the actors had resumed their own identities. He thanked us for our patronage, and with that the actors began their closing routine. They stepped forward in time to the live music, they whirled and they twirled in dancing delight, they screamed and they laughed and they stamped and they clapped. The audience watched in adoring, reflected enchantment and soon, as the actors disappeared behind the scenery, it was just the roses that remained on the wooden stage.

I’d heard that The Globe was amazing. I had no idea just how special it would be. I’m hooked and I can’t wait to experience another evening enjoying the bard’s art there. Our red box has a few more tickets in it and London – once again – has revealed another jewel in its formidable crown. What a privilege.

Sunshine signing off for today!


30 thoughts on “Another London gem – The Globe Theatre

  1. The Globe was one of the highlights of our last trip to London. We saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And I had the same thought about being in the peasant area. Twenty (or maybe 30) years ago, it would have been a hoot!

  2. How wonderful! Whenever I make it to London, I will definitely make this part of the trip. The past two summers we have gone to an outdoor Shakespeare performance at a local university – not nearly as grand as the globe, but the troupe does interact with the audience beforehand and folks can sit right up in front of the stage.
    The inclusion of the modern bits reminded me of my daughter’s comments at a recent memorial service we attended in a replica of Boston’s Old North Church. After I told her it was a copy of a much older building, she said, “I thought it looked like an old building – except for the sound system and the flat screen monitors and the electric lights….”

    1. Ah, that’s hilarious, Patti! Your outdoor Shakespeare performances sound amazing – we would go to one every year in Cape Town too – pretty special. Yes, the Globe is definitely worth adding to your London list, for sure.

  3. Sunshine, lovely to hear your voice again and delighted you enjoyed The Globe….it seems to demonstrate why we go for all this living history stuff. If we use all the evidence and rebuild how we think it probably was, something magical happens, doesn’t it?

  4. What a beautiful and awesome theater! So cool that you can see the play as Shakespear would have. So, “flashy-flashy” is French??? LOL Good to hear from you again.

  5. I studied at the Shakespeare Institue–academic arm of the RSC– in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer of 1986. I would one day love to see Shakespeare performed at the Globe–how wonderful!
    Hope you’re enjoying your summer, Sunshine!

  6. So funny that you posted this today as I was just telling a friend that one thing I regret I didn’t get to do in London was see a performance of the Globe. We made it to Stratford Upon Avon, but sadly time just ran out and our vacation was over. Now you’ve just enticed me to make a return trip!

    1. Well, jacquelin, it would be rude not to come back and visit the Globe. When can you book? 🙂 Stratford upon Avon must have been wonderful … I’ve only passed through there.

  7. Your description of the Globe makes me regret not having attended a performance there when we lived outside of London. But my daughter was there two weeks ago for a performance and thought it was fantastic!

  8. I adored my one visit to the Globe and can’t wait to go back again.

    The jig at the end was intended to send everyone home happy – after crying over Desdemona’s death during my visit, the jig was a perfect mood-lifter.

    1. I feel the same way, Tilly, can’t wait to go back again. The jig was pure delight – I was smiling and beaming throughout, even though our play was a comedy and a mood-lifter wasn’t really required. It’s great to end on such wonderful abandon, though.

  9. So nice to hear your voice again Sunshine. In high school we did performances of Hamlet and MacBeth. It would have been exciting to see a performance at the Globe. Look like a beautiful place.

  10. Glad you’re back! What a great place to see a play. Shakespeare has become so revered that it’s to forget his plays were popular entertainment. Romeo & Juliet wasn’t some stuffy play where people talked funny. It was like a soap opera — a really smart and well-written soap opera.

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