by Michela Marelli
The in-folio theatre company is invited to visit the London Globe and we are delighted because for us it is like a myth.
The Globe is the theatre built in 1599 by William Shakespeare (and his company), and rebuilt, starting in 1987, in its original form as a vision of Sam Wanamaker, an American actor and director who took refuge in England to escape McCarthyism.
On June 21st we arrive at the Globe well in advance, just to visit the gift shop that has an incredible collection of objects with Shakespearean quotes and a very interesting bookshop. We spend more than an hour reading the cover pages and some excerpts from the studies on the Tudor and Stuart Era (the condition of women, the relationship with Black People, fashion, nutrition…) watching DVDs of the past productions and having fun with all the funny objects that are on sale.The low-cost airline baggage rules prevent us from shopping in style.
In a couple of hours, we see twelve different school classes enter the Globe’s halls for lectures, all recognizable by school uniforms: a jacket and tie of different colours (one class is all lilac): the age varies from six to sixteen; in some cases it is a single class, in others an entire school.
We are told that in 2018, 73,000 children participated in an educational workshop, and thanks to the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank program, 17,000 free tickets for state school students were issued.
We have an appointment at 11.00 a.m. with the producer Matilda James and with Glynn (they didn’t tell us her surname; like all really important people the name is enough to qualify them). She is a beautiful and influential white-haired lady. She presents herself as the “grandmother” of the Shakespeare’s Globe, working here since the opening in 1997.
Matilda instead is petite, speaks little but it is clear that nothing escapes her control. Michelle Terry, the artistic director, comes to say hello too: she has the typical attitude of someone who is thinking too much.
We ask how many were the candidates for the announcement for a new artistic director opened two years ago: several hundred.
The entire staff was engaged in the selection privileging candidates who demonstrated a sincere love for the Globe and for Shakespeare’s work.
The staff of the Globe fills two dense pages of the programme; we have counted the names and are almost three hundred. The Globe does not receive public funding; it is supported with entertainment, merchandising, sponsorships and donations.
Glynn MacDonald is the Master of Movement, her work at the Globe is primarily based on her experience with the Alexander Technique.
She tells us: “I understood the fundamental principle that mind and body are the same thing. How I use my mind, body and posture has a profound effect on all I do.”Shortly afterwards she gives us a small essay of this technique directly on the Globe stage.
“The most important thing is that the actors listen to each other, not just with their minds but with their bodies,’ suggests Glynn. “If the actors can’t move, the audience won’t be moved.”
Glynn gives us the experience with which all the new actors at the Globe are welcomed. We enter the backstage, we prepare ourselves for how we want to go on stage, leaving backpacks and jackets in a corner that is not already occupied by costumes and props and then we enter the scene.
Being on stage at the Globe Theatre is an intense experience.
Glynn explains that it is an anthropometric space: built on a human scale and we really perceived it.
The “wooden O” around us is like a comfortable embrace.
The centre of the proscenium is perfectly in the centre of the circle.
To our right the corner for the apart and the machinations, the perfect place for Richard III’s line:
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York…”
To our left, with the heart exposed to the public, there is the corner for confessions, and intimate speech, this is the point for Romeo’s line:
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Behind us there is the Juliet balcony and the gallery for musicians.
There is an open trap door in the ceiling from which you can see the sky, and from which descends on the actor who recites the beneficial effect of the stars (and natural light).
Around the ceiling of the roof – which, in the Elizabethan era, repaired the valuable costumes of the actors in case of rain – are painted sun, moon and stars.
Meanwhile, in the galleries and in the stalls, guided visits and lessons to the schools continue, but seen from the stage everybody is… the public.
The exercises that Glynn proposes are also part of our training, but doing them on these boards … is exciting.
There are five of us, and of all of us we will be facing more than five hundred aprons in five hundred different theatres … but this is unique.
David Remondini plays in English:
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
(…) Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.”
The public interrupts other occupations, listens and applauds.
It is the beginning of our show Shakespeare the great rapperand we would like to play it all. We would be happy to stage here a new show for days and days, but unfortunately we have to go.
This afternoon, tonight and later we will return as spectators.
We purchased tickets for three shows:
– 02.00 p.m. The Merry Wives of Windsor
– 07.30 p.m. The Comedy of Errors
– 11.59 p.m. at midnight there is the Audience Choice.
A marathon of blank verse!
While we wait we chat with the other people from the audience, for the most part they are middle-aged, middle-class who also come from outside London to see Shakespeare “staged in such a modern way”. We cannot help but wonder how Shakespeare is staged in a “traditional” way.
In the programme of The Merry Wives of Windsorthe cast list, THE COMPANY, occupies two thick pages and begins with Accent Coach, then Actorsfollowed by the thirteen names in alphabetical order.
After many voices including Choreographer, Composer, Costume Makers, Draughtsperson, Garlands… under the heading Musiciansthere are six names and at that Researchersseven names.
This long list shows how much work there is behind this production.
The setting, the music and the costumes refer to the 30s, to the age of Jazz and the show is as bubbly and lively as the Jazz music that accompanies it; the actors are incredibly good and close-knit.
The audience – one third of which is standing in the yard and two thirds are seated on very uncomfortable wooden benches in the galleries – follows with enthusiastic participation.
After the show we sit at the theatre’s pub named Swan, shortly thereafter the actors reach us, we congratulate from the heart. We thus discover that they were chosen with a casting (very lucky!) and that they tried for a period of time that even by Italian standards is very short: four weeks. We double the compliments.
Later at the pub we meet an Italian actress, Valentina Vinci, who moved to London, just to study at the Globe, and is part of a company made up of twenty-one actors from fourteen countries of the world: the International Actors Ensemble.
We look for the company and follow it up on
It seems like a lucky and hopeful meeting.
The Comedy of Errors is one of three shows that the Globe is touring with a young company. The same cast for all three shows.
Even in Shakespeare’s time the company of the Globe was on tour, in Hamlet there is an example of this habit that had to be well rooted and meaningful if the prince can tell Polonius:
“… Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.”
The company is multi-ethnic: formed by eight young people: an American of Greek origin, an Australian, an Irishman, a Lithuanian and four English (three of whom are coloured people).
There are four men and four women who also recite male characters very well, each one playing more characters by superimposing the rich costumes of the characters on a base, almost an equal uniform for all. All the actors play and sing. The audience seems to be very fond of these young actors.
The midnight show again sees the same cast on stage, the actors all appear together in proscenium playing and singing a song and then explain how the Audience Choice evening works.
They have three different works of Shakespeare in their repertoire and are ready to recite what the public will ask most vehemently.
We scream with all the breath we have in our throats: “Twelfth Night“!
We are satisfied and the pretty brown actress is dressed as Duke Orsino.
The young male actor of Greek origin wears the clothes of Viola disguised as Cesario and a handsome Lithuanian actor plays Olivia.
This distribution of roles that mixes genres does not in the least disturb the understanding, rather it emphasizes the sense of some Shakespearean lines.
Despite the tiredness, the late hour and the coolness of the London night we enjoy the show with great pleasure.
When it ends we have a nasty surprise: the gift shop is already closed and we can’t even buy the very small list of books and essential items. Fortunately, everything is also available online at www.shakespearesglobe.com
It’s almost three in the morning, but London is an incredibly civilized city with fantastic taxy service. The very kind taxi driver takes us back to the AirB&Bat King’s Cross Rd.
Of course we also went to see platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross Station.
According to J.K. Rowling books this platform is where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardrystudents board the Hogwarts Expresson 1st September.It can be accessed by walking straight through the apparently solid barrier between platforms nine and ten.
There is a sign on the wall and a cart, with the trunk and Edwige’s cage stuck in the wall. And there is a huge queue of people who want to be photographed while pretending to cross the barrier.
Right next to it there is a giant Harry Potter gift shop.
The question that spontaneously comes to us is how much J.K. Rowling owes William Shakespeare?
We have this thought as we walk towards the next stop: the new library built on the project of the architect Colin St. John Wilson and inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth on 25 June 1998.
Almost in response to our question at the entrance to the British Library a life-size bard statue greets us.
You can also read:
– Ten days of theatre in London on the trail of the Bard
of Mila Boeri and David Remondini