Watching a Shakespeare play performed at the Globe is a magical experience. The theatre incites a magnificent sense of history; although the brothels and gambling houses are amiss, a climate of antiquity and cultural vibrancy envelopes the South Bank. Imagination is a prerequisite for a fabulous experience at the Globe, and,in case you’re lacking, the theatre dishes out bucket loads of the stuff.
Shakespeare wrote for the ‘groundlings’. The gentry looked on from the comfort of their cushioned seats in the galleries and rich nobles chided the ‘less fortunate’ from chairs set on the side of the Globe stage itself yet it was the Elizabethan commoners who relished a day out at the Globe. In the early 1600s, the grounds surrounding the Globe Theatre bustled with people. There would have been stalls selling merchandise and refreshments creating a market day atmosphere. Non playgoers would flock to the Globe to peruse the market stalls and soak in the day’s festive ambience.
And then the Puritans arrived and in 1644 the Globe was destroyed
The new Globe theatre, opened in 1997, is situated approximately 230 metres (750ft) from the site of the original theatre. Modern audiences behave with much decorum, a far cry from the peasants of old; there is no jeering, cheering or pummelling of fruit, just the occasional fainter who thinks that standing for three hours is manageable but finds out otherwise in the middle of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. It’s all part of the experience. There is something deeply romantic about walking where Shakespeare, and his actors and audiences, walked… spoke, wrote, loved, laughed, listened, angered and cried. Hearing, centuries later, the bard’s words spoken in the very place where they were often written and performed is an event totally transfixing and beautifully bewitching – fan or not.
Now, excitingly, the Globe is to get a sister-theatre. The Guardian reports that architects Allies & Morrison, whose recent major projects include the restoration of the Royal Festival Hall, will lead the project to create a theatre which Shakespeare would happily have moved his company into in winter (no more standing in the rain!). The planned two-storey galleried building will probably be, for some performances at least, lit entirely by candle and lantern light. Compared to the surprisingly cavernous Globe which can seat and stand 1,500, the new theatre will be an intimate space with 320 seats – which will probably be hard wooden benches, but with compassionate cushions for hire.
The inspiration for the £8m, 320-seat design comes from two 1616 drawings for an indoor theatre, from the archives of Worcester College, Oxford, once thought the work of the court architect and designer Inigo Jones, now believed probably by his assistant John Webb. The Globe hopes the new theatre will show its first performances in 2013.
Bravo to the Globe for keeping Shakespeare’s diabolical legend alive!