The Globe is certainly still one of the biggest and most recognisable names when it comes to theatres despite now being over 25 years old. It is renowned for its Shakespearean roots in drama and constant stream of productions every year. The Globe theatre is undoubtedly a household name for anyone with even the remotest interest in the dramatic arts. But with its almost exclusive adherence to traditional plays, primarily Shakespearean ones, is it still able to keep up with the times? When modern theatre is on the up, and people want to see pieces that are provoking and get people talking, is The Globe able to accommodate the ever changing needs of a modern audience?
This summer, like many others, I went to see a few productions at The Globe with my father, a yearly bonding ritual we enjoy partaking in. This summer we saw two productions; ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘As You Like It’. What always intrigues me when going into a production of a Shakespearean text, is how the director and actors are going to make their version “different”. Being an avid Shakespeare fan I can safely say I feel as though I have seen it all. I’ve seen very traditional versions that strongly adhere to the original speech and directions of the texts, and I have equally seen overly modernised interpretations that take a go at bringing Shakespeare into the 21st century. I have no particular preference for either but I always find that the plays that stick with me are the ones that bring a unique interpretation to the table.
In this summer’s production of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ we can see directorial choices being made to bring a quirky take on the original comedic text. The production I saw was overtly camp and playful in style. They utilised the underlying innuendos of the original text and played on them using exaggerated physical movements and costume. Costume designer Paul Wills’ dynamic choices emphasise the overly dramatic take the director is embarking on with this text (I myself am particularly curious to know where the black and silver starred cowboy boots he uses are from…). In a review of the production by The Guardian they state that the ‘context remains relatively untouched yet the show feels contemporary’, further revealing that people are beginning to recognise the steps that The Globe is taking to bring its plays into this more modern dramatic space, whilst still paying homage to its Shakespearean roots. Moreover, the costume and set’s bright colour palette would incite the eye of any spectator, especially members of a younger demographic. The Globe is known for its audience participation and I do think this is an element that they utilise well to keep their productions interesting and relevant. It brings theatre into the outside space, breaking down that fourth wall between actor and audience member, a connection that is emphasised further with their classic in the round staging design and particularly their unique standing section.
Additionally, in this year’s production of ‘As You Like It’ I saw The Globe enter into a new more gender and racially inclusive space. The casting was deliberately gender neutral and diverse and the context of the text was made to be more fluid and open to wider interpretations. Director Ellen McDougall employs composer Michael Henry to integrate modern pop music into the production, adding some pizazz to the age-old classic and encouraging a hearty audience sing-along to Bruno Mars. The costumes in this production also take a more modern, untraditional, approach integrating traditional silhouettes and structures with layers of distressed ruffles and more modern accessories like neck chains and dangly earrings. The play could be viewed as pushing traditional limits too far, but I think it took a new approach and I enjoyed the gender neutral casting and felt that it did not interfere with my understanding of characters and their relationships in the slightest. I look forward to seeing more of this level of inclusivity and diversity in future Globe productions.
I also think that The Globe ensures that their productions remain accessible to the masses by offering £10-15 tickets for the standing section of the theatre. Though it isn’t exactly enjoyable to stand for some of the lengthier Shakespearean plays (I don’t think I could exactly “enjoy” standing for three hours watching a dense play like Hamlet!), it does give the option for people to come and see a production for a fraction of the price of what the seated tickets often go for. This means young thespians are given access to these world class productions without much financial sacrifice.
On The Globe’s website they say that they ‘celebrate Shakespeare’s transformative impact on the world by conducting a radical theatrical experiment.’ They are seemingly striving to create this new identity for themselves by offering alternative productions that aren’t Shakespeare and encouraging their actresses and directors to make radical and progressive choices ‘to collide old and new’ to form something revolutionary.
Though I think that The Globe is trying to keep themselves relevant there are definitely advances they could make to ensure this even further. I feel like they are slowly beginning to push against the boundaries of traditional texts, but it’s time to break those walls down and venture into something new and profound. I think by integrating newer modern plays into their repertoire they would generate new traction to the theatre and give back to the community by allowing up and coming practitioners a bigger setting to show their productions on. Despite this idea, I do have a lot of respect for the Globe and its productions, and I will undoubtedly continue to visit their theatre and enjoy their shows for many years to come.