To Globe or not to Globe, that is the question

October 6, 2017

Have you ever seen a Shakespeare play at The Globe?

It’s an extraordinary experience. The original Globe, where Shakespeare’s work was first performed, was built in 1599. The new one was built, as a replica, in 1997. Four centuries later, it captures the design of the first Globe perfectly, so audiences can see a Shakespeare play as it would have been in the great man’s day.

It’s a brilliant idea. Or is it?

The historical veracity extends to uncovered seats at the front so, just like the old days, if it rains you get wet. The actors have no electric amplification, so if you’re at the back, it’s hard to hear. I always thought that part of the magic of Shakespeare is that his themes are timeless. That’s why his plays can work so well in modern dress. By all means put up a stunning building: and the new Globe is just that. But do we really want to show Shakespeare’s genius preserved in aspic, stuck for ever in a Tudorbethan time warp?

Besides, in Shakespeare’s time the female roles were played by men, so if The Globe is going to be really authentic, they’d better sack all the female actors, and hire more blokes.

Someone who might agree is Emma Rice, the brilliant theatre director who was asked to head up The Globe in 2016…and then asked not to, just a few months later. Her crime? She was guilty of innovation, of showing Shakespeare in a way that might be relevant to people’s lives today.

Emma Rice’s short tenure at The Globe is symptomatic of a national disease that goes way beyond the world of the theatre. We English are paralysed with uncertainty about tomorrow, so we boost ourselves by endlessly celebrating yesterday. We’re world leaders in heritage: but wouldn’t it be better to be world leaders in technology, and science, and research into what happens next, not into what happened before?

Focusing on former glories allows us to take our minds off present problems. We’ve got to stop being obsessed by a great past if we truly want to build a great future.

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