Our eldest son John recently posted a story from The American Theatre magazine on my Facebook timeline. The story was about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London firing Emma Rice, the artistic director, and hiring of her replacement. It was welcome news.
Occasionally I write a review for Trip Advisor. My reviews are usually written because Richard and I have had a great experience—a good meal somewhere, an interesting place to visit, an unexpected pleasantry. After attending a play at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, I wrote out of disappointment and disgust.
By way of background: The Globe Theatre in London was first built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s acting and producing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Destroyed by fire in 1613, the Globe was rebuilt in 1614 and then closed for good by a Puritan ordinance in 1642. Enough said.
“Comedy Becomes a Tragic Disappointment”
Travel Diary Entry and Trip Advisor Review
May 19, 2016
In 1993, while on a study grant with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, I toured the site where the Globe was eventually to be reconstructed, again, on the south bank of the Thames. American actor and director Sam
Wanamaker led the massive effort of procuring the land (just 750’ from the actual spot where Shakespeare’s theatres were located). The newest version of the “Wooden O” would look exactly as the Globe did centuries before, but it would be wired for lighting so shows could be performed in the evenings as well as the traditional matinees. In 1997, the new Globe opened and was dubbed “Shakespeare’s Globe.” I suppose it’s called that to capitalize on Shakespeare’s good name.
In addition to the Royal Shakespeare Company grant, I had also received a grant, years ago, from the wonderful Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C. I was a member of the Wellsburg Shakespeare Club, West Virginia oldest, continuously active literary club, founded in 1849 by the Reverend D. H. McKee. I taught several of the plays and staged a full production of Julius Caesar at the high school where I worked (grainy video available for loan upon request). I am a lover of Shakespeare. I love his plays—his language, his plots, his life lessons. Seeing a play at the Globe was high on my bucket list.
Although my husband Richard and I had passed through London several times since marrying in 1995, we never had a chance to see a production at the “new” Globe until the
summer of 2016. I was sooooo excited. Before heading to the Lake District and Scotland for a month, Richard planned a three-night stay in London for the express purpose of seeing a play at the Globe. As soon as the Globe announced the 2016 schedule, Richard asked me which production I’d like to see. He would plan the rest of our trip around the dates for the play.
It was a hard decision—A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Macbeth. I’d see all of those live before, some more than once. Pericles, Cymbeline, and Taming of the Shrew, three shows I’d never seen stage productions of rounded out the season. I chose The Taming of the Shrew, as the other two plays are pretty gruesome. I thought a comedy be a better vacation choice. Set in Italy and known for its lively, possibly bawdy, action and colorful costumes and sets, this would be a fun evening in this hallowed venue.
The morning of the production we took a tour of the theatre and its exhibitions. Our tour guide was clueless, and she “lost” a large part of our group among the throngs of people touring the facility. A few of the waywards re-found our group. I imagine our other lost souls just took up with another group or passed into Elizabethan Purgatory through some Bard portal. When our guide was informed of the missing tourists, she gave one of those “what-do-you-expect-me-to-do” shrugs and moved on.
The guide was just going through the motions and seemed in a rush to get us in and out. Also, there were several basic questions she couldn’t answer. (How often were there performances? Didn’t some audience members sit right on the stage? Who made all the props and costumes?) Fortunately, some in the group could bail her out.
In contrast to the guided tour, the exhibition areas were outstanding and should not be missed. The exhibitions detailed Elizabethan life, the literature of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the elements of play production, and clever displays of Shakespearean productions on stage and screen throughout the centuries and from around the world. In addition, the exhibition area had several demonstrations in progress that often involved audience participation—stage combat (swordplay—always a big hit), how to talk like an Elizabethan, how the Quartos and Folios were printed, and so on. Really, the exhibits are grand, and we spent about two hours wandering through this quasi-museum.
That evening, as we walked over to the Globe from our hotel, I was so excited I could hardly stand it. After nearly 20 years of waiting, I was going to see a production at the Globe! When Richard was online ordering our tickets several months before, we discussed watching the play as groundlings, standing in front of the stage, where so many of the hoi pilloi had watched Shakespeare’s shows in the seventeenth century. Standing to watch a Shakespearean play? Hmmm. Did that sound like fun? No. The show would go on, rain or no. If we opted for a wooden bench in the gallery (thankfully with a slatted, wooded back, a concession to modern audiences), we would be under the thatched roof should it rain. We opted for sitting, which turned out to be very wise, as we’d been on our tourist feet most of the day, and it drizzled for the final 15 minutes of the show.
At the theatre a crowd was already milling in the courtyard. We “rented” seat cushions for £1 each, and purchased a program for £4. When the house opened, we made our way to our seats, where I drank in the atmosphere in wide-eyed wonder, and Richard started reading the program.
Before much time had passed, Richard handed me the program pointing to a piece written by the managing director of the theatre. To our horror it stated that the production had been “reimagined.”
The play’s characters have Italian names (Petruchio, Bianca, Lucentio, Hortensio, Gremio, etc.), and it is set in and around Padua, Italy during the Renaissance. The program informed us this production would be set in 1916 Ireland during the tragic Easter Rising, when the Irish Republicans began their long, bloody fight for independence from English rule! How in the heck could an Italian comedy be set in war-torn Ireland, and more importantly—why would it be?
As curtain time approached, the director came on stage to announce that the actress playing Kate, the lead (you know “The Shrew”) was being replaced by an understudy who would do the play holding her script! On the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe! Our understudies at the Arkansas Repertory Theater in Little Rock occasionally have to substitute for the regular actress or actor. If a substitution announcement were never made at The Rep, I doubt the vast majority of the audience would even know an understudy was performing. They don’t carry their scripts in Little Rock! Why here, on this hallowed stage that draws people from all over the world, would an understudy be carrying a script? She should have just been called the “under,” as apparently she had done no studying!
So the lights dimmed, and the play began. Instead of the prologue that Shakespeare wrote (and can easily be omitted and probably should be), a woman in a dull, brown sack-like dress came onstage and sang this absolute dirge of a song about death and dying. At least I think that’s what it was about. Nice opening for a comedy, huh?
Her spotlight went out, and when the stage lights came up there were a bunch of pairs of Tom-like, flat, cloth shoes on the stage floor. The cast entered through the audience, went onstage, solemnly put on their shoes and disappeared backstage. What did that mean? Oh, well, the play began.
The costumes were dull, dull, dull–browns, beiges, greys, black. The spoken lines still referenced the beauty of Padua and the Italian countryside, but we’d been told we were in Ireland! The set pieces were dull colors, and the characters still had Italian names. It was just nuts! AND heaven forbid that a shrew, a woman, should be tamed! Emma Rice, the feminist managing director of the theatre, and the feminist director Ms. Rice had hired for this production would not stand for any taming! Poor Petruchio, who normally gets to strut and command and rail against strong-willed women, was reduced to standing stock still and saying his lines to the audience almost sheepishly. Ridiculous! They should have “reimagined” the title, also. After another of Petruchio’s scenes fell flat, I whispered to Richard, “Should be called The Taming of the Husband.” He whispered back, “The Taming of the Groom.”
I wanted to scream, “Where’s the comedy? We all know that times have changed since this play was written and that Petruchio wouldn’t treat Kate like chattel now. This was funny in 1590, and it can still be funny today. You shouldn’t be doing this play, if you can’t have fun with it.”
I verbally groaned occasionally during the show, and at intermission, the woman sitting beside me said, “Is this as bad as I think it is?” I assured her it was.
It was a dreadful production which ended when the actors removed their shoes and left them on the stage. Oh, the symbolism! I guess. Oh, the symbolism of what? I wonder.
Although her 2-year contract has thankfully not been renewed, Emma Rice will still be the managing director of the Globe through the 2017-2018 winter season, but she should do the world of drama a favor and leave Shakespeare’s Globe immediately before she drives off more patrons. I suggest that everyone in London or traveling to London avoid the Globe productions until she is gone.
I honestly don’t know why the Globe doesn’t contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company to do the productions. The RSC knows what they are doing. Sometimes they, too, “reimagine” Shakespeare’s plays, but they do it right. When they do it, the play still makes sense! So until Emma Rice is gone, avoid the Globe’s productions. Take the Globe tour, enjoy the Globe exhibits, but see the shows of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London or Stratford-upon-Avon or both!
N.B. August 21, 2017—So here’s wishing Michelle Terry, the Globe’s new Artistic Director, all the success in the world. I couldn’t be happier knowing that Emma Rice’s reign was cut short. Apparently I wasn’t the only unhappy camper…er…theatre goer!