When I was a backpacker in London in 1995 I donated £10 for a brick for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It took me 19 years, and even after arriving in London I still found circumstances conspiring against me, but I have finally been to a show in the magnificent reconstruction.
I can’t comment too intelligently on the show. Partly because I had no familiarity with Julius Caesar before today, but mostly because of the amazing novelty of being a groundling in Shakespeare’s Globe. I think I would have to see quite a few shows before I could concentrate on the show and not the venue, and even then the number of tourists who are there for the novelty would still be a distraction.
For the unaware, Shakespeare’s Globe is a relatively accurate reconstruction of the Globe Theatre that stood on the South Bank of the Thames when Shakespeare’s work was at its peak. It stands very close to the position of the original, and was constructed using sixteenth century building techniques as much as possible (though it does have the odd modern feature for practicality’s sake like steel drainpipes, safety equipment and a few halogen lights). Like Shakespeare’s Globe it has three balcony levels, where patrons pay according to the view of the stage, and a pit directly in front of the stage where common folk like me can stand and get amongst it all as ‘groundlings’ for a mere £5. It is an outdoor venue, with roofing over the stage and the upper balconies, but none over the pit. And yes, it did rain, which was perfect.
I really would not have enjoyed my day quite as much had I paid for a seat; there are just too many advantages in being a groundling. One of the techniques used to draw the audience’s attention in this context where the house lights don’t turn off on cue and there are no lights for the stage or any curtain to speak of, is for the action to burst into the pit amongst the groundlings, which is exactly how Julius Caesar opens. The performers just burst in pushing a way through the crowd and get everyone focused on the action. This worked extremely well, and really created an atmosphere appropriate to Ancient Rome, which you would be completely outside of if you were sitting.
The main inconvenience in being a groundling is the sky above. It belongs to London, and therefore leaks. Most of the time the leaks are small, but I happened to come on a day when the heavens ope’d and spewed forth their watery bounty. I had secured a spot next to the stage, where I had some respite. I had also forked out for a garbage bag with a hood, which are sold at the door, and offer enough protection to allow you to enjoy the performance, which of course carries on regardless (although the heavens did seem to open and close at the right times to change the meaning of quite a few lines, much to everyone’s enjoyment (including the wet ones)).
I hope you’re starting to get an idea of why I wasn’t paying as much attention as I normally do to what is going on on stage.
The performance was impeccable, I think. I may have been overwhelmed by the novelty of the theatre, but I certainly enjoyed the murder of Caesar, and Marc Antony’s speech was remarkable. Likewise, the friendship of Brutus and Cassius was palpable in this wooden O (sorry, couldn’t resist).
I only regret waiting so long to come see something here. I will be back again and again until I don’t notice the novelty of the space and the tourists annoy me because I’m no longer one of them.