I’m told that the Globe in London typically does very historical recreations of Shakespeare plays. You know, period costumes, no set, etc. Of course, women actors play women’s parts instead of the boys of Shakespeare’s time, but one look at the building makes it pretty obvious that they’re into traditionalism. I mean, the place has a thatched roof for heaven’s sake! It’s held together with wooden nails because that’s what would have been used in Shakespeare’s time. Half the seats are standing only because that’s the environment his company performed in. If you ignore the sprinklers covering the roof (the 1600s version of this place burned down, ya’ll) and the tour guides everywhere, it really is a bit like stepping back 400 years. It’s pretty cool.
That’s an interesting historical experience but it doesn’t mean terribly much theatrically. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shakespeare and I like traditional Shakespeare. In a certain sense, the only way to understand his plays is to perform them historically. But doing something the same way for 400 years isn’t exactly helping humanity discover anything new about themselves, which many consider to be the point of theater.
Or anyway, that must be what the Globe’s new artistic director, Emma Rice, thinks, because wow, my first Shakespeare at the Globe was a crazy new adventure from start to finish!
The production was Midsummer Night’s Dream which I think must be the Shakespeare most abused by inexperienced student productions (I’m getting this from that one Suite Life episode, but that seems like a legit source) and consequently the one that people are most sick of. But it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t going to be your average Shakespeare when half the cast popped onto stage from the audience in modern (kinda hipsterish) clothing.
The text was kept the same, but the whole thing was infused with modern elements. One of the play’s leading ladies was replaced with a guy. There were musical numbers, including a coordinated dance to Single Ladies. The raunchiness of the whole thing was kicked up about five notches… several characters strip to their underwear. To be honest, though, all this stuff felt very much in the tone of the play. We see Shakespeare as so high-brow today but all the raunchy stuff is in there already. We’re just socially allowed to show it more openly than he was back then.
As a result, the show was fantastically entertaining. My friend who went in swearing that she was too sick of Midsummer to stand it came out planning when she could go a second time. My theater teacher said she’s seen this show over 20 times but that this new performance has engaged her again.
So has humanity discovered something new about itself? Maybe not. I’m pretty sure humanity already knew that Beyoncé makes things better. But on the other hand, maybe it made some people understand relationship differently. Maybe it convinced some that Shakespeare isn’t lame and boring. And hey, maybe it’s just really fun—nothing wrong with that!
They don’t let you take pictures during a production of course, but here’s the Globe as seen from the top of St. Paul’s cathedral.