Theatre in Wales

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The Globe (2): the Groundlings Respond

Theatre: the Talk in England

Theatre's Audience , Guardian , December-30-16
Theatre: the Talk in England by Theatre's Audience The actual viewers of the plays, the Globe's regulars, gave a good kicking to the line pushed by the Guardian. Or at least one wing of it, notably the writer, the Billington, the critic with the depth kept his distance, or was kept at a distance.

“The Globe was reconstructed as a radical experiment to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries work” stated chief executive Neil Constable “and we believe this should continue to be the central tenet of our work.”. In the management view the concept is in itself radical. His opponents demur. His sentence is represented as “has made it clear that it would rather potter around in an artistic cul-de-sac than embrace a wider theatrical world.”

This metaphor of a cul-de-sac versus a big world was heftily disputed. Along too was the notion that giving actors microphones was the slightest bit innovatory. “She's utterly mainstream by modern standards and unable to do without the props she and her ilk rely on to distract from her lack of vision.” The productions “re-erected the barriers between audience and actors common to all indoor theatres with heavy lighting and amplified sound, in a return to the 21st century orthodoxy...she obviously believed Shakespeare could not be performed without modern artificial aids. In my view she has been a theatre traditionalist rather than a radical at the Globe. Rylance and Dromgoole were the real risk-takers, not Emma Rice, and it is ludicrous to suggest that without her the theatre will return to being 'an artistic cul-de-sac”.

The paper declared that the board to had “egg on its face.” Not according to another audience member. “Lyn Gardner is entitled to her views but the departure of Emma Rice will come as a blessed relief to anyone who supports the original vision for the Globe as a place to explore Shakespeare's plays in an innovative way without modern sound and light design. Sam Wanamaker was explicit about this and both Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole stuck to it, while staging an astonishing variety of productions. Emma Rice from day one decided she had no interest in this.”

“I have been a regular groundling at the Globe since it opened and have seen scores of productions, some good, some awful ad some in between. What they had in common until Rice came along was a unique relationship between players and audience, a close complicity that could only exist where the actors and the groundlings shared the same acoustic sound and the same lighting. This was the 'Rough Theatre' that Peter Brook wrote about, and great actors such as Rylance, Eve Best and Roger Allam seized the chance to reinvent Shakespeare.”

As for the dead verdict of relevant. “It's a cop out and an admission of failure for any artistic director to believe that Shakespeare needs to be re-written. Anyone who saw Mark Rylance play in that place will know that Shakespeare can be made utterly relevant to the 21st century without recourse to tricks and gimmicks...She was always trying to make it relevant rather than see to the heart of the play.”

The main thrust of the critiques were “a dogmatically anti-heritage position, unaccompanied by any passion for the plays, is pretty well worse.” In a direct response “You must know when you were writing this that this is nonsense. Prior to Emma Rice the Globe was hardly in an artistic cul-de-sac. It had become a home for some of the best, and some of the most ambitious, new writing in London. Holy Warriors, Gabriel, Anne Boleyn, Nell Gwynne, Bluestockings. An impressive list by any standards.”

As for the accusation of parochialism the Globe “showed an impressive internationalism and openness to other companies. Deafinitely Theatre's Dream had way more magic, emotional impact and innovation than Emma Rice's enjoyable, but not much more than that, production. The Globe had an ongoing relationship with Tang-Shu Wing, Marjanishvilli, Fundaciόn Siglo de Oro. It showed Lope De Vega in Spanish!”

“And as for the Globe's own productions, innovation is not a matter of how theatre is lit or costumed, or not only that, but how the plays are conceived. Titus Andronicus, All's Well That Ends Well, Thea Sharrock's As You Like It, the Rylance Twelfth Night- all these mined the plays for emotional and psychological insight, as well as being theatrically thrilling productions.”

The paper asserted fabulous box receipts. Again the groundlings contested the assertion. “The Globe has always had young audiences and a diversity approach to casting. These are not things that Rice brought with her...It is a spectacular achievement of Rice's to manage to unfill a theatre that is almost always guaranteed a full house for every show.”

Again the reader has no idea who is telling a version that is more correct. But the very fact that a broadsheet is doubted as to the cogency of its writing is not good. Not for the first time the readers throw in the accusation that hard journalism is not the motive. “Clickbait journalism - how else can one describe statements like "the Globe is not really a theatre but part of the heritage industry and a plaything for academic researchers". Ms Gardner has been enough times to know that is not only a ludicrous thing to say, but a lazy clichéd trope that was trotted out by critics for years, despite the evidence.”

Companies rarely explode overnight. Their waning is more a process of diminution by a thousand tiny but steady steps. The arts editors at FT, Times or Telegraph- put aside their ownership- would never have embarked on a series of research-light, slack-with-the-facts articles. It is sad.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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