London’s reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse is now bringing its authentic approach to Shakespeare out on tour.
Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse on London’s South Bank, has been one the English theatre world’s big successes since it opened just over a decade ago.
Last year it launched a new touring initiative with a production of Romeo & Juliet which played a wide range of venues around the country. That proved a success too, so this year it’s added a second production of A Winter’s Tale, which comes to Worcester for one performance only on Wednesday as part of the Three Choirs Festival.
But given that the unique relationship between stage and audience is the selling-point for productions on its home ground, what is the hallmark of the Globe on tour?
As artistic director Dominic Dromgoole explains, it’s simply a recreation of the “home and away” theatrical tradition of Shakespeare’s day.
“I come from a touring background and always loved it,” explains the former director of Oxford Stage Company and London’s Bush Theatre. “It’s very important to remember that we were a touring culture before we were a theatre culture. There was 300 years of touring before there were theatres, which only began to appear in the 1570s.”
The first theatrical performances Shakespeare saw would have been given off the backs of carts at fairs or in the courtyards of inns, and he left a vivid picture of the arrival of a troupe of strolling players in Hamlet.
I used to think that once playhouses appeared in London it was periodic outbreaks of the plague which sent their resident companies out on tour, but apparently this idea is out of date.
“That used to be the orthodoxy, but recent research has shown that they toured all the time,” says Dromgoole.
“It wasn’t just because things were difficult in London, it’s because they loved touring. If they had a good new play, if they were proud of their Hamlet, they would take it out on the road. It was part of the way that they worked.
“We took Romeo and Juliet on tour last year and it did very well – everyone asked us back. Now we’re doing The Winter’s Tale and we’re reviving Romeo and Juliet. We’re performing mainly outdoors but we’re doing a few performances indoors, including Worcester. We’ve been to some extraordinary places, like Leeds Castle and a quad in Oxford.”
A Winter’s Tale has been directed by John Dove, and features a cast of just eight actors.
“He directed the show here three years ago and did a beautiful job of that. This is a more flexible version, but it’s pretty much the full play, running for two hours, 15 minutes. Most of the text is there but at the Globe we like to play things quite quickly.”
It’s fair to say the Globe initially had to overcome suspicion that it was a heritage project aimed primarily at tourists, rather than a serious theatre.
Dromgoole says there are still people who think of it like that, and that success in itself can breed resentment in the theatre, but it is a serious theatre, he insists.
“The novelty of it has worn off and what you’re left with is one of the most exciting theatre spaces in England. We have a new play on here at the moment and the director, a brilliant new director, has fallen in love with the Globe.
“He says everything we do in the theatre is an attempt to create a sense of occasion, and at the Globe it’s a given.”
* Shakespeare’s Globe presents A Winter’s Tale at College Hall, Worcester, next Wednesday at 2.30pm (Box office: 0845 6521823).