Saturday, 19 May 2012


A bit of Globe
I have been meaning to write this for a while… but then, I’ve been meaning to do the ironing and redecorate the bathroom for a while, and I haven’t done either of those.  
But, but, but.
I’ve been to the Theatre.  Yes, I have.  Twice.  And I don’t get out much.  Here are my thoughts about Globe productions, because when one doesn't get out much, one likes to get one's pennyworth for one's penny.

My children (known hereafter as 'The Sprigs') have been to the Globe before.  Aged three months, Little Sprig had to be removed from Much Ado for excessive wriggling; eight-week-old Tiny Sprig slept through Titus in 2006.  Little went again in 2008 to see Romeo and Juliet, and I had to hold him up in my arms for the entire performance. He was riveted.  Here we go – Magic #1: the close connection between Globe audience and Globe actors. I can’t sit at the Globe: despite its generous cushioning, my derrière does not find the benches terribly comfortable.  One can hire padded things to satisfy one’s arse-demands, but I’d much rather stand in the groundlings’ yard: with my chin resting on the edge of the stage, and barely inches of airspace between us, I can see and feel the actors’ performance in a way that I never experience anywhere else.  Here’s Globe actor Geraldine Alexander (pictured), pretty much agreeing: “I think the biggest thing you learn from the Globe… is that there’s no such a thing as a generic “crowd”. The audience is made up of individuals… when I go into another space to work, I pretend I can see faces.”**  
photo: Geraint Lewis

By comparison, my own performance experience is minuscule – but I do truly understand how important it is to be able to see the audience when I’m performing poetry. I need reaction; eye-contact; it’s as though I am showing them a picture, and I want to know they’re seeing it the way it’s meant to be seen.  Stage lights, blinding the actors to the watching audience’s faces!  It now seems ludicrous.  Why pretend they’re not there?
Which leads me on to Magic #2: The Globe is How It Should Be Done.  I don’t have any formal stage training. I don’t know how many critics actually do, but as it doesn’t stop them freely giving their opinions, it needn’t stop me either.  But it’s not difficult to see and hear what works, what works on stage, and the level of dedication necessary to achieve it.  Globe actors enunciate every word perfectly.  It’s such a joy to hear. I don’t mean RP; I ent sayin’ they talk posh or nuffin’.  They simply speak, opening their mouths and letting the sounds out. The Sounds Out.  Big, and Round, Let the Sounds Out.  
King Henry should sound like King Henry - not Prince Harry. That’s what I’m trying to say.  
Groundling Gates
Here’s Geraldine Alexander again: “…be as precise in your relationship with [the audience] as you are with your objectives in the scene.”* I am not surprised at her use of the word, since ‘precise’ is the very one I would use to describe her style.  Having played numerous roles at the Globe, including Ariel (The Tempest) and Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Titus Andronicus), her portrayal of the latter has become my benchmark for good performance. Whenever I see a round-shouldered Lady Macbeth thumping across a stage; a Queen Elizabeth I gobbling her own consonants before they can issue from her mouth; a former soap actress fluffing her line yet again (Yes, Lucy Benjamin, I’m talking to you); a popular TV panel game comedian cocking up the end of his show after his fifth large vodka during it; whenever I see that, I wish for Geraldine and the Globe.  I remember watching her in Titus, when her every movement was sharp, and measured – precise, even – and in character.  She gave more in one tiny flick of her wrist than – than what? Than a whole bucket of tired-out well-known actors, their performances made flabby by a surfeit of television dramas which must, always, be called ‘gritty’. 

THAT poster. Thanks, everyone. XXXX
Let’s go back to MND:  In this production, Puck was played by Fergal McElherron, who also played Balthazar/Potpan in Romeo & Juliet (2008). We have it on DVD, so both Sprigs have probably watched it once a week for a year.  They really do love it (reassuring), and they’re big fans of Fergal’s, so I was desperate to get them along to see him play Puck.  Unfortunately, the (free, standing) tickets were snapped up within minutes of the box office opening… so we mounted a campaign.  A poster went up on Facebook (left). It also went up at the Globe.  Puck himself must have worked some magic because somehow we ended up with enough tickets for me, the two Sprigs, and Grandmama and Grandpapa L too!  My huge and sincere thanks to those involved – you know who you are. 
Small People eat sandwiches
And here are the Sprigs, eating lunch before the performance. As it was a schools’ event, the young cast members came onto the stage to say hello, singing songs and handing out flags to the children (‘T & H’ – for Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage).  I had a quick chat with strikingly beautiful Emma Pallant (Hippolyta/Titania). She told me how warm her magnificent costume was, a blessing in the cold weather, and how much she enjoyed the uniqueness of playing the Globe. 

And the performance?  MND is a complicated plot, so I didn’t know how successful the outing would be, or whether I would just end up removing a wiggly five-year-old and a bored seven-year-old from the Groundlings’ Yard and sloping off to Pizza Express. I had prepared them a little: we read the storybook together, and watched the film version with Rupert (mental block! had to Google him) Everett and Kevin Kline.
Photo: Ellie Kurtz
Magic #3: Special effects are not required.  Children don’t need over-stimulating.  They get it.  The four beautiful young lovers (Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius) also played Titania’s Fairies; the Mechanicals (Quince, Flute, Starveling, Snout and Snug) changed dramatically into psychedelic-steampunk fairies with mad-scientist goggles.  The Sprigs seemed to have no problem following the story – which, it must be said, was staged and choreographed so expressively that the tale could almost have been told without words. As soon as Act 1 opened, saucer-eyed Tiny Sprig whispered in my ear: Is that Hermima? Where’s the nother girl? I don’t like the shouty Daddy.  She was hooked.  Little Sprig had a more sophisticated grasp of technique – Oberon’s declaration of “I am invisible” was perfectly sufficient for him.  So much so that when Puck returned to the stage for the final jig, Little asked, Can the others see him now?

Globe, your work here is done.

Star-struck Tiny meets Fergal McElherron
Here is Tiny Sprig with Fergal (Puck), who is sporting a wound to his nose.  We attended Talking Theatre after the performance, where the audience may put questions to some of the cast members and hear what it’s like to put on Shakespeare’s plays in an authentic space.  It’s such a lovely experience: the actors are quite as interested to hear the audience’s responses, as they can be to hear the actors’.  Little wanted to know how Puck managed to climb into an ordinary suitcase and vanish – because it looked like magic from where we were standing. Puck himself explained about the secret trap door underneath – and the bump he’d got on the nose this time when he dived through it!  Fergal had clearly acted as a mentor for some of the younger cast members, and their respect and appreciation was evident in the way they spoke of their experiences in rehearsals.  I wanted to know a secret: Oberon’s costume was trimmed with luxuriant green-black plumage, and by the end a few feathers had drifted around the stage.  When the cast began to return for the final jig, I saw Puck give Hermia’s hand a tiny squeeze as he slipped the string of a balloon to her.  Caught in the string was one of Oberon’s feathers.  I was caught by the sweetly touching gesture, which seemed far too small to be a stage direction.  How came it there?  Again, Puck explained. ‘Did you spot that? I saw one of the feathers lying backstage, so I picked it up and tucked it into the string. I just added that myself, it was a little touch for anyone who noticed.’
The Globe in Cake. Not mine - my one was a bit rubbish

The Wooden ‘O’.  M.G.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

*****My opinion of 'Anne Boleyn', Globe Touring production, May 3, Theatre Royal Bath. The other play I went to see.  This is not the only reason they don’t let me into the Guardian’s Review section
*Dr Jaq Bessell, ‘Shakespeare’s Globe Research Bulletin 18, March 2001: Actor Interviews 2000’. You can download it here. Do – fascinating reading.