“All the world’s a stage,” but I think the best one has to be at the re-constructed Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames River in London, England.
The Globe experience re-born
Erected near where the original 1599 Globe Theatre once stood, the new Globe was the brainchild of actor/director Sam Wanamaker and took almost 50 years of fundraising and controversy before being constructed in 1997. It was painstakingly researched to re-create the open-air theatre that Shakespeare knew and wrote for, in order for his plays and those of his contemporaries to be experienced as they may have originally been staged.
Because I wanted to see a Shakespeare play in this unique environment, I purchased tickets for the Globe’s production of Antony and Cleopatra with Clive Wood and Eve Best in the title roles.
The Globe experience explained
The morning before the performance I took a tour of the building where the guide prepared us for the minimalist sets we would see. She said that for Shakespeare the words were the most important thing, more than any stage setting, and were used to set the scene so that the audience knew where the characters were and what they were doing.
She said that acting on this stage was also a different experience for the cast. Usually actors don’t see the audience due to the darkened theatre and blazing lights in their eyes. But at the Globe, since most plays are performed in daylight, the actors are more aware of the audience because they can see them directly (which can be quite unnerving for some actors).
I then experienced the open air of the yard where, in Shakespeare’s time, people paid a penny to stand and see the play (these people were called groundlings or penny stinkards). It now costs five pounds for 21st-century people to do the same thing today (which the guide said is roughly the equivalent of a penny in the 17th-century).
The Globe experience seen
My tickets were for the upper gallery, so, that evening, I was able to sit on a pine bench (with a cushion rented for one pound) and look down upon the stage in relative comfort (although leg room was at a minimum).
As the guide said, the sets were minimal, allowing for actors to quickly enter and exit the stage to create different scenes and places in rapid succession (and I think this made the play move along quicker than if there had been extensive scenery).
But the best thing was seeing the main character of Cleopatra played by an understudy (due to the illness of Eve Best). In modern productions, the understudy would have memorized the part, but Sirine Saba read her part from a script throughout the entire play. At first, it seemed distracting, but then I realized that this was how it was probably done in Shakespeare’s time. As I left the theatre, I felt I had received an added experience that made the production even more unique and true to Shakespeare’s time.