This one had been on the calendar for several weeks. We visited the restored Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London and watched a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream!
During the theatre tour, our guide filled us in on the rich history of both the original Globe Theatre, which burned down during a production of Henry VIII in 1613 when a stray spark from a cannon landed on the thatched roof, and the modern restoration, spearheaded by American director Sam Wanamaker and opened in 1997. The Globe we saw yesterday is the most faithful re-creation possible -- that famous polygonal shape, the stage that thrusts into the audience, the intimate feeling of seating in the round. Of course, a few things have changed. The thatched roof is now treated with fire-retardant chemicals and boasts a sprinkler system!
The roof over the stage, painted blue to suggest heaven and adorned with symbols of the zodiac, shelters the actors in case of rain. In Shakespeare's day, the dyes used for costumes tended to come from berries and onion skins -- neither of which holds up well in the rain. Nor does wool, the fabric used to make much of the actors' wardrobes. So they needed extra protection, because of course, this is London, and one thing is certain: Rain cometh. Too bad for the groundlings -- no roof, and no umbrellas allowed.
And speaking of groundlings: That was us this time! Unlike the penny-paying, rowdy, unwashed, raw garlic-chewing masses of Elizabethan times, we arrived clean and temperate, assured by the box office that not only were we getting a good deal (5£/ticket), but also we'd enjoy the best view of the proceedings.
(The above photo taken about five seconds after I said, "Oh, Ian, honestly, can't you smile for a photo??")
We-ell. Sort of. It wasn't easy, especially for the kids, to stand for three hours (with a 15-minute intermission). And Eliza and Caroline, for whom the stage was really at head level, had to rove about to try to see what was going on. (Actually, everyone in the theatre probably missed some things and caught others, depending on where the actors were standing.) On the other hand, we've never been so close to the stage, in natural lighting, able to look right into the faces of the actors. And some of fairies and tradesmen came right through the audience, so each of the girls got a pat on the head from one of them. Their overall response was highly enthusiastic.
How was the play?
Hilarious (Bottom the Weaver!).
And ... not so G-rated. There were certainly moments that I would have liked to fast-forward, or when I hoped my kids' vision was obstructed. This was, at times, a more eroticized Dream than I've previously seen performed. I didn't foresee that when I bought the tickets, and I'm still glad we went, but I'd definitely think twice before going again, and I'd probably ask the box office people over the phone for specifics on the particular play under consideration. Just giving you the straight story here.
On the other hand, as a result, we had a very interesting family discussion (as my father-in-law would say, a "high-quality interaction") at the dinner table that night, so all's well that ends well. Mostly. Oh, and bonus, we came away with this fantastic sticker book. Let the record show that I actually exercised great self-control in that gift shop!
It's funny, though. As we walked back along the Thames toward the train station after the play, we passed a street performer blowing enormous bubbles. Here's the scene of delight that ensued. And I couldn't help wondering whether one day, my children are more likely to remember seeing Shakespeare performed at the Globe Theatre ... or chasing gigantic bubbles and popping them in their hands?