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Globe Theatre -- Watching a play review
I'm sitting in the Globe Theatre waiting for Julius Caesar to start -- that's the only play I could get tickets for because I left it a bit late. The place is packed out and all we are doing is watch them assemble the set. The stage is very close to the seats and rises up three stories. It's got three floors of balconied seats wrapped around the whole thing in a circle, and I am sitting in the middle level. The seats aren't exactly the comfiest chairs in town... they remind me of church pews when I was a kid, and they don't have any backs either (unless you sit at the back... which will ruin your view). But you can purchase a plush red cushion for a quid if you want -- I definitely recommend it. Apparently that's how they used to do it in Elizabethan times -- touting out cushions in the foyer.
The theatre is supposed to be a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The whole place is made of wood, with whitewashed walls and mock-Tudor beams. And it is all open to the weather as well -- there are even a few pigeons flying around and sitting on the moss-coloured thatched roof. The balcony seats have got a little bit of cover above, but it won't protect you very much if the rain comes in sideways. I'm sitting here shivering a bit, but who cares... It says on the ticket that the actors don't stop for anything -- not even howling gales and downpours. I would quite like to see a hurricane funnelling down the wooden-O, just to see what they do. We've already had a bit of drizzle, and the staff just carried on regardless. The audience pulled up their hoods and didn't seem to care. So that is something to be aware of if you stand in the yard: you will get wet. And you won't get a refund either.
If you don't fancy stumping up some extra money for the balcony seats then you can always go and stand in the pit (the yard). That is where the paupers stand -- the low-life nobodies who can't afford a pew. It's basically just a big concrete floor surrounding the stage. In Shakespeare's day it would have been wet mud and sawdust, but these days it is dry concrete. You have to stand up for the entire show down there -- shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others punters. If you've got a short wife or a short kid then trust me -- they won't be able to see a thing. So get there early or elbow your way to the front otherwise they will just be staring at someone's waist all day. The stage rises up to about head height, so you can just about rest your arms on the front edge if you raise them above your neck. Lots of people are doing that -- the staff don't seem to mind about people encroaching the stage.
I can see a bloke wandering around the yard with a big basket selling nuts and tubs of juice. There are a few people munching on doorstop-sized pork pies as well, and gripping polystyrene cups of Bovril or coffee.
The set itself is quite nicely decorated. The stage has got a few faux-marble columns and a Romen-esque balcony. There are a few doors and arches into the backstage area too, and a trapdoor for the ghosts to come out. But they are still assembling it at the moment. The stagehands are all dressed up in Elizabethan togs, and carrying big beams and placards around. Because it is Julius Caesar we are seeing today, they are busy nailing up marble tiles and stone-style walls, and hanging chiselled tablets over the roof. By the time they are finished it looks quite good.
The show is starting now and a load of Elizabethan-style minstrels have bounded out and started diddling some tunes around the exits. There are a load of doors around the side and the back of the yard, and it seems that all of the actors are going to parade in from those. In they come all cheering and singing... banging tambourines and little flutes too, and it is quite a May Day atmosphere. Then the cheers go up as the actors come in... straight through the packed-out yard and up onto the stage. Lots of shouting out: "Clear off you plebs!" and "Get out of the way!", and all the punters have to shift quick or get trampled. The yard has become part of the show, and the audience is playing the part of a Roman crowd. Pretty soon everyone is shouting and clapping for Caesar.
The play is under way now, and the actors are shouting their lines from the stage, addressing the balconies and yard as if they are part of the cast. They didn't have any electric lights and microphones in Shakespeare's day, and they don't have any here either. They haven't even got any spotlights on the actors -- they are just standing there in the daylight and shouting their stuff across the punter's heads. It is very easy to hear, though -- the stage is very close so you can hear each word as clear as a bell.
The best bits are when the actors involve the crowd. We've had a scene when Caesar paraded in through the back of the yard, with his retinue in tow, waving and kissing the crowd like he was a real life Emperor. They had a few actor stooges in the crowd cheering "Caesar!" to get the crowd going, but it was like a genuine parade, and the stand-up punters had the best seat in the house. Fanfares and trumpets and drums were playing up on the stage, and it makes me wonder why they don't build all theatres like this -- it is brilliant!
The music and sound effects are okay... you get rolling drums and cymbals crashing backstage for the thunder and lightning. But it's the words themselves that I struggle with. When I was younger I went through a phase of trying to educate myself... reading through the classics. That didn't last long (about two books). I think I read Hamlet and Macbeth and that was it, and it's every bit as impenetrable in the theatre as I remember it on paper. Shakespeare is hard enough in a book, but when you've got actors firing it at you in a mad-man's chunter, at a million miles per hour, it is very difficult to keep up. My brain doesn't tick over quick enough. And it hasn't been Hollywood-ized or dumbed down for the tourists either, this is the real thing -- straight out of the Folio and onto the stage. If your English isn't 100% then good luck trying to understand it.
I don't know if they do this for all of the Shakespeare plays (I've got a feeling that they do), but as soon as it ended the whole cast bounded out and did the most unexpectedly boisterous dance I have ever seen. It was like New Year's Eve and their last night on Earth all rolled into one -- very good! It was a really good show, and I certainly enjoyed it.
Oh yeah... and here is a little piece of advice about where to sit for a decent view. Try and sit in the Middle Gallery, where I was, but avoid the three bays closest to the stage, because your view will be obscured by the big columns (so don't go in bays A, B, C, N, P or Q). If you are in the Upper Gallery then try and avoid the first four bays, because the stage roof juts out across the top as well (so don't go in bays A, B, C, D, M, N, P or Q). And if you are in the Lower Gallery then just avoid the first two bays (A, B, P and Q). If you are standing in the yard then it doesn't matter, because you can just walk around wherever you like.
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