Globe Theatre -- Guided tour review
I consider myself to be reasonably well educated. I'm not quite on the Albert Einstein level, but put it this way: I went to school. I'm not thick. I can do all the usual stuff: I can tie my shoelaces, I can count to ten, I can recite the alphabet backwards, I can say "please can I have a ham sandwich" in French... and that's pretty much all you need to know in life. So here's my take on Shakespeare: I don't mind reading about him, and his Tudor times, but his plays are too much like hard work. I actually tried to read them all once. I think I did the four biggies plus a couple of others, but then I just gave up because it was like trying to decipher pig Latin: I could see that it made sense underneath, but I couldn't be arsed to sit there and work it all out -- some of the phrases would have baffled Alan Turing.
If your thinking is similar to mine then here's my advice: the Globe Theatre Tour is still worth a visit anyway. It really doesn't matter if you don't like his plays, because it doesn't focus on his words. They don't stand there singing sonnets. It's much more about the man himself, and the history of the original playhouse.
It begins with a quick little wander around the museum before meeting the tour guide downstairs (don't worry if you have to rush around the museum, because they give you endless time to see it at the end). Our guide was a very nice lady who looked a lot like Taylor Swift. She may even have been Taylor Swift. She also had a remarkable ability to show off all thirty two of her pearly white teeth at once, even whilst she was busy talking to us. She spoke like she was posing for a photo. I got the feeling that she was a wannabe actress who wanted to jump up on stage and sing us a song, because some of her theatrical demonstrations were good enough for a spot in the cast.
There were about thirty people in our tour group but don't worry if you're deaf, because everyone has to wear a pair of headphones. Taylor Swift stood there talking about ten feet from our face, whilst simultaneously broadcasting it through the headphones, so we could hear everything she said as clear as a bell.
The first thing she did was take us outside onto the veranda to have a chat about Bankside and the Puritans, and why the original theatre ended up where it was (in the slums). She spoke about the sins and the squalor and Shakespeare's plays, all side by side in Southwark. Then she took us indoors to escape the rain. Every time I've been on this tour it has rained (literally every time!), so you might want to bring an umbrella.
Now... this is where I need to give you some advice, so pay attention. I have been on this tour several times now, both during the theatre season (mid-April to mid-October), and outside it (mid-October to mid-April), and I definitely recommend the latter. That's because they frequently have rehearsals on during the theatre season, and no one is allowed to make a noise once you step inside the theatre space -- not even Taylor Swift. She basically just sat us down and let us look around, but her lips were zipped up tight to avoid disturbing the rehearsal. The precious actors were busy choreographing their movements and couldn't be interrupted, you see. Apparently waving their arms around in circles is so tremendously difficult that if anybody makes even the slightest noise in the balcony then it will put them off and unravel all their preparations. I had to hold my breath for a whole ten minutes. I was even afraid to move my eyes in case they made a squeak.
I won't reveal exactly how the theatre operates here, because you'll get a much better taste by reading the review I wrote whilst watching Julius Caesar (read it!). So just trust me when I say it's a theatre like no other, and whilst the tour gives you a perfectly good idea of what it's like to see a play, it's not a patch on seeing one for real.
Once the rehearsal was over Taylor took us down into the pit and let us stand next to the stage. And that was basically it. Tour over. It was just a quick forty-five minutes of history before heading back to the beginning. Taylor Swift then said her goodbyes and let us loose in the museum, which you can walk around at your own pace.
It's actually quite a good little museum but it will probably appeal more to London history buffs than theatre nuts, because whilst there's plenty about Bankside, the old Rose Theatre and the timeline of the Globe, there's not a tremendous amount about Shakespeare himself, other than a section on his acting company. It's just bit and pieces -- odds and sods. They've got a copy of his will on show, for example. They've also got a couple of cabinets filled with archaeological pots and bowls. After that it's all theatre props and costumes, and how they created the sound effects in Tudor times.
The final section explains how they built the modern day theatre using centuries old methods, and gives a well-deserved pat on the back to Sam Wanamaker, who's forty year vision (and, let's be honest, his sheer indomitable will when faced with British bureaucracy!) helped to get the new place built.
So is it worth a visit? In short: yes. And I'm not just saying that because the guide looks like Taylor Swift. It's actually quite interesting -- but it's not a patch on seeing a play being performed. They've got quite a good gift shop as well, if you're looking for some Shakespeare presents.
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