When our good friend, Tucker, was planning his whirl-wind trip to London for a long weekend, I thought it would be a great chance to check out Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I had only walked by it but had wanted to see a performance for quite a while. What can possibly be more British than that?
They had a showing of Antony and Cleopatra playing Friday night and booked the last three seated tickets. I thought for about half a second it would be fun to stand in the shoes of the peasants of the days of yore in the standing section, but then realized standing for three hours sounds like a hell I did not want to participate in.
The space was incredible. Recently rebuilt and reopened in 1997, we tried to imagine the original structure was similar to what we sat in. Considering we sat on wooden benches with no padding, we realized it couldn’t be far off since comfort wasn’t a priority back in the day. But it was fun pretending to be in the early 1600s watching an open air play as the sun set on the Thames.
The Globe was originally built in 1599 but was destroyed by a fire in 1613 during a rowdy performance of Henry VIII when a cannon misfired. It was rebuilt on the same site in 1614 but then closed in 1642 due to Puritans taking over everything fun and bawdy.
The play of Antony and Cleopatra tells their story once Julius Caesar has been killed and Caesar Augustus has taken over Rome. Mark Anthony is in Egypt with Cleopatra and the balance of power is coming into question leading to war. It was a very lively performance with no sound projection other than the actors’ voices. We struggled to hear each word as airplanes and partying tourists interrupted the play every now and then. I’m sure car horns and airplanes did not cause as much of a distraction several hundred years ago. But it was rather funny once a prominent actor was killed, police sirens immediately erupted in the distance as if on cue.
Toward the end of the first act, a rowdy party scene broke out and one of the actors’ foot fell straight through the wooden stage. He didn’t break character and the other actors used it as a point of comedy every now and then stepping over the gap in the stage. We even thought it may have been part of the show until during intermission two men armed with power drills burst out to quickly repair the floor before the next act was to begin.
While we couldn’t hear everything nor understand really what we could hear due to the antiquated dialogue, we did appreciate the original take on the play. The actors who represented Rome wore costumes of English lords and nobility since that is what Shakespearean actors would have worn in the original productions.
We did have a major disadvantage to our seats besides the uncomfortable wood. We were blocked by a large pillar. During the final scene where Cleopatra takes her own life, the pillar blocked every single action, so we were left to assume she had died and not at the last minute cast the poisonous snake aside and sit with power and authority on her throne. That would have been my alternate ending.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at the Globe, but seeing two Shakespeare plays in one month has filled the quota for Jeff, so I believe I will be on my own to see another in the coming months. Next time, I will have to do some research so I can at least understand the gist of the subject matter. If I hadn’t seen the HBO show Rome, I do believe I would have been completely in the dark as to what was going on. I at least at the names and general story in mind going in, but I couldn’t tell you a single detail.
If you come to London, the Globe is a must see just for the experience alone. It was completely worth it, I just think the experience of the structure is more what you’re paying for than the play itself.
Antony and Cleopatra plays through August 24th.