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Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - The Groundling Experience

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by Sally Writes (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer living in Gloucestershire. I have been writing family style articles in the form of columns for newspapers since 2000 and spent four years presenting an interview chat show on Forest of Dean Radio.
Published November 8th 2012
To stand or not to stand? The Globe is the question
My friend Jane had invited me to The Globe. She very kindly sent me two tickets to join her and some other friends. Hubby was busy, so I asked eldest daughter, if she would like to come.

Are you standing?" She said.

Yes." I said. Proudly. "We are going to be Groundlings." It's something I have wanted to do since it opened.

No thank you." She said. "I did it last year. It's hard work standing all that time, and you do know that if it rains you get wet? You're not even allowed to sit down for a rest."

Oh, I know." I said. "But it's all part of the experience."

I asked 18 year old, but she wasn't keen. Eldest Daughter hadn't sold the concept too well it seems.

So then I asked 14 year old, who decided that a day out in the smoke with Mum would be a laugh whatever.
Richard III at The Globe
Mark Rylance as Richard III
It is always an event going to the London theatre from here in the sticks. We have so many choices. Do we drive and risk the difficulties of parking and congestion charges? Do we get the train and risk not being able to get the last one home? Or do we get the bus and sit for three hours before needing to cross London as well?

We decided to opt for the train, not from Gloucester but from Swindon, so that we had later returning trains. This meant that we had an hour's drive to Swindon, and then, despite the Sat Nav, another half hour's drive around Swindon to find the right car park. Then, having fought with the ticket machine to allow us to park, we made a quick dash to the platform, and ... phew. Thankfully the train was running a little late, so we just had time to get our breath back.

What did you say we are going to see?" asked 14 year old? Richard III I replied. "Oh," she said, "What's it about?" Now that got me thinking. I had to dig deep into the memories of my O'level history to put some sense into the historical context. Ironically I studied Shakespeare in quite some depth when I was doing my degree, but somehow the histories managed to pass me by. Or I missed the lecture that day, probably because I hadn't read the plays. As I approached the Globe, I regretted that missing part of my education now.

One downside of the location of the Globe is that it is not as near a tube station as one might hope. It was an unusually hot day for England, and having dressed for all weathers, 14 year old and I were rather hot on arrival, but this was definitely better than being wet and cold, which is what I had been expecting.

The Globe is built to the design of the original Elizabethan structure, and, just as it would have been in Will Shakespeare's day, has a large outside ground floor area, for the Groundlings; the people who stand to watch. There are seating areas for the more prosperous theatregoers which are covered, and the stage itself is under cover. In Elizabethan times, an egg or two would have been carried by the theatregoers, to throw at actors in the event of a bad performance. I didn't see any egg throwing though on this occasion.

The Swan Pub next next door, serves food, and is again built to look Elizabethan. I'm not completely convinced that they would have served Tapas as part of the menu though. Had it even been invented, the shipwrecked Armada sailors would most probably still have been hanging around Ireland and Scotland, not England. But it tasted good, and was a lovely treat from another kind friend in the party.

The production itself was the all male version of Richard III with Mark Rylance. Now as an actress myself, I do have a little bit of an issue with all male productions. From an historical point of view it was fascinating to see it done as closely to the original as possible, but I do wonder if Shakespeare himself would have used boys, had girls been allowed to act then? And personally (and I accept that I am not going to be universally popular for saying this) the boy-girl actors with falsetto voices just don't do it for me. Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman obviously had similar ideas when they wrote "Shakespeare in Love." That said, Rylance's performance itself was phenomenal and certainly made the play worth seeing.

And as for the Globe, it is a stunning piece of architecture and I am so chuffed to have done the full Groundling experience. It is an endurance test, standing for the whole time, with only a short interval in between to draw breath, but it is something that everyone should do at least once.

I will certainly return to the Globe. I may be a wimp and pay for a seat next time, and will probably go to a comedy with girls in it, but I really do look forward to returning.
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Why? Experience Shakespeare as the Elizabethans did.
Phone: 020 7401 9919
Where: South Bank , London. 21 New Globe Walk Bankside, SE1 9DT
Cost: From 5
Your Comment
Hi Sally
I suppose I'm spoilt living in London so have been to the Globe quite a few times. I also review plays for Playstosee.com so have seen a few for free this year. When paying for tickets I must admit that I faff around a lot as I'm not sure what the weather will be doing, so often miss out on performances that have already sold out. However I've never been brave enough to stand in the yard, and the benches are just about comfortable if you hire a cushion to sit on.
Just round the corner from the Globe is The Rose, the first theatre to be built on Bankside in 1587. There are regular performances in the small space there, and 2/3 of the original structure has been excavated so you can actually look down and see the area where Edward Alleyn strutted his stuff, and remind yourself that this was the theatre that presented plays written by Shakespeare and Marlowe. You can feel yourself to be much closer to the 16th century as this is not a replica, but an original structure. They have now received Heritage Lottery funding to continue the excavations and improve on what they have. If you happen to be on Bankside on a Saturday the place is open for free guided tours.
by Sandra Lawson (score: 3|1278) 1858 days ago
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