I took the opportunity to catch a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the reproduction play house on the bank of the Thames. It’s as close to an Elizabethan theatre experience as you can get, including standing through the performance as a “groundling.” The upper tiers of the theatre have seats, but a) I am cheap – yard tickets are only £5, b) I wanted the full experience, and c) it was a beautiful day – the top of the theatre is open to the elements.
Richard II was playing, and I’ve read the play but never seen a live performance, so I was excited to check it out. Of course the acting was top-notch. The actors use the full yard as needed, tramping through groups of theatre-goers as needed to get to the stage at one end. At one point, one actor came through carrying two banners and handed one to a kid in front of me – he said, “Hold this for Bolingbroke,” and moved to his station across the yard. The kid held the sign for a solid 10 minutes before another actor collected it back.
Interestingly, you are not allowed to sit as a “groundling,” even if there’s space. One girl tried, but an usher came over and told her to stand up.
The play itself was a delight to watch. It’s a downright subversive play, one of Shakespeare’s more political outings. It deals with whether a king, even one appointed by divine right, can be deposed if proven unfit or unpopular. Shakespeare clearly thinks he can and should be deposed. There was a surprising amount of humor within the drama. So many things come alive with a talented cast in a way the written work can’t capture very well.
Title quote: William Shakespeare, Richard II