sun 26/05/2024

'I am dismayed by the tone of the debate' | reviews, news & interviews

'I am dismayed by the tone of the debate'

'I am dismayed by the tone of the debate'

A member of the Globe's Council sees both sides in the Emma Rice furore

Our revels now are ending: Emma Rice at Shakespeare's GlobeProduction photographs by Steve Tanner

There is nothing more depressing than seeing people you like and admire lining up on opposing sides. Emma Rice’s parting from the Globe has resulted in some unedifying comment, often based more on prejudice than fact. I see value in the arguments of both “sides” but am dismayed at the tone of the debate.

Depending on the writer’s point of view, one is likely to be misleadingly characterised as either a joyless old fogey stuck in the past or a mindless iconoclast intent only on vulgar entertainment.

The Globe is, first and foremost, a working theatre; it has never been a museum. Emma Rice is a brilliant, innovative director and it is scarcely surprising that she should want to experiment in new ways with whatever means are available. Shakespeare and his contemporaries changed their methods according to the technical developments of the time and no doubt Shakespeare himself would have grabbed the opportunity to experiment with the box of tricks that modern companies can enjoy. Rice’s first season was an outstanding success in terms of ticket sales and, for the most part, reviews. (Pictured below, Rice's Globe debut, Midsummer Night's Dream: First Fairy (Nandi Bhebhe) sings Titania (Meow Meow) to sleep.)That said, the original purpose of the Globe, to which Sam Wanamaker and others have given so much in time and resources as well as love and enthusiasm, is not redundant and shows with lighting and amplification can be presented successfully in other theatres. Shakespeare was successfully shown, under the first two regimes, not to be boring and to be accessible to people of all ages. It is a shame that an attempt will now be made to return to previous methods from such a negative position. Worst of all, the work - some of it award-winning - of the previous 20 years, under Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole, which gave pleasure to diverse audiences and provided new insights into Shakespeare’s text, is unfairly dismissed by some as dusty “heritage” stuff.

I have been writing about the Globe for 25 years, since before the building was completed and Globe Education worked out of a leaky warehouse nearby. I am a member of the Globe’s Council, a large group of men and women made up of theatre practitioners, business people, teachers, academics and enthusiasts, which is quite separate from the Board of Trustees. I had nothing to do with either the appointment or departure of Emma Rice, although I did give my opinion on how the differences between the old and new should be addressed, as all Council members were invited to do.

Whoever is appointed will face a difficult task, but not an insurmountable one

It is, of course, too late now, but what a shame that there could not have been an agreement to present some productions according to original practice, some not, during Emma’s tenure. No compromise was possible, it seems. After this painful, messy parting, Shakespeare’s Globe will, no doubt, eventually recover its equilibrium and, following next season; Emma Rice will go on to another productive and ground-breaking period of her career elsewhere.

The interviewing panel for the next artistic director will presumably take care to ask detailed questions about his or her plans. Whoever is appointed will face a difficult task, but not an insurmountable one. Underneath all the shouting there is, I believe, an enduring affection for a place which has a unique presence in London theatre, however that uniqueness is interpreted by the practitioners who give it life.

There is, I believe, an enduring affection for a place which has a unique presence in London theatre

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