After having seen the imaginary line and descended the observatory hill, my next destination was the Globe Theatre. The Globe Theatre is the world famous arena where Shakespearean plays were staged right from the times of Shakespeare.
We had reserved a ticket much in advance for a 7:15 show for the famous Shakespearean play ‘As you like it’. My better half and her colleague, Deepthi had agreed to wait for me after their office time with the tickets for the show at the London Bridge station.
There was some more time to 7pm. The Canary Wharf station and nearby locations had caught my attention earlier while I was travelling on the DLR line. I decided to get down there, roam around and do some more sightseeing before heading for the Globe Theatre.
The face of London had a different appeal in this part of the city. Most of the buildings were glass walled skyscrapers almost kissing the clouds. Three of the tallest buildings in the UK are situated in Canary Wharf; huge commercial office complexes and shopping malls could be seen in plenty. The trains made their way amidst tall buildings which appeared to stand one next to the other as if touching each other. From the train, you can see the Thames and its channel like narrow tributaries. The trains forged ahead crisscrossing the river at many places. Though at most places in London, the tube trains ran through underground rail, in this part alone on the DLR, the trains travelled above ground level atop flyovers and over head bridges. It occurred to me that the attitude and expressions of Canary Wharf resembled that of an ultra modern girl!
People sat having food at eat out restaurants on the banks of the river enjoying the cool evening breeze. I think it is the westerners’ alone who revel with such gaiety in the myriad blessings of nature, be it by the sea, creek sides or in the brilliance of the sun! After walking in and out of the station and through the shopping malls along with the horde for some time I returned to the station.
Though there was a big crowd at the station, mostly office goers awaiting the trains to head home, it failed to deter me as I was at one point in my life used to the hustle bustle of the Mumbai suburban train journeys. I got into the first train that came and got off at Tower Bridge Station. In a little while, my wife and her friend located me waiting for them outside the station.
We had intended to walk to the Globe Theatre. We can reach the theatre by cutting across the South Wark Bridge and walking for about 10 minutes in between the buildings and along the banks of the Thames. As all the sign posts along the way displayed directions to the Globe Theatre, it was unlikely that we would lose our way to reach our destination.
While walking to the theatre, I was reminded of my younger days of theatre appreciation. During my hey days, I have seen up to two professional dramas on the same day. Even much before we started to see actors such as NN Pillai, Rajan P Dev, Saikumar , Vijayaraghavan etc on the celluloid screen, I have had the chance to enjoy them on stage, their faces greased with makeup. Prior to those days, I had myself smeared paint on my face for small drama events at school.
But this was my maiden trip to see a professional English play. And that too, a Shakespearean play; in a world famous theatre where the writer himself had donned the costume of his characters and made his presence felt on stage. This thought was more than enough to give me goose-bumps!
An American director-cum-actor Sam Wanamaker is the founder of the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare himself was a partner during the early days of the theatre. The initial Globe Theatre was built in 1599. In 1613, the theatre was destroyed in a fire. Though the theatre was reconstructed and it started functioning at the same place during the very next year itself, it closed down in 1642. The current theatre named Shakespeare’s Globe is a renovation of the Globe Theatre of yore. It was in 1997 that the new theatre was inaugurated. The new theatre is located about 230 meters away from the position of the original.
There was a small crowd in front of the theatre. We converted the online internet bookings to tickets for the show and entered the theatre.
Different types of tickets are available. It costs approximately GBP 35 for seats with good visibility from the upper, middle and lower galleries. For those seats on the sides and those blocked partially by the pillars inside, the tickets cost comes down to approximately PDS 15. If you are ready to watch the play standing in the open pit before the stage, you can do so for a mere PDS 5 per person.
One is permitted only to stand here and not sit to watch the play from this yard. The yard has a capacity of 700 such standing audiences. In fact you can have the best views of the stage from the yard. If it were in our country, the seats closest to the stage would have been the most expensive. Anyway, for a middle aged person like me it was beyond my thinking to stand at a stretch and watch the play for over two hours.
The seats were all made of wood and had no back rest. Those sitting in the last row had the privilege of leaning on the wall behind them. Luckily, our 15 PDS worth seats were on the right side of the stage on the very last row. The circular shaped theatre was full of seats except for the stage. The center of the theatre was open to the skies in the middle.
Without much delay the seats were all occupied. Being summer, though it was 7 o’clock in the evening the theatre was bright with sunlight. For the first time in my life I was about to see a play without having to listen to the announcement of the organizers about switching off the lights and opening the doors of the auditorium.
Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it ‘which we saw was directed by Thea Sharrock, designed by Dick Bird, composed by Stephen Warbeck and choreographed by Fin Walker. The main cast of Orlando played by Jack Laskey and Rosalind by Naomi Frederick along with 20 other talented artistes kept taking turns appearing on stage in the sequence of their performances.
The announcement that cameras were prohibited inside truly disappointed me. Would it be right to steal a few pictures without anyone noticing?
I haven’t read ‘As you like it’. But my better half who is a postgraduate in English Literature knows it all. To shield my ignorance I had quickly gone through a synopsis of the play on the internet before starting from home.
The actors took turns to appear before the microphones hanging in the air in front of the stage to deliver their dialogues. Even without the microphone, all including those sitting at the farthest nook and corner of the stage could hear the dialogues of all the actors very clearly. But what was impressive was that none of the actors were screaming at the top of their voices to be heard. Anyone inside with small children who chanced to cry were obliged to leave the place immediately due to this. Even if the child stopped crying, they were still denied permission to enter the theater again. Tickets are required to be purchased for children over 3 years of age.
The drama progressed on stage without any interruptions or hiccups. Before the interval a remarkable feud was presented on stage. The 3 minute scene where the hero Orlando strategically attacks and defeats a comparatively larger opponent was staged very naturally. One could hear the sound of displaced wooden planks when both the actors crash land on the floor during their fight. The over-sized opponent landed with a thud into the midst of the 5 pound spectators. We had noticed a little while ago that the stewards had built a make-shift safety barricade there to avoid any danger to the audience. On an average around 30 stewards volunteer for every stage event at the Globe.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. ……………………..
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
As You Like It, 2. 7
These celebrated lines from the play have travelled across boundaries, far and wide beyond this stage to reach a world audience. I count myself truly blessed to have been able to hear these famous lines uttered directly by the Shakespearean actors themselves. With all my heart I treasure these precious and memorable moments I was able to spend inside the Globe.
In this drama authored by Shakespeare who said that the entire world’s a stage, actors entered and exited the stage not only through the side and middle doors. Some of the actors were seated amongst the audience and some of them made their appearances on the stage from amidst the spectators. The manner in which the drama was presented in this theatre seemed to bear testimony to the author’s words that all the world is indeed a stage!
Another interesting incident occurred just before the interval – imagining the pillars to be trees in the forest; Orlando stuck up notes scribbled with love poems addressed to his ladylove, Rosalind on all the pillars of the theatre including those pillars which stood between the audience area. The rest he scattered it into the middle of the audience. During the interval, I was tempted to either grab one of those love letters or pluck any one letter stuck on the pillars and make it my own. I felt there wouldn’t be any better souvenir that I could collect from this theatre. Many of the spectators had already started their efforts to materialize what I was tempted to do. Most of the letters were already in the possession of other spectators by the time I got up from my seat to make a hesitant dash for it. The rest of the letters which were littered on the floor were picked up by the theatre staff. I was about to return with unmistakable disappointment when suddenly luck decided to favor me and I noticed one of the letters still stuck on one of the pillars; I immediately took possession of it without inviting much attention.
For a rent of 1pound you can get cushions to rest on the wooden seats. The play resumed by the time I got 3 cushions and returned to my seat. Sunlight faded as the night descended making it dim inside the theatre. Lamps were lit inside to make up for the loss of natural light. Every moment passed to great satisfaction. Except for the use of archaic language which was a lil hard to digest, every act and scene progressed on stage very smoothly and in a convincing style. The transition from one scene to another was seamless in spite of not having any curtains being drawn at any time during the play. This play deserves a special mention in my life as a truly unforgettable lifetime experience!
In the climax, the scene where the hero plants hot kisses on the heroine was presented in an unpretentious and spontaneous manner. Such an explicit scene was a novelty for me. Such scenes would never have escaped the axe of the censor board in our movies even if it was essential for the context or storyline.
During the times he was alive, it was Shakespeare himself who acted as the character ‘Adam’ in this play. In the scenes where the characters were supposed to be singing, it was the actors themselves who rendered the songs. It is imperative to mention that on this stage it wasn’t the theatrical or technical excellence but the stellar performances of the actors which was outstanding.
Towards the end of the play, a song and dance sequence set the stage ablaze. From amongst the audience a rhythmic clapping of the hands arose to the tune of the music. Along with this, I also noticed that cameras had started to flash from various corners of the theatre. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I too pulled out my camera and captured a few scenes. To avoid the risk of being caught, I had switched off the flash and thanks to insufficient lighting and regular issues I face in handling the camera trying to capture moving objects; I had to be satisfied with just a few dull and shaken pictures.
Finally the actors bid adieu and departed from the stage. I stood there in an emotional state of someone in a fantasy world who had just burst out of a soap bubble. It felt like an illusion. I couldn’t believe that what I had witnessed was true. Though the play was over, I did not feel like leaving the theatre. We lingered there for some more time taking pictures and looking around.
Finally when on my way back to Peterborough sitting inside the deserted night train, it crossed my mind that it was highly unlikely that I would have another opportunity to watch a play in the Shakespeare’s Globe again. And if it were to really happen, it would not be anything short of a miracle in my life!
Translated from my Malayalam blog ‘ Chila Yaathrakal ‘ by geetham. To read the Malayalam version, click here.