Shakespeare earned his living in the theatre as a playwright, actor, director and shareholder in an acting company.
The company was successful enough to finance the building of its own theatre, The Globe, on the south bank of the Thames in 1599. Destroyed by fire in 1613, it was rebuilt the following year; Shakespeare died in 1616.
The modern reconstruction of the Globe, modelled on scholarly research into available evidence of the building’s original design, opened in 1997 as Shakespeare’s Globe. It stands just a couple of hundred metres from the site of its two originals. Shakespeare’s first tragedy, “Titus Andronicus”, is thought to have been written around 1593 so it would not have been first staged at the Globe but such was the play’s popularity that it may have been revived there in later years.
The drama, the playwright’s first tragedy, has now benefitted from a new production – currently drawing to a close – at Shakespeare’s Globe and it has driven another nail into the coffin of opinion that for centuries derided its worth and dismissed it as not even, or only partly, the work of Shakespeare.
The play’s violence that is plotted and presented on the stage is extreme by any measure, making it such a challenge for a director that productions are rare.
The legendary Peter Brook rescued it from obscurity in 1955, with paramedics on hand to assist squeamish spectators even though stage-blood was not used and mutilated body parts were represented by ribbons of red velvet.
Jude Christian, the director of the current production, also stylises the violence and deploys humour to help audiences come to terms with the fact that people, mostly men, are capable of inflicting obscene horrors on others. They do so for reasons of politics, patriarchy and racism – the key issues that swirl around in Shakespeare’s drama – and Christian brings them to the fore with an all-female cast of actors and the addition of three new songs – the first of which, “men killing men killing women…”, points to the nucleus of the drama.
Jude Christian’s riveting production takes place in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – one of the two theatres that form Shakespeare’s Globe – an intimate and candle-lit performance space that wonderfully evokes late 16th– and early 17th– century theatres.
The Globe theatre itself, the one that opened in 1997, is a 3600, partly open-air auditorium, with the stage and seating area under cover but not the standing-only space in front of the stage.
The two theatres of Shakespeare’s Globe are situated on the South Bank, a short walk from Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, and for food and drink before or after a performance there is Tas Pide. This restaurant has been making good use of its wood-fired, brick-built oven, imported from Turkey twenty years ago, for tasty food and set menus; a bottle of the house wine is not outrageously priced at £21.
For information and booking of tickets, see Shakespeare’s Globe.
(Photos supplied by Titus Andronicus and authorised for publication.)