Theatre

7 (St)ages of Recovery – Why Nothing Says a Return to the Normal Quite Like Shakespeare’s Globe

‘All the world’s a virus

And all people on this earth are still social distancing

They have their facemasks and their sanitiser

But on the 17th of May we will have theatre again,

And in these 7 (st)ages life will be normal,’

The Globe Theatre is about so much more than seeing a Shakespeare play -although the plays are always incredible. There is something unique about the culture of the place itself, about the atmosphere you feel every time you step inside its thatched walls. In keeping with Shakespeare’s 7 stages of man, I thought I would list the 7 reasons why being able to return to the Globe this summer will prove things are normal again.

The Theatre Strikes Back

Most obviously, being able to see a play at the Globe will mean the theatres are open again. This means normality as so many theatres simply cannot open under coronavirus restrictions because it is not economically viable for them to operate at the 30-40% capacity needed for social distancing. The Globe makes the majority of its money through sold out summer performances, so it is possible that it will not open until all restrictions are lifted on the 21st June. But I will know that we are free when I can once again stand shoulder to shoulder with all the other ‘Globe’trotters.

Audience and Actor

The Globe is interactive at its heart, particularly for a groundling and I love being a groundling. ‘Groundling’ is Globe slang for someone who stands inside the pit to watch the performance, and it’s an absolute bargain because it only costs £5 so you could see the entire summer season at least 2 times for the price of 1 decent seat in the balcony! What makes being a groundling so special is the fact that you can lean on the stage, the actors are within striking distance, you become physically immersed in the drama as often the cast perform directly to you. I remember seeing a production of Hamlet 2 years ago where Michelle Terry physically grabbed a groundling by the shoulders and shook them while frantically reciting the ‘to be or not to be’ monologue. Yes, sometimes it can be a traumatic experience – in a production of the Merchant of Venice Gratiano ‘threw up’ right in front of my face – but this interaction is normal, it’s human, it’s proof that we won’t have to hide behind masks anymore.

Camaraderie

This immersion in the drama comes at a cost, in order to lean on the stage you have to give over the time in the queue. When I first went to the Globe I thought this would be such a boring experience, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have met so many interesting people in the groundling line. People really want to talk to you…  a welcome change from the usual queuing practice of silently scanning your phone. These spontaneous conversations are actually the things that make the whole experience so enjoyable.  Under covid’s shadow there is a tangible atmosphere of fear when it comes to conversation, all too often you see people crossing to the other side of the street the street, turning their heads down. For me, normal under the Globe’s shadow is being able to strike up a casual chat in the summer sun.

‘Food Glorious Food’

Being able to eat a Brownie outside the Box Office (with ‘sold out’ chalked up on the blackboard) in the tiny – but extremely quaint- cafe; need I say more?

There’s something about the Southbank…

The Globe is located on London’s Southbank which is a beautiful bustling location. There is always something going on, whether it is a Harry Potter tour (because Daniel Radcliffe’s old school is just on the other side of the Millennium Bridge– you learn these fun facts in the groundling queue!) or a flash-mob performance to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. These things just don’t happen under coronavirus, mainly because the virus is killing the tourism industry. When the Southbank wakes from its ghostly slumber, I will know things are normal again.

Vaccines and Volunteers

The Globe is run almost entirely by volunteers, at the centre of it all are the Stewards. They are responsible for ensuring everything runs smoothly – as a groundling I associate them with being the queue busters. Every year there is always someone who ‘struggles’ with the very self-explanatory concept of standing in a queue, every year I get to laugh at the stewards scolding their ‘stupidity’…it really is top quality entertainment! However, most of the stewards are people who have are retired and many will be among the vulnerable during this pandemic. Seeing the stewards again in the summer will mean the vaccines have worked, it will mean they have got their normal back.

‘O, For the Love of Laughter’

Nothing says normal quite like a bawdy comedy. There is something so organic and so human about being able to laugh. There is no doubt that everyone has struggled mentally during this pandemic, right now I am finding it hard to see the joy in anything. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard I cried; coronavirus really kills the comedy. I really hope that they perform a Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer, because not laughing during the Mechanicals’ Pyramus and Thisbe production is just not an option!

To me, the Globe epitomises why we need theatre. It proves that reopening them is about more than just attempting to reinflate the economy, it is a testimony for normality. Whether it’s laughing so hard we could cry at a Shakespearean comedy or actually crying at Fantine’s death in Les Miserables, whatever performance we choose to see, we will be sitting together again, and our emotions will respond to something more than BBC News or Boris’ briefings. I know that the shows will go on and I just can’t wait for a stage-filled summer.

Jess Steadman (she/her) is the Senior Cultures Editor at The Oxford Blue. She is a second year studying Medieval Literature at Univ and is from (mostly sunny) Essex. If you want to find her, she is probably chopping about on the Isis River.