Last year’s Wonder Season was something of a revelation for me. After years of meaning to go to the Globe I finally broke that duck – eventually visiting 26 times. This was down to both Emma Rice’s delightful vision, as well as some inspired casting in my two favourite productions (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips). I went to every single production on offer and had the summer of my life. I also managed to see a couple of Wonder Noir shows (Comus and Othello), which were full of dark magic in the beautiful Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
As such, the anticipation is sky high leading up to Emma Rice’s final summer season at the Globe (I won’t open that can of worms again here). Marking 50 years since the legendary Summer of Love, Rice believes “love is at the centre of our human experience” and so wants to celebrate this universal emotion – as Shakespeare did in his great canon of work.
The Summer of Love saw a remarkable revolution in music and social history, with the hippie movement, LSD and large music festivals going hand in hand with psychedelia. Free thinking and free love were the order of the day, and creativity exploded – The Beatles released their conceptual masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while Jimi Hendrix wowed the crowds at Monterey Pop Festival. The world of theatre was also liberated, as Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical debuted Off Broadway at the Public Theater, transferring to Broadway and London’s West End the following year. This show uses the concept of “tribes” in the 1960s, where the peace-loving ‘Age of Aquarius’ hippies were trying to avoid the draft into the ongoing Vietnam War.
I think Rice has done brilliantly in her choice of productions to fit the theme: Romeo & Juliet, Nell Gwynn, Twelfth Night, Tristan & Yseult, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear and Boudica. Between them they capture romantic and familial love, as well as rebellion and tribal affiliations.
Romeo & Juliet – dir. Daniel Kramer (22 April-9 July)
One of the most famous love stories of all time, set against the backdrop of the feuding Montagues and Capulets. The ENO’s Daniel Kramer promises a modern take on the tale of “star-crossed lovers”; in the face of war and bloodshed the young people choose love, much like the youth in the time of the Vietnam War.
Casting for this production has already been announced, sticking to Rice’s policy of 50:50 gender splits. This gives us a female Mercutio (Golda Rosheuvel), though whether the gender of the character has changed remains to be seen. Wolf-Sister Production’s version of this play at the Rose Playhouse last year took a similar route with a female Benvolio, and it gave an interesting dynamic to the relationship with Romeo, so I’m intrigued to see how this plays out with Mercutio instead.
We’ve been promised “a vibrant, volatile production”, which I can’t wait to see in action next Saturday.
Nell Gwynn – dir. Christopher Luscombe (2-13 May)
Following a West End transfer and Oliviers success last year, Nell Gwynn has embarked on a tour of the UK which includes a two-week residency at the Globe in May. Nell’s rise to fame and fortune marked an important phase in the world of theatre, as women started acting onstage for the first time. The 60s was another key moment in female emancipation, with the rise of feminism, so bringing back the feisty Nell for another run in this particular season seems very apt indeed.
This time round Laura Pitt-Pulford plays the eponymous actress, taking over from Gemma Arterton at the Apollo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the Globe. It has taken in a few of its tour venues already (to a warm response) and I’m definitely excited to see a true London heroine return to the London stage this spring.
Twelfth Night – dir. Emma Rice (18 May-5 August)
Often called Shakespeare’s perfect comedy, Twelfth Night is a celebration of the persistence of love – with a few comical misunderstandings along the way. As well as including the fun-loving spirit associated with the hippies (though admittedly at another character’s expense), it also embraces the idea of free love as the couples eventually align themselves.
This production has also been cast, and brings back a couple of familiar faces from Dream and 946 in the form of Nandi Bhebhe and Katy Owen, playing Fabian and Malvolio. It’s quite unfortunate that the National also cast actresses in these two roles, however I’m sure Emma Rice has her own idea about how she’d like them to be portrayed. The names haven’t been made feminine, so it’s likely they won’t be played as women outright; Bhebhe of course played a GI in 946, and Owen would be well suited to an androgynous approach to Malvolio (as with her Puck last year). I’m also excited to see Marc Antolin as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, as I actually cast him in the role before the announcement came!
Emma Rice is aiming for “cross-dressing, hijinks and bittersweet hilarity” with this production, and I really hope she’s able to recapture the festival spirit we all loved in 2016.
Tristan & Yseult – dir. Emma Rice (13-24 June)
Also heading out on tour is one of Kneehigh’s most celebrated productions, stopping off at the Globe for two weeks in June. King Mark falls in love with Yseult, but Tristan’s appearance causes chaos – there are many different versions of this legend, and Kneehigh have created their own interpretation. It is, however, a story of conflicting love and honour. Kneehigh’s tradition of using actor-musicians (or at least a live band) also plays into the Summer of Love festival theme.
I’m hoping a few more familiar faces will be brought in for this, with the 946 tour all finished… This tour begins in may, so an announcement must be imminent.
It has been performed a number of times, but I’m yet to see it – and if it does blend “comedy, live music, grand passions and tender truths”, I really am excited to finally catch a performance.
Much Ado About Nothing – dir. Matthew Dunster (14 July-15 October)
A classic case of love being the opposite side of the coin to hate; Beatrice and Benedick seem unable to make up, and instead spend their days sniping at each other while Claudio and Hero are on their way to matrimony. This production is set in and around the civil war in Mexico (1910), meaning the scent of revolution is in the air surrounding the lovers – and they may even be wearing (desert) flowers in their hair.
Matthew Dunster’s Imogen last year was perhaps the boldest of the lot, reimagining Cymbeline to tell his daughter’s story better and all set amidst gangland warfare. He is one of my favourite directors, so I’m champing at the bit to see what kind of cast he brings together and how the combination of Latin music and Shakespeare will take flight.
King Lear – dir. Nancy Meckler (10 August-14 October)
The ageing king decides to split his kingdom between his three daughters, but only after they tell him how much they love him; wanting to be flattered, he fails to see that he’s being tricked and soon finds himself homeless. The play is an interesting look at familial love, as well as the interplay between generations – with the youth really finding their voices, just like in the 60s.
Kevin McNally has been announced as taking on the title role, with the rest of the cast to follow. Nancy Meckler, Artistic Director of Shared Experience, will be directing the production – she’s also taken on productions with the RSC and National Theatre (amongst others) in her career so far. And now she “brings her charismatic style” into Shakespeare’s Globe.
Boudica – dir. Eleanor Rhode (8 September-1 October)
A brand new play by Tristan Bernays that tells the story of Boudica’s fight against the Romans following her husband’s death: “She will have blood.” As with Nell Gwynn, this is a great choice to commemorate the Summer of Love because of the strong central heroine – as well as the tribal element coming from the Iceni, and the strong revolutionary feel.
I’m always excited to see new writing come to life, and what venue could be more perfect than the Globe? Just because its full name is Shakespeare’s Globe doesn’t mean that only Shakespeare should be performed there, for one thing; the uniqueness of the venue makes it an interesting prospect for brand new material, and variety is a great thing.
I’ve always had an interest in the Romans, so I’m really excited to get to see this play. And the more powerful heroines there are onstage the better!
As you can see, there really is a lot to look forward to! I’ve already accumulated 14 tickets and am booked in for the Twelfth Night Study Day – with payday gradually approaching, I’m now trying to work out how many more I can fit in… I’m sorted for the very first and last of the entire season, all of the midnight matinees, five Twelfth Nights (though I feel I should do a minimum of 12), and am definitely seeing each production at least once.
I’m also making it my mission to introduce as many people as possible to both Shakespeare and the Globe itself – while Emma Rice is still there making it a centre of theatrical joy. And with less than a week to go, I can’t wait to get back on my feet again!
Tickets for the Summer of Love are available online or from the box office, with 700 £5 standing tickets on offer for every performance.