How to be a groundling


Ever wondered what it might’ve felt like to be a peasant in 16th century London? Well one way to find out, minus the syphilis and public sewage dumping, is to go to Shakespeare’s Globe to see a play as a so-called ‘groundling’. Every production at the Globe has 700 £5 standing tickets available, offering a completely unique theatrical experience. World class theatre for less than the cost of a G&T is not to be sniffed at!

It is, however, a bit of a commitment. Most shows at the Globe weigh in at around three hours, which can feel like a very long time in the abstract. So you need to arrive prepared.

You also have to consider queuing time. Groundlings go in via a separate gate on Bankside, before queuing in the courtyard and then being let into the theatre. Generally the river gates open around 45 minutes before the start, and the theatre will open around half an hour prior to the performance. You can begin queuing whenever you like, though most days you’ll generally be alright to arrive 90 minutes before the start and still be well positioned in the queue.


I had the rather scary experience of fainting mid-show last summer; it was the perfect storm of very hot day, thick layers of clothing, not enough to eat & drink, and wasting of energy getting there. Having learnt the hard way (and feeling pretty confident my favourite actor won’t be there at the same time and come to the first aid room the keep me company again), I’m determined never to experience it again if I can help it. Since 30 July 2016 my pre-Globe preparations have almost become ritualistic: a hearty breakfast, lots of food & drink throughout the day, and (without fail) a banana before I enter the yard. I do also try to have some sort of salty snack as well, to aid hydration. And, last but not least, I keep a drink and some sweet treats in my bag to keep me going during the interval.

It’s not like all of this is scientifically proven, but it does no harm and I’ve not fainted since (touch wooden O). Basically just make sure you’re not in there on an empty stomach, particularly on a hot day.


Then there’s the other extreme: rain. Last year I had one or two showers during a show, but they were never very prolonged. However, for the first preview of Twelfth Night last Thursday, Londoners may recall the non-stop wet weather from around 3 o’clock in the afternoon until the early hours of the next morning. Well, I was out there in that from just after 6pm until around 10.30pm when the show finished (plus then walking to the station and to my house to end the day). Once again I’ve learned the hard way!

From now on, when I have any doubt over the weather I intend on bringing a more waterproof coat (or having a couple of quid spare to buy a Globe poncho) – the one I wore can cope with rain, but not almost five hours of it. I luckily always have a plastic bag on me, so could keep my bag dry (I was quite pleased with my inventiveness) but I’ll be using a more suitable bag in future. I also wish I’d brought gloves to delay the inevitable ‘pruning’ of my fingers. However, if you don’t think you’ll be able to cope, and I’m surprised I did, you may be better off heading to the box office to try and get a seat instead.


You need to remember about stamina in your legs as well. I’ve found that regularly walking reasonable distances (though not on show days) helps to delay the onset of aching legs during a show. If you’re struggling you can sit on the floor during the interval, but you’ll be at the mercy of people still standing, or those wanting to pop in and out of the yard. Personally I’d advocate the constant standing method! If you’re at the front or back you can generally find something to lean on, which also helps – though if you’re short (like me), definitely go for the front as it eliminates the possibility of tall people getting in your way and blocking your view of the whole thing.

Basically, the rest is just general courtesy to those around you. Nobody’s expecting you to stand completely still, but that doesn’t give you the right to continually push, hit or lean on other people – I had a particularly bad offender next to me last Thursday, who only responded to me pushing back in retaliation. As the action is generally going on above you, I’ve found the distraction from people talking to be greater than in regular theatres; it may have been commonplace in Elizabethan times, but to me it’s just further proof that original practice isn’t everything. And finally, keep a look out around you as often the actors will walk amongst you to reach the stage, so let them through and move back to where you were.

Think you can manage it? Then I’ll probably see you there!

The Summer of Love runs at Shakespeare’s Globe until 15 October 2017.


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