It’s officially into Emma Rice’s last week at Shakespeare’s Globe, and I’m fully expecting to have a meltdown come Saturday evening… So while I’m still functioning, I thought it would be great to celebrate some of my favourite things about her time as the artistic director of the Globe – both from her shows and the others programmed in her seasons. I found it hard enough to narrow it down to 10 things, so they’re definitely not in any particular order!
Initially raising eyebrows, as it took a major female character away from an actress, this turned out to be one of the most inspired casting decisions of the whole of Emma Rice’s reign. Thanks to an exceptional performance from Ankur Bahl, it seemed incredibly natural for Helena to be a man instead; so much so that it made the whole thing feel as if Shakespeare had really intended for this to happen when he wrote it. It makes Demetrius’ reactions so much more understandable (he’s completely in denial), and Helenus is an incredibly sympathetic character. You could always feel like the audience was completely on his side – making the response to him getting his wish at the end of the play all the more emotional and magical.
First preview of Twelfth Night
Probably the most anticipated evening of all. Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play, it had been cast brilliantly, it was Emma’s final Shakespeare… The day came and it was a complete washout. But you know by now that this doesn’t stop the Globe! I was really anxious about the whole thing, as I hadn’t been prepared for this kind of a downpour and I don’t do well being exposed to heavy rain for any period of time – let alone having to stand in it for three hours. This just goes to show the power of this production! I may have been absolutely soaked through (my clothes were sticking to my skin by the time I got home – I had to peel them off) but I actually couldn’t care less. It is one of the most joyous things I’ve ever seen, though still with enough heart to really make you feel. The warmth & brilliance of the company kept me going, and it brings back some very happy memories.
Boudica’s daughters attacking the stage
Sadly this is something we’re unlikely to see again at the Globe: Boudica’s two daughters (Alonna and Blodwynn) flying down to join the battle via zipwire from the upper gallery. Other characters also abseiled down the inside of the theatre later on in the play. This was such an exciting and unexpected touch (particularly for the groundlings), so thanks must go to Emma for including this brilliant piece of new writing from Tristan Bernays, directed with panache by Eleanor Rhode.
50:50 gender casting
Contrary to what the media seem intent on reporting, 50:50 casting was brought in by Emma Rice for the Wonder Season and has continued ever since. It has led to some inspired pieces of casting, including Don Jon becoming Donna Juana (Jo Dockery) in Much Ado, Katy Owen taking on Puck in Dream and Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Golda Rosheuvel playing Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet.
I’m glad to know that this is one of Emma’s innovations that Michelle Terry will be sticking with during her tenure, as it’s an important example to set from one of London’s major theatres. Not only does it give women the opportunity to take on roles that previously weren’t open to them, but also it can take the storytelling in a new & creative direction.
Le Gateau Chocolat
Feste pervaded the whole of Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night – and what a presence Le Gateau Chocolat brought to the character. A great sense of fun, of course, but also a sense of drama & gravity at times (the aftermath of the shipwreck particularly stood out). His voice is absolutely sublime, reaching stunning (almost unfathomable) depths. It was also just brilliant to have such sass on the Globe stage! Feste is something of an enigma, so what better way to emphasise that than with casting like this?
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s first musical
Romantics Anonymous was very nearly my favourite show of 2017. It’s just so perfectly Emma! This production had a lot of familiar faces from the Summer of Love, which made it even better for me – it was like getting a hug from the stage. As perfect it was as a goodbye present from Emma, it brought so many new people into the building (partly due to casting, partly just down to the word ‘musical’ being mentioned) that it was a shame it couldn’t have been done sooner, so these latecomers didn’t miss out on the rest of her extraordinary work at Shakespeare’s Globe! I just hope that was enough of an incentive for them to keep following her work, whether with Wise Children or the current Kneehigh productions (The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and Brief Encounter).
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will tour at some point over the next couple of years, as it seems ideally suited to doing that – and there are a lot of theatres around the country that would definitely be fit to host this utterly charming musical.
Festival of Independence
This was a great education to me, as much as anything. I knew basically nothing about India’s independence from Britain, aside from the year in which it finally happened. Partition was something I was completely unaware of, as well as the sheer amount of struggling it took for India to gain its independence. So thank you, Emma, for including this as part of the summer season! I felt really lucky to go to Nitin Sawhney’s gig in the main Globe Theatre, as well as discover a wonderful new play by Tanika Gupta (Lions and Tigers) – beautifully written, designed & performed, I couldn’t resist seeing it a few times.
I think we all know my feelings about puppets. And it was really spurred on by Emma’s use of them in her shows, as much as anything. 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips was such a massive part of my life over 2016/17, with the show, the cast, and its puppets capturing my imagination entirely – what else would motivate me to take my first ever trip to New York, solo? And since then there have, of course, been others – The Little Matchgirl is a sweet (but also dark) little show, and Gyre & Gimble’s production of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is an absolute smash hit.
If you ever need to be convinced about the power and versatility of puppetry, watching an Emma Rice show is all that’s required.
This is something that I’ll never experience again. After the festivals of colour, love & excitement that were the midnight matinées of Emma Rice’s tenure, I can’t imagine ever wanting to experience it in any other way.
Definitely some of my favourite individual shows of the whole two years seemed to be saved for the midnight matinées, whether it was the actors seemingly being rather hyperactive (I can well imagine the amount of sugar & caffeine that were consumed to get them through a late double bill!), being tired & hyped up myself, or just those shows coming at just the right point in the run for them to be reaching their peak. Whatever it was, they were all magical. And I’ll never forget Benedick calling me wise!
What can I say about this wonder? Seeing her as Puck, Lily, Malvolio and various characters in The Little Matchgirl, I feel absolutely blessed (and I really hate having to use that word!). She is undoubtedly one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen perform, bringing her own unique energy & approach to every character she has to play. Not only is Katy side-splittingly hilarious, but she’s also remarkably adept at tugging on your heartstrings when she needs to (I mean, imagine regularly feeling sorry for Malvolio!). And on top of that, she’s also one of the nicest people you’ll meet – not bad, eh?
What have you enjoyed most about Emma Rice’s time at the Globe? I’d love you to leave your comments below…