Play by Candlelight 2021-22: preview

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You know things are starting to feel a bit more normal when Shakespeare’s Globe is able to announce their winter season, with a return to the beautiful candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Intriguingly, this will be the first time that £5 tickets for productions in this performance space, with 48 standing tickets available in each show. The three Shakespeare plays on the programme will have one live-streamed performance each, as the Globe continues to go global, and there will be a number of assisted performances for these plays as well (audio described, captioned, relaxed).

“This is a season deliberately designed to tackle the big moral questions and complexities with heart, humour and humanity”

Outside of these productions, there will be a number of other events taking place in and around Shakespeare’s Globe. In October half term (24-30 October), Telling Tales returns – plays for this include The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Also during this half term, the Globe’s fight team will be demonstrating Early Modern stage combat, and ‘family dressing demonstrations‘ will teach young & old how Elizabethan men & women dressed themselves.

Globe tours continue to run during the winter season. The Shakespeare and Race festival will return to Shakespeare’s Globe again sometime in the spring.

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The Globe has saved the best for… First? The play I’m most excited to see this season definitely has to be Measure for Measure. I’ve seen this on stage twice, and two very different productions at that (both excellent, but I think I was most affected by the Donmar’s production starring Hayley Attwell and Jack Lowden); it’s a tough one to get right, but the themes of this play have been inescapable this year. The intimate environment of the SWP feels like an ideal setting for the dark deeds and introspection Measure for Measure offers. I’m also a big fan of Blanche McIntyre’s work, who will be directing this production – her version of The Winter’s Tale was an unexpected delight in the Globe Theatre a few years ago, so I’m hoping for more of the same.

A discussion event (In Conversation) will accompany this production, bringing academics, writers & artists together to talk through the Shakespeare’s world and the sexual politics of the play. If this is anything like the Anti-racist Shakespeare series that has been going on alongside the summer season plays, then it will be well worth signing up for; these kind of events are really informative, and help you to look at Shakespeare’s plays in a completely different way.

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Collective eye-roll time. Yes, Hamlet is a great play. Yes, Shakespeare’s Globe wants to continue to entice audiences back. BUT THEY ONLY DID THIS PLAY THREE YEARS AGO. The Globe Ensemble took it on then, and it’s given back to them to play with again. If they want ‘big’ Shakespeare plays, then why not Julius Caesar? Perennially relevant, and there hasn’t been a full production in either performance space since I started attending in the summer of 2016 – it would be so interesting to see the dynamics at play in a smaller theatre, audience practically on top of the stage. Other ‘big’ plays which haven’t been seen for a while are Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear; these were both last seen outdoors as part of Emma Rice’s 2017 ‘Summer of Love’ season. After seeing how well the latter does in an intimate space (thanks to the Ian McKellen-led production at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre), I’d love to see the candlelit aspect work with that – and I think Much Ado could work in a similar style to that of Love’s Labour’s Lost from the 2018 summer season. I’d also have preferred Twelfth Night to have been saved for the SWP instead of being put in the Globe Theatre once again, but that can’t be changed now.

The Young Vic will finally be able to première their version of the play starring Cush Jumbo (originally scheduled for last summer), so what are the chances of this version inadvertently trying to compete with that in some way?

Obviously I will still be aiming to see this production, and maybe the casting choices (when announced) will make it more enticing – I certainly am looking forward to seeing it in a smaller space, as it could be perfect for it (especially if they follow the example of their most recent Macbeth). It’s just a shame that it’s now rather than in a couple of years’ time, that’s all.

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I’ve previously been a bit on the fence about The Merchant of Venice, having not ever seen a full version of the play onstage (my only in-person productions have been the Globe’s touring show from summer 2018 and Shit-faced Shakespeare’s unique take). Thankfully after The Show Must Go Online came along last year I’ve been able to reassess my feelings about it, and I’m ready to see a ‘proper’ in-person production; this version promises to be a “personal and political interrogation of Shylock’s play” – this notion has already upset the usual characters in the Facebook comments section, which makes me all the more inclined to really buy into this show. I’d challenge every single one of these people to watch the full TSMGO broadcast (free forever on YouTube), or at the very least the introductions and post-show Q&A; no one is trying to ‘cancel’ Shakespeare, no one is calling him a racist – all we want to do is approach the play sensitively, and find out how it fits in both a Shakespearean & modern-day context.

I’ll say the same thing here as I do to the Facebook commenters: if you can’t handle something a bit different, buy a DVD of a production you do approve of and watch that over & over again instead. Theatre is meant to change things up and explore new ways of approaching plays – especially ones that are hundreds of years old.

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I really like that Shakespeare’s Globe has got into the habit of scheduling an outdoor Christmas show each year – though, on a selfish personal note, it’s a shame that it’s quite so close to Christmas as I’m never around to be able to see it! Give it an extra week next time, please. Anyway, Hannah Khalil has written The Fir Tree (based on the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale), and it is a family show which aims to incorporate folklore with mulled wine, as the story of Christmas is told from the tree’s perspective. It definitely sounds like a lot of fun – worth braving the chilly temperatures for!

It would be nice to see the odd extra non-Shakespeare early modern playwrights featured a bit more; I’m guessing that they’re taking the cautious approach this winter season, given the disruption they’ve faced over the past couple of years, but what I wouldn’t give for a new production of The Alchemist or a bit of John Lyly… Maybe next year, eh?


Play by Candlelight runs from 19 November 2021 – 9 April 2022. Tickets are available online from 16 September 2021 at 10am.

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