henry v

Act 2 – Shakespeare At The Globe

It’s thanks to Christine from witchlike that I got to experience something very unusual in Melbourne this past summer. In her post Punk Rock Shakespeare, Christine reviewed Will, a new tv series about William Shakespeare. I did a quick internet search to find out when it was screening in Melbourne. What I found was something quite interesting. Apparently Melbourne was going to build a temporary Pop-up Globe Theatre and stage Shakespearean plays! All thoughts of tv series were chased from my mind as I searched frantically for information about this unbelievable theatrical event.

The Globe Theatre was built in London in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was destroyed by fire in 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site in 1614. It was closed in 1642 by the Puritans. A modern reconstruction of the theatre, called Shakespeare’s Globe, opened in 1997 right near the original site. And now The Globe Theatre was coming to Melbourne!

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The first thing I did was go through the list of plays being staged, hoping Macbeth would be one of them. Sadly it wasn’t. The plays on offer were As You Like It, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Othello. I chose Henry V as it promised sword fights, a live canon going off, and blood – lots of blood! There was even a warning that the blood could splatter the audience. This was my play!

My next decision was what ticket to buy. There were three seating groups – Royal, Seated and Groundling. I was tempted with the Royal Rooms which were situated on the stage so you were actually up there with the all the action. They also included a roast chicken hamper. Unfortunately Royal Rooms also came with a Royal Price Tag! My next choice was Groundling which was general admission standing. The joy of being a Groundling is that you are standing right next to the stage, the actors often engage with you and there is a good chance you’ll get splashed with blood! The only problem was I didn’t think I would enjoy standing for an entire play. 

I eventually settled on seats with a good view of the stage. While ordering the tickets I noticed a fifth offering called Around The Globe In 60 Minutes, a specially commissioned show for the Pop-up Globe. As the play was only an hour long, it was the perfect show to go in as a Groundling. Tickets booked I couldn’t wait for the shows to begin.

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As I walked through the gardens of Kings Domain I couldn’t believe that I would soon be stepping into a piece of history. There, standing before me, was a replica of the second Globe Theatre. I was entranced by the Elizabethan structure which stood proud and inviting in the middle of a modern city. I eagerly entered the playhouse and was rewarded with the sight of a stunning roof painted with the sun, moon, stars and the signs of the zodiac. The open area in front of the stage, where we Groundlings would be standing, was open to the elements. Being Melbourne, I was alternately bathed in warm sunshine and chilled by a cool breeze. Behind me were three tiers of covered seating. I would be gracing one of those seats another day. For now my eyes were glued to centre stage for the beginning of my first Shakespearean adventure.

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Around The Globe In 60 Minutes is set in 1643 after the Globe Theatre has been closed by Puritans. William Davenant, William Shakespeare’s godson – rumoured to be his son – comes up with a plan to save the Globe. What ensues is a show filled with bawdy jokes, contemporary references, audience participation, fights, hangings, and blood – lots of blood! Standing in front of the stage and engaging with the actors was an awesome experience. The highlight for me was loudly booing and heckling a Puritan – something I have always wanted to do 🙂

For my second Shakespearean adventure, Henry V,  I was sitting in a seat with a large cheese platter in my lap, and an even larger gin and tonic in my hand. This was a completely different experience to the raucous fun of being a Groundling. Heartily eating and drinking whilst being entertained made me feel like an Elizabethan noble. I clapped, cheered and cried as I was taken on an unforgettable journey by some excellent actors, profound words and incredible special effects. Canons went off and the promised blood was shed and sprayed across the stage and onto the ground.

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We left the theatre in awe, only to be greeted by the sight of King Henry V and one of his “ladies” posing for photos with the crowd. I joined the queue and as I put my arm around Henry I felt as though I was touching royalty. Such is the power of a good play. 

I still haven’t seen the tv series Will, but I’ll always be grateful to Christine for leading me to the incredible experience of the Globe Theatre in Melbourne.

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