All the world’s a stage, especially at The Globe.
For some 500 years, London has been a thriving hotbed of theatre, filling the playhouses with the work of playwrights new and old. In terms of sheer spectacle though, nowhere can best The Globe, the stunning replica of an Elizabethan playhouse that premiered many of Shakespeare’s best-loved works. Famed for their outdoor performances of The Bard’s classics, an evening at The Globe is a theatrical experience like no other. Here’s all you need to know! (See also: 45 unmissable theatre shows in London this year.)
The Globe overview
We’ll clear up one misconception straight away: Shakespeare never actually set foot in The Globe, despite it often being referred to as ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’. The Globe is a meticulously constructed replica of the original Globe Theatre, which opened in 1599 on a site a few hundred metres away from its modern equivalent. The original theatre had a colourful history; constructed from the timbers of The Curtain (London’s second ever theatre), it was set on fire by an errant cannon during a production of Henry VIII in 1613, rebuilt the following year, and eventually torn down by the notoriously fun-averse Puritans in 1644.
The modern version was the vision of legendary American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, who spent some 23 years researching, designing, and fundraising for the project. Sadly, he never saw it finished; work on The Globe was completed in 1997, some three and a half years after Wanamaker’s death. To commemorate his work, one of The Globe’s two theatres bears his name – the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a candlelit space inspired by the indoor playhouses of Jacobean London.
The other theatre is the Globe Theatre, the circular outdoor theatre which draws most of the attention, and plays host to productions from April to October (the Wanamaker Playhouse hosts winter shows between November and April). Together, the two spaces offer a programme of theatre determined by the Globe’s artistic director, a post occupied by such luminaries as Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance. The current artistic director, Michelle Terry, has a plain-stated intention to modernise The Globe’s output, by using methods include directorless, actor-led productions, genderblind casting, and a strong commitment to diversity – which means these plays are unlike any Shakespeare you’ve seen before.
Things to see at The Globe
It’s the theatre, dahling, so you’ll most likely end up watching a play or two. Productions run throughout the year, following the structure of a summer season (mostly hosted in the Globe Theatre) and a winter season (usually housed in the Wanamaker Playhouse). For the best experience of theatre as it was in Shakespeare’s day, you’ll want a standing ticket for a show in the Globe Theatre, peering up at the ornate stage in a unique approximation of historical London theatre.
Productions run throughout the year, and unsurprisingly tend to ramp up in the summer – this year, the summer season begins on April 23rd (don’t worry, we’ll get to the upcoming shows shortly). The Globe really do go above and beyond in trying to accommodate all kinds of theatregoers – not only do they offer British Sign Language performances and captioned performances for the deaf or hard of hearing, but they also run audio-described shows for those with declining sight, and relaxed performances for those with autism, learning disorders, or sensory and communication disabilities. Which really is jolly decent of them.
If you’re not here for a play, you can undertake a guided tour of The Globe, tracing the history of the theatre through a series of colourful stories. The theatre also offers a wide range of talks, including a fascinating Ask The Actor series, special events, poetry nights, and workshops. Back in the realm of the theatrical, The Globe’s ‘Read Not Dead‘ series gives actors one morning to rehearse a forgotten play, and then perform it in the afternoon in a laidback setting.
Current and upcoming productions at The Globe
From gripping history plays to outrageous comedies, there’s something for every audience at The Globe in 2019.
Edward II, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, February 7-April 20: Not a Shakespeare joint, but a cracking effort from his contemporary Christopher Marlowe. Poor Edward suffered his share of setbacks – including a defeat at the hands of his wife’s army, and his eventual murder – and Marlowe captures it all in dramatic detail. Tickets and info here.
Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, February 22-April 21: I did say Michelle Terry had brought a very different approach to The Globe, and this revolutionary show is no different. The cast is entirely women of colour, bringing new resonance to a play focused on identity and Britishness. Tickets and info here.
Romeo and Juliet, Globe Theatre, February 28-March 23: Surely you know the story by now? Star-crossed lovers, feuding families, tragic death scenes – any of this ringing a bell? Designed to introduce new audiences to Shakespeare, this particular production is an easy-access version, trimmed to a brisk 90 minutes. Tickets and info here.
Henry IV, Part 1, Globe Theatre, April 23-October 11: This summer, The Globe dive deep into The Bard’s history plays. Following on from Richard II, Henry already has enough on his plate with Scotland and Wales threatening a rebellion, but his son (and the future king) Hal’s predilection for the pub is equally troubling. Tickets and info here.
Henry IV, Part 2, Globe Theatre, April 25-October 11: Errant knight Falstaff takes centre stage in the Henry IV sequel, as the king sickens and Hal moves closer to assuming the crown. Life in the brothels and taverns of London is about to get rather tricky… Tickets and info here.
Henry V, Globe Theatre, April 30-October 11: Finally seated on the throne of England, and acting like a king, Hal (now Henry V) sets his sights on another kingdom: France. Outnumbered and underprepared, the action comes to a head on the fields of Agincourt, where Henry’s reign will be made or undone. Tickets and info here.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Globe Theatre, May 17-October 12: Dealing with the same period of history, but in a much lighter way. Falstaff returns to lead this production, this time with a cockamamie scheme to seduce the married Mistresses Page and Ford. Why do I suspect that isn’t going to work? Tickets and info here.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Globe Theatre, June 28-October 13: It’s just not summer without an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream! The Globe are gearing up for another production of the classic comedy, in which the course of love takes a fair few twists and turns. Tickets and info here.
Twelfth Night/The Comedy of Errors/Pericles, Globe Theatre, May 4-August 24: Yes, I know this is technically three plays, but The Globe’s Touring Ensemble will rotate them throughout the summer season. There’s shipwrecks in Twelfth Night, mistaken identity in The Comedy of Errors, and world travelling in Pericles – with the added wildcard of the Audience Choice experiment (see below), no less.
As You Like It, Globe Theatre, August 7-September 21: A well-regarded show from the 2018 summer season returns for a short run. During a jaunt into the Forest of Arden, a whole host of misunderstandings and tricks will turn enemies into friends, and friends into lovers. Tickets and info here.
When to visit The Globe
You can’t really limit good theatre to a certain time, but as I’ve mentioned, the summer season is possibly the best time to visit. Watching live theatre in the summer sunshine (hopefully), standing in the yard just as audiences would have in Shakespeare’s day, is honestly an experience every London resident and visitor should have. Plus, at only £5 for a standing ticket, trips to The Globe certainly aren’t going to break the bank.
The Globe normally run a few special events around Shakespeare’s birthday (widely accepted to be April 23), including their long-running Shakespeare Walks. On April 21st & 22nd, you can embark upon a two-hour tour of Shakespeare’s London, brought to life by a company of twenty-two actors, and ending up at The Globe.
One new addition during Michelle Terry’s reign is the intriguing Audience Choice. For five performances of the Touring Ensemble’s season, you’ll walk into The Globe without knowing which play you’ll be seeing. As the ensemble are performing Twelfth Night, The Comedy Of Errors, and Pericles all summer, they’re well-versed in each – so on Audience Choice nights, the audience decides which play the actors will be performing, via the highly scientific method of ‘loudest cheer wins’. Terrifying for them, but good fun for you!
Restaurants, pubs, and bars near The Globe
You don’t even need to leave The Globe to be fed and watered: the in-house Swan Restaurant makes use of locally-sourced produce to deliver modern British cuisine. The restaurant also offers a fun Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed afternoon tea, which really is the food of love in our opinion (yes, I know that’s a Twelfth Night quote, but sue me). For a pre-theatre libation, check out the Swan Bar’s range of cocktails, which includes the intriguing prospect of a Rhubarb Negroni.
Away from The Globe itself, you’ll find a whole host of restaurants in which to sate your appetite before or after the show. The stylishly-designed Sea Containers restaurant boasts a varied all-day menu, delicious small plates take centre stage at nearby Lupins, highly-regarded Native makes incredible use of a zero-waste policy, and a branch of London favourite Caravan is close by too.
A wander up the South Bank will take you to a whole range of riverside bars, or you can head the other direction towards London Bridge and Borough Market – handily, we’ve got a guide to the best pubs in the area. As Shakespeare himself once wrote, “Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people”!
The Globe visitor information
Bowled over by the prospect of open-air Shakespeare? Here are all the useful visitor details you need to know about The Globe.
Location: 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT. See it on Google Maps.
Nearest stations: Southwark, London Bridge, and Blackfriars.
Price: at the Globe Theatre, you’ll pay just £5 for a standing ticket – or you can opt for a seat in the gallery, which begins at £23. In the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, standing tickets are £10, and seated tickets begin at £20.
Opening times: during the summer season, matinees begin around 1-2pm, evening shows anywhere between 6:30-8pm. Box office hours are 10am-6pm, tours run daily from 9:30am-5pm, but are subject to performance schedules.
More information: available on their website.
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Featured image: @irrphotography
Also published on Medium.