Shakespeare at the Pop Up Globe

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The Pop Up Globe, as seen on the walk from my hotel to the conference venue.

Earlier this month work sent me to a conference in Auckland. This isn’t something which would normally make the pages of this blog – which I intentionally keep quite separate from my working life – except for the fact that the conference in question was being held at the Ellerslie Events Centre in Auckland. The hotel at which I was staying was about five minutes’ walk away, and in between lay something which I’d longed to visit ever since I first heard of it – the Pop Up Globe.

Constructed in early 2016, the Pop Up Globe was designed to recreate the Second Globe Theatre, which stood on the South Bank of the River Thames between 1614 and 1642 (replacing the First Globe Theatre, which burned down as the result of a canon-related incident during a performance of Henry VIII). The Second Globe Theatre was designed by Shakespeare and his company, The King’s Men, to provide the best possible performance space for their plays.

Pop Up Globe design
3D diagram of the Pop Up Globe. Note that, as in the original, the centre of the theatre is open to the air, allowing natural light to penetrate.

While a (conjectural) reconstruction of the First Globe Theatre stands on London’s South Bank today – in fact, I was lucky enough to attend a play there about 15 years ago, although all I can remember now is that it was one of the Histories – the Pop Up Globe is based on the most recent research into the Second Globe, and reconstructs it as closely as possible. The theatre accommodates approximately 900 people, including ‘groundlings’ who watch the performance while standing in the open air area in front of the stage, and three tiers of seating of varying quality from basic backless benches to private boxes.

The reconstruction doesn’t end there. While actresses appear alongside the actors as part of ‘The Queen’s Company’, the costuming and music reproduces as nearly as possible that which would have been familiar to the original audience, and ‘The King’s Company’ is all-male. At the start of the show we were entertained by troubadours playing on a variety of instruments and accompanied by a dancer. And the show closed with a rousing jig, something which apparently ended every show during the Shakespearian period.

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Photograph taken from my seat in the Upper Gallery, showing troubadours performing before the play. At bottom right you can just see a few people standing in front of the stage – the ‘Groundlings’.

Having discovered the Globe, my most pressing question immediately became ‘is there a mid-week performance? I don’t care what play it is, is there a performance on Wednesday night, and are there still tickets available?!!’ It turned out there was, and there were. The play which appeared that night was Othello, which I studied in high school, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy the black-and-white-era movie version which we watched then, I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it centres around Othello, a Moor (also referred to as Black), who has risen to high rank in the army of the Duke of Venice. He has married a white woman, the sweet Desdemona, and the pair are very much in love. Enter Iago. Passed over for promotion, the quite possibly sociopathic Iago is determined to have his revenge by wrecking the lives of Cassio, who was promoted instead of him, Othello, who passed him over, and Desdemona, quite possibly because he seems to really hate women.

Pop Up Globe Othello
Jasmine Blackborow as Desdemona and Te Kohe Tuhaka as Othello. Photograph from The Pop Up Globe publicity material.

His mission is made easier by the fact that everyone except his wife, Emelia, and, towards the end of the play, his ‘friend’ Roderigo, likes and trusts “honest Iago.” The result is physical and psychological carnage: over the course of the play Cassio is disgraced and seriously wounded, Othello is driven progressively mad with jealousy, Roderigo is killed, and Desdemona… well, let’s just say it doesn’t end well for Desdemona. Or, indeed, for most of the other main characters.

The actors were amazing, playing their roles with incredible passion and delivering their lines with a modern inflection, and sometimes some rather imaginative hand gestures, to ensure that Shakespeare’s English was as comprehensible as possible to a modern audience.

Pop Up Globe Cast
No actors were harmed… members of the Pop Up Globe company, from the Pop Up Globe website.

And the jig at the end? I thought it was marvellous, especially after the tragic and emotionally-charged climax of the play – a visual disclaimer that it was all just pretend and ‘no actors were harmed in the making of this play’. If I lived in Auckland I’d definitely be back for one of their three other 2017 productions, or hanging out for the 2018 season. As it is, I’m so very glad I seized the opportunity when it presented itself so unexpectedly. I only wish that something like this had been available back when I was watching that black-and-white production in high school.

Boss, if you’re reading this, thank you!

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