The Globe Theatre burned down 399 years ago — a cannon misfired during a staging of Henry VIII, which set the thatched roof alight.
The theatre was rebuilt, only to be demolished by the Puritans for tenement housing in the early 1640s. It rose again in the late 1990s, thanks to the vision and tenacity of American actor and director, Sam Wanamaker. It was restored to its original, opened-aired, doughnut-shaped, wood-and-plastered design.
Globe Theatre productions have a singular flavour. As You Like It, a revival of a production from last year, will be staged in the Castle Yard in Kilkenny, a stop on the road that includes venues such as beaches, castles, Regency theatres, Georgian theatres, stadiums, a Hapsburg palace in Austria, the Globe Theatre itself and, says director James Dacre, “a great square in the centre of Bucharest with four lanes of traffic buzzing past during the performance”.
The troupe arrives in Kilkenny 24 hours before the first night. “We are a group of travelling players,” says Mr Dacre. “We are a close-knit ensemble. The entire playing style is about how a small company of actors, absolutely prioritising the power of the spoken word and the beauty of Shakespeare’s verse and his powerful poetic imagery, can tell a story using little more than their own imagination, and can conjure up an imaginary world that’s not about excessive design. And we don’t have any electricity in our productions. There’s no staging, no lighting, no amplification. It’s about putting the actor at the heart of the process.
“It’s really trying to say something about the way Shakespeare wrote for his actors, but also the way there would have been doubling in his performances. There would have been cross-dressing. Also — and key to our production — there would have been a lot of original music. Every single actor in the show plays a number of instruments over the course of the evening. It’s a very energetic and spirited affair. We see this company of eight making several dozen costume changes and being responsible for every transition, every character and every song in the play.”
The action in As You Like It hinges on the thwarted love affair of Orlando and the daughter of a banished duke, Rosalind, who is also ejected from court. It is memorable for its epic wrestling match, frolicking in the forest of Arden and the “all the world’s a stage” monologue. Irish actress Deirdre Mullins is the lead.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” says Ms Mullins. “If you’d said to me, ‘you’ve got one more job you’re allowed to do for the rest of your life’ I would have said, ‘right, I want to play Rosalind and I want to do it in the Globe.’ It’s such a cool part, and for me it certainly fits my temperament — I love banter and mischief. Rosalind is a really fun, vital girl.”
“It’s interesting,” she says of how Shakespearean casts were originally all-male, “my part would have been a boy playing a woman playing a man playing a woman. Gender and the idea of performing gender is a huge theme of the play. I’m playing a boy half the time, which gives you such licence. There’s something really naughty about it. Even though it’s such a joyous romp of a play, I feel there’s actually something in the laughter of people — that they forget that there’s something a bit dangerous going on. That men and women are just socially constructed things. All of us, including the audience, are just playing our roles — all the world’s a stage.”
There will be space for 400 audience members in Kilkenny’s Castle Yard. Actors in a Globe Theatre production, in keeping with the Elizabethan style, see into the whites of the eyes of audience members. As plays are staged in daylight, soliloquies, for example, have a natural feel; they’re conversations between an actor and the audience.
“It’s a very interactive style,” she says. “You’re looking at the audience and talking to them as if they’re in the scene almost. You get this sort of fourth-wall effect in a presidium-arch theatre, which is where actors vaguely face outwards, but the audience are in darkness. You can’t see them. There’s not a sense that somebody could shout something up and an actor would react to it on stage. In a normal theatre, you’re watching something that’s isolated from you. In the Globe, it’s such a visceral performance style. There’s such a sense of play. You can get a lot of noise interruptions, like planes flying overhead.
“Each venue has its own challenges. In Budapest, we were playing in 39 degrees, in three layers of tweed-and-velvet costume. The sweating was unbelievable. I was at serious risk of fainting. And we had a stray dog wander just beside the stage. It can be completely random, which is gorgeous. It means the audience can see you genuinely reacting to what’s happening, or if someone laughs really loud and the clown, Touchstone, makes fun of them, there’s a feeling that we’re performing for this unique audience in this unique place, that it’s not just a performance we’d whack out. It’s always being remade. It’s what theatre has always historically been about, something that everybody takes part in.”
* Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s production of As You Like It runs at the Castle Yard, Kilkenny Design, Friday, Aug 10 — Sunday, Aug 19. Globe Theatre director James Dacre is in conversation with Fiach MacConghail, The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, 12 noon, Sunday, Aug 12.