London's Brave New Globe: Shakespeare's Original Theater Is Re-Created at Last

By Kroll, Jack | Newsweek, June 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

London's Brave New Globe: Shakespeare's Original Theater Is Re-Created at Last


Kroll, Jack, Newsweek


Shakespeare's original theater is re-created at last

I'M SORRY, YOU CAN'T GO TO THE LOO before the queen arrives," says the usher. You don't hear that on Broadway. Last week the theater officially called Shakespeare's Globe had its gala opening in London. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in true Elizabethan fashion-by royal barge on the Thames. The reconstruction of the sacred shrine of English theater, the original Globe built in 1599, took four years and cost $13 million. Mark Rylance, the 36-year-old artistic director of the Globe company, rolled the theater "revolutionary."

There's no doubt the new Globe is a marvel of research and craftsmanship. It's the second coming of Shakespeare's famous "wooden O." The theater is open to the sky and enclosed by a 20-sided polygon of green oak, plastered with ground limestone and goat's hair; it boasts the first thatched roof in London since the Great Fire of 1666. The original Globe burned down in 1613 and was rebuilt, only to be closed in 1642 by Oliver Cromwell's party-pooper Puritan government and later dismantled. The new theater is a splendid and emotionally moving structure. But can a revolution take place in a reproduction of a 400-year-old theater?

Time will tell. Last week nearly 1,000 people seated on benches in three covered galleries-and 500 "groundlings" standing in front of the stage-saw chunks of the Globe's first two productions, "Henry V" and "The Winter's Tale." "Henry" was directed by Richard Olivier, Laurence's son. It seemed as if he and Rylance, who played Henry, were trying for the antithesis of Laurence Olivier's great 1944 film of "Henry V," with its triumphal jingoism. Rylance gave the St. Crispin speech before the battie of Agincourt with a prayerlike humility--the opposite of Olivier's thrilling cannon-voiced delivery. David Freeman's staging of "Winter's Tale" conjured up the magic and myth in this fable of jealousy redeemed and love reborn.

Richard Olivier, 35, is an experienced director, but amazingly "Henry" is his first Shakespeare. He admits he felt overshadowed by his titanic father: "I was deliberately avoiding Shakespeare for 10 years as a director." He identifies with the Henry story because it's like his own, "the young son stepping out from his father's shadow to pursue his own destiny. …

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London's Brave New Globe: Shakespeare's Original Theater Is Re-Created at Last
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