The Globe: Theatre or Museum?

The Globe: Theatre or Museum?

After the news that The Globe ousted their artistic director Emma Rice broke last month, In The Middle takes a moment to consider the implications on the arts…

To be or not to be? Apparently not to be, according to the Globe’s board, who have recently decided to spurn Emma Rice as artistic director. Nick Constable, CEO, stated that Rice’s work was “brilliant and inventive”, so why have they decided to remove her from the esteemed position by 2018? Surely being inventive with light and sound is a spurious motive to dismiss her?

‘Despite success in her first season and the release of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rice has been accused of almost ruining Shakespeare through her eccentric and unconventional performances’

Critics have always been quick to scorn Rice’s efforts as she flouts tradition attempting to impress a contemporary audience. Some argue that Rice’s work is the true antithesis of what Shakespeare’s plays should be, and “is a cynical betrayal” of the bard’s legacy. Her work has even been compared to a ‘Sixth-Form disco’. Despite success in her first season and the release of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rice has been accused of almost ruining Shakespeare through her eccentric and unconventional performances. To an extent, perhaps they’re right. It could be argued that Rice’s productions eliminate the traditional atmosphere of the Globe, and distracs from its esteemed heritage. The artificial lighting, the inclusion of amplified Beyoncé and Bowie, may be a little exaggerated for the original atmosphere of the Globe – particularly for those in the audience who expected an exact replica of the original plays.

Nick Constable has since remarked that “The Globe was reconstructed as a radical experiment to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked, and we believe this should continue to be the central tenet of our work.” He went on to say that “we have now concluded that a predominant use of contemporary sound and lighting technology will not enable us to optimise further experimentation in our unique theatre spaces and the playing conditions which they offer.”

‘The Globe is neither a museum nor a heritage site, and Rice’s excellent work is proven to have been successful’

However, The Globe isn’t a museum, and abandoning ‘traditional performance’ wasn’t an issue with previous artistic directors like Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole. So is electric lighting and sound amplification truly too much? Or is it more likely that the Globe’s board of directors believe that Rice isn’t allowed as much experimentation as her male counterparts, despite “exceptionally strong box office results”. Regardless of her success, Rice’s innovative inventions are being condemned as heresy – maybe next it will be witchcraft. After all, how could a woman be more successful than a man? The Globe is neither a museum nor a heritage site, and Rice’s excellent work is proven to have been successful, as even Constable seems to grudgingly acknowledge: “Emma’s mould-breaking work has brought our theatre new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box office returns.”

If the audience is pleased with the effects of Rice’s influence, then why isn’t The Globe’s board when they’re reaping the rewards of her talent? With every performance the Globe’s reputation, already renowned and legendary, was re-established as a celebrated, worthwhile experience. Rice’s shows have been noted to be ‘Shakespeare at its best’, a reinvention of the original with the extra glamour. Only now, some extra lighting is ‘too radical’ a change, and Rice’s extraordinary creativity has been reduced to nothing. Only time will tell if the Globe’s reputation will recover from Rice’s eventual absence, or whether it will be bereft of her experience and talent.

Stephanie Bennett

(Image courtesy of Steve Tanner)

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