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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Making Waves

Boy has it been a depressing day in theatreland - I've been trying to work all the angles of the conscious uncoupling of the Globe and Emma Rice, and I can't see how this could have been done worse.  Everyone's unhappy - even those who don't like her work are worried about how it all looks.
I'm not going to talk too much about the artistic logic of modern dress v original practices, and the other careworn non-arguments that were news in the 1900's and rather tedious now, and focus initially on the logic of the committee.  The Globe is an interesting beast, built slightly too late to fulfill a dream, run to be artistically and educationally interesting and always in danger of being a tourist trap.  At the top of all this is the obligatory board/trustees... a committee.  (I don't know precisely how it's constituted, but a committee is a committee whatever the constitution.)  
The board/trustees/committee obviously realised that the status quo would have to change - after two directors who played with original practices and the odd discrete experiment, director number three had to be different.  Thus did the board/trustees/committee create one hell of a Heffalump trap for themselves.  I think I can see how this might have happened, having met a few boards in my time.

Once Upon A Time... I remember pitching a big project to a board once.  The project was big, exciting, mad and I didn't expect anyone to go for it.  Much to my surprise, they did.  Project announced.  Then, when we met again, I presented how I would make it happen and the room went a bit quiet and awkward.  In a flash I realised - they hadn't believed me when I said I actually wanted to do something big, exciting, and mad, they assumed I was just saying it.  It was clear that the project was doomed because, though they liked the idea of something big, exciting, and mad, they sure as hell didn't want the project to actually be big, exciting, and mad.
I suspect this is what happened at the Globe.  Emma Rice pitched a big, exciting, mad change of direction and they bought into the idea.
Then, fuck me, she actually went and did it!
And worse, it seems to have made a fair bit of money.

Why do I say worse?  Sometimes a huge success is as dangerous to an institution as a failure.  A board likes a stable balance sheet, likes to see trends and an audience it can predict.  I suspect the statistics on box office showed a boost of new and younger people and a signification drop in the regular audience.  Let's not pretend that a lot of people were right miffed at the change in format (LIGHTS!)  I suspect that the board/trustees/committee feared losing that regular audience and that they wanted to reassure them that normal service will be resumed asap - hang in there guys, we'll get her out as soon as we can!  Because no one wants to lose an audience of regulars who will come to another bog standard production of Measure for Measure rain and shine.  Those fickle new audience might only come for the five star reviews - and you can't guarantee those.
Of course, I speculate.
There is another issue at play as well - those who have an emotional connection with the founding of the theatre as a recreation of the original, as a place to act the plays as composed.  I understand that feeling, whilst intellectually it has to be dismissed.  Beyond the obvious problems with performing plays 'as they were originally' which is impossible without an actual time machine, this project of the original was taken away from the Globe before it was erected.  If had been built when it was first conceived then it would have been unique and valuable.  Built when it was, it isn't quite.  The building itself is deeply flawed as a recreation of the Globe, or any playhouse of the period.  Ironically, considering how long it took to be made, if it had been built a little later it might have been based on actual archaeology, as we now have a lot of the footings for the original playing spaces.  It also isn't even unique anymore - there are now plenty of other recreated spaces in situ or planning around the world which do the same or similar jobs.
That said, it has had success in advancing our understanding of original practices, but there is increasingly a sense that there isn't much left to be done there - which is probably why the Globe chose Emma Rice in the first place.  The Globe has now staged the complete canon of Shakespeare, largely in original practice form or similar, and filmed many of them.  Whilst there is room for doing more of the same, it starts to get a bit reductive.  If there are any plays to be staged in original practice form - and there are plenty - they aren't ones by Shakespeare.  Shakespeare is the last person of the period who needs to be staged this way.
But, still, I understand the emotions around original practice, or OP lite as we've had for the last few years.  Quite reasonably the Globe started only paying lip service to OP once it stopped being interesting - it's gone from solid research to house style very quickly.  But the house style is nice and safe and I'm sure the regulars love it.

But perhaps we're being unfair to the board and the audience that they prefer.  Perhaps it was too much to ask of the audience they had (of the people who built the space, who invested money and emotion in it) to see it handed to someone who wanted to do something very different.  To open their space to a different style and different audiences - to not just talk about different audiences, but have the fuckers actually TURN UP!  To have a different audience come, to have them not just enjoy the shows, but enjoy them in a different way - a way that feels uncomfortably like how it might have been in Shakespeare's day.  As a contemporary event.  Perhaps there's an emotional lashing out because Emma Rice has connected to the spirit of Shakespeare at done it better than any doublet and hose ever could.  That might stick in my craw a bit, if I spent my life trying to recreate something and watch someone else do it better, without literally recreating a fucking thing.  How dare she?
So, the rejection of Emma Rice isn't just about a rejection of a more modern way of staging, of using lights and sound, or any of the other elements in this little mess (and I haven't even got to the sexism!) it's about a rejection of an audience, of an idea of what the audience and a space can do together, it's a rejection of feeling something bigger and bolder and brighter, it's about settling for something just a little bit safer, something that might be more manageable, something that doesn't make so many waves.
And that's possibly what the trustees/board/committee etc. want.  They might not say it, they might not realise it, but their established audience are fairly predictable on the balance sheet, and they don't make waves.

Emma Rice makes wonderful waves.
She had to go.

1 comment:

  1. You have made your anger so eloquent Robert, fantastic piece and wise about the way public bodies work everywhere.