When it comes to Shakespeare’s Globe, all the world is truly a stage. This September, the world-renowned theatre company returns to Singapore as part of their global tour with three iconic plays: Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and The Taming of the Shrew. And for the first time, the house will get to choose what they want to see with the spontaneous Audience’s Choice performances – a daring throwback to Shakespeare’s days during the 16th century.
How do they do it? Tour director Brendan O’Hea tells you exactly how.
Hi Brendan. What can the audience expect this year?
This is a first for Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve never taken multiple plays out on the road before, and allowed the audience to choose which play they’d like to see, so audiences will get to experience the Globe’s ethos of experimentation. I’ve also made sure that the storytelling is crystal clear.
Tell us more about the Audience’s Choice concept.
When we were planning this year’s tour, we asked ourselves ‘what would Shakespeare do?’ We know that Elizabethan touring players travelled for months at a time with a whole programme of plays at their fingertips. The choice of play was always left to the most powerful person in the household, who would decide the evening’s entertainment. We’ve decided to hand that power back to the audience. They’re the most powerful people in the room, so the choice of play is up to them.
How is a Shakespeare’s Globe show different from all the others out there?
The Globe theatre really prioritises the connection between the actor and the audience. There are sixteen-hundred people in for every show and you have to keep them there with clear and powerful storytelling. In other theatres, once the show begins, the audience disappear in the darkness for the actors to present to; at the Globe, the audience are central to every show.
Why are the three plays you’ve selected, particularly ‘The Merchant of Venice’, more popular among audiences?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because young people study them at school. Maybe it’s because different plays are popular in different countries. For instance, when we travelled to Austria and Germany very few people chose Twelfth Night as it’s very rarely performed there, which I found surprising as it’s hugely popular in the UK. Also, they are arguably three of Shakespeare’s darker comedies, so maybe that has an appeal. The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew are particularly tricky. I didn’t like Shrew at all, but the more I worked on it, the more I fell for it. I think the ending is thorny but I enjoy the challenge of it.
What are the pros and cons of having a small cast like yours?
When you only have a company of eight actors rehearsing three plays, you have to be inventive with the casting. I’ve tried to match the essence of the actor to the character, regardless of gender or age, and I’ve found that very liberating. The actors have a huge number of lines to learn. And when they’re not on stage, they’re either playing an instrument or changing costume. But they all seem up for the challenge. I feel truly blessed with this ensemble. They’re not just talented, but also kind and open, which really helps. There’s a generosity of spirit in the room which I think comes across to the audience.
Does it take a toll on the performers? They’d have to prepare for three different roles at the same time.
Well, sometimes more than three…as they’re often playing three parts in each production. But I think they feel exhilarated by it. They love the not knowing, the challenge of it all. It’s a bit of a high wire act, so I knew I had to find eight robust actors who had the courage to take everything we threw at them. Four of the actors in our company have just graduated from drama school, so the tour is a huge challenge for them on every level.
You’ve acted in many Shakespeare’s Globe shows yourself. How did that help shape the direction you’re going with now?
I love the Globe. The Globe audiences are supremely bright. There is an acuity of hearing unlike any other theatre I’ve played in and so we are celebrating language on this tour. The architecture of the Globe, with the shared light, forces you to perform in a certain way. The audience are active visible scene partners, not passive spectators sitting in the dark. On tour, we keep the house lights on in order to maintain that open connection with the audience. We launched the tour at the Globe, and the ensemble harnessed that experience and took it out on the road.
What’s the most interesting place and setting that you’ve brought a show to?
I toured to Singapore four years ago with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was a group of very small children in the front row laughing at Helena and Demetrius. I thought what could be better than this? There was something thrilling about hearing this dead writer from four hundred years ago communicating across time to another culture. It’s the power of theatre, but especially Shakespeare – it’s a way of building bridges.
Shakespeare’s Globe will present ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ from 18 to 22 September 2018 at SOTA Concert Hall. Tickets are priced from $88, available via SISTIC.