When is theatre like football?
In this guest blog, Playwright and actor Michael Wagg enjoys the football fever of our ‘Voter’s Choice’ tour, and cheers some casting goals…
I will roar that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Amid the cheering in Russia and the hollering at big screens the world over, among all the talk, since Panama, of roaring lions and football coming home, there’s another spectacle currently crossing Europe which is worth shouting about.
While, as far as I understand it, a game similar to modern football was played in China in the 3rd Century BC – making the English claim of its gift to the world seem a bit silly – the current Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour company does have, whisper it, an English gift: the bard himself, amid the gathering rabble of a theatre crowd.
It’s a welcome one too. Not only three Shakespeare comedies touring the UK, mainland Europe and Asia, but the visceral reminder that the audience matters, that our voices count, that it wouldn’t happen if we didn’t turn up. And what’s more you get to cheer! In a theatre!
The company of eight actors, directed by Brendan O’Hea, has a menu of three productions on offer at each of the performances designated ‘Voter’s Choice.’ Whether we get to see The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice or Twelfth Night, is down, purely and simply, to us.
It’s the loudest roar that wins out, judged by a randomly picked member of the audience if it isn’t immediately obvious which was the most enthusiastic racket.
At the Globe in May I saw folk slapping wooden pillars – head back, open-throated roaring abandon that I’ve only ever seen at football matches. In Spain last week the same: plus stamping of feet and arms in the air as if on a rollercoaster, at the thought of the play. It all felt perfectly Shakespearean.
And then the show starts. There and then.
On Thursday night in Madrid I counted eight seconds between the result of the vote and Russell Layton as Antonio telling us ‘In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.’
There’s a plain immediacy to this, a celebration connected to the community of theatre – and World Cup football for that matter – that the Globe’s experiment shouts of: the fact that players and spectators are gathered in the same place, too often forgotten by theatre-makers, the urgency of the moment of choice; as at the match, the effect we can have.
The three shows are great: well-paced, beautifully-spoken and clear productions. But the experiment also stands as a reminder to the democratic nature that our theatre must speak of. There is fairness here. The casting of the eight, multi-roling actors – four young, recent graduates, four older – is gender-blind and age-blind (Cynthia Emeagi, for example, plays the young Jessica, Olivia, the Prince of Morocco and the older father Baptista) and, most significantly, takes a big leap towards an equal division of leading, particularly male character, roles.
Globe artistic director Michelle Terry is currently playing Hamlet on Bankside; elsewhere Catherine Cusack is soon to play Prospero in Chester; and this tour sees Sarah Finigan playing Shylock, [the first female actor to do so at the Globe]. Something good is happening here, something really worth shouting about.
Moreover, too few women over fifty have spoken Shakespeare in the Globe. This is a balance redressed in O’Hea’s touring season, which also plays on Bankside. Sarah Finigan and Jacqueline Phillips – who plays Portia, as well as the young man Sebastian and the older man Gremio among other roles – are both over that age. Long may it continue home and away.
And for those lucky enough to get to watch all three of the Globe touring plays, there’s a real pleasure is seeing each actor’s full gamut of parts. One night Steffan Cennydd is Viola in Twelfth Night, the next afternoon he’s the Prince of Arragon, to the delight of the Spanish crowd. While Finigan swaps Shylock for Bianca and then dons Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
I was in Madrid all last week and did have the chance to go to three performances, in the hope of bagging a hat-trick. At my first whoop I got Twelfth Night; at my second, The Merchant of Venice. I’d taken a break to watch Spain v Iran, during which The Taming of the Shrew was chosen. And the next night I kept everything crossed and readied myself to scream for the Shrew again. But to no avail. The people spoke: El Mercader de Venecia. No complaints, though. This is the people’s game. Fair play.
Photography: Marc Brenner