Category: Shakespeare

1968 and Theatre CensorshipFifty years ago this month, the…

1968 and Theatre Censorship

Fifty years ago this month, the Sunday Times reviewed the new ‘American tribal love-rock musical’ which had just opened on Broadway. Hair was a protest – an attack by the young aimed at the Establishment, the Vietnam War, Capitalism, and the values of the older generation. The reviewer thought it was ‘the most refreshing, original and maverick entertainment… since West Side Story’, but suspected it ‘couldn’t conceivably be presented on any British stage’ – even though ‘our taboo-ridden, body-resenting, swearword-worried theatre will be poorer for its self-denial’.

The paper’s prediction was not wrong. When the script of Hair was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain in the hope of securing the licence it needed to be staged in Britain, it hit a brick wall: ‘this is a demoralising play’, frothed his secretary. ‘It extols dirt, anti-establishment views, homosexuality and free love, drug taking, and it inveighs against patriotism’. Male and female nudity was a definite no-no, while plans to involve the audience and ‘turn them on’ were offensive. One character in particular sent the officials’ hackles through the roof: ‘Claude…  is a man yet he sings of his tits and his “arse” and he has bad times like a woman’, choked the secretary. ‘Presumably a roaring pansy’.  Well, the Lord Chamberlain’s powers to censor theatre were abolished a few months later, and Hair opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre the following night. The Lord Chamberlain even turned down an invitation to appear on stage with the cast for ITV’s Eamonn Andrews Show.  

So September 1968 marked the end of a system of control – cursed by playwrights from Shaw to Osborne to Tennessee Williams and Edward Bond  – that had lasted for 237 years. It had been introduced in 1737 by Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole because he was fed up with the stage being used to make fun of him and his government. And it required that no new play could be publicly performed until the script had been formally approved by the Lord Chamberlain. I became fascinated by this history – and particularly the twentieth century part of it – around thirty years ago, when I discovered there was an individual archived file on every single new play, and I’ve been reading these ever since. And because the censorship applied to everything from professional theatre to student revues to Women’s Institute and amateur society productions, this could be anything up to around 900 files per year!

As you can imagine, it took me a while to get through them, but I’m pretty certain that now I’m the only person who has read (or probably will ever read!) through every single one. And it would take me even longer to explain how fascinating it was. You see, not so very many plays were absolutely and totally banned, but many hundreds had scenes cut, lines changed, characters removed, costumes – or even lighting – altered, by the demands of the Lord Chamberlain. Often there was extensive correspondence between St James’s Palace (where the Lord Chamberlain was based) and playwrights, theatre managers, government departments, church leaders and members of the public. From Ibsen to Shaw to Strindberg to Pirandello to Rattigan to Lillian Hellman – even to Arthur Miller and Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter – all of them had licences withheld unless and until they agreed to make the cuts he demanded.

Sometimes the contents of the files made me laugh – I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many photographs of nude and nearly-nude women, as the Lord Chamberlain bent his brain to decide which costumes and poses he should allow and which refuse for the Windmill Theatre (often signing his approval across their bodies!). Can you believe that Noel Coward was censored because the Lord Chamberlain feared his plays might encourage a Soviet-style revolution in Britain? Or Sophocles’ Oedipus because he was worried audiences might go home and commit incest? But there were also serious and appalling discoveries. Who knew that right through the 1930s – until the day war was declared in 1939 – you couldn’t stage plays critical of Hitler or the Nazis?

As one MP put it in May 1968, abolition of the Lord Chamberlain’s rule was ‘a considerable Parliamentary achievement for which not only we in the House of Commons, but generations of playwrights yet to come, as well as theatre audiences, will have reason to be grateful’. That was then; this is now.

Professor Stephen Nicholson is a panellist for Censorship: Then and Now, on 17 May – part of our Shakespeare & Censorship series.

Introducing Shakespeare & Censorship In the Elizabethan era,…

Introducing Shakespeare & Censorship 

In the Elizabethan era, regal and religious voices dominated debate over the output of theatre. Elizabeth I’s proclamations about what was, and was not, deemed suitable for public performance were galvanised in the appointment of Edmund Tilney as the Master of the Revels in 1581. A figurehead for censorship in many forms, Tilney licensed and regulated nearly every script produced for performance in London. Such was the power of Elizabeth’s appointed censor that he not only banned hundreds of specific scenes, but he also shut down entire plays like The Isle of Dogs and even sentenced writers like Jonson and Middleton to short terms in prison.

Fast forward to 2018, 50 years after the Theatre Act ‘abolished’ censorship, and countless voices are still raised in similar debates across the globe on the values and dangers of art, and the censorship of plays in the contemporary landscape. International Artists still find themselves on the run and self-censorship abounds. Art, it is clear, will always be contentious no matter what the era.

In celebration of the Theatre Act anniversary, our Shakespeare & Censorship series brings together voices from around the world to share their experiences of censorship in action and enable us to expand our understanding of the legacy of censorship we are still contending with today. Wherever you are and whatever your viewpoint, we want to add your voice to the debate. Join us in person at our panel discussions, have your say in our online twitter polls, tune in to live tweets from select events or follow our Censorship Blog series and have your say.

For those thinking of attending our in-house events for the Censorship series, we’re delighted to announce our initial line up of boundary-pushing artists and award-winning academics and journalists for our spring and summer panel events:  

On 17 May our Censorship – Then and Now panellists will be Kandy Rohman, one of the actors in the banned ‘Exhibit B’ exhibition by the Barbican; Professor Steve Nicholson, award-winning writer of a four-volume history of theatre censorship in the twentieth century and Professor John Jowett, general editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare and Arden Early Modern Drama. Patrick Spottiswoode, who became founding director, Globe Education in 1989, chairs this discussion tracing pivotal moment in the history of censorship and considering what censorship means for the arts today.

On 24 May we welcome BBC Broadcaster and journalist for The Economist and the London Evening Standard, Anne McElvoy to chair a discussion on Press Censorship and the Commonwealth. Anne will be joined by Pia Zammit, founding member of activist group #OccupyJustice; producer of, and actor in Stitching, the last play to be banned in Europe as well as Akbar Khan, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Our Shakespeare Under the Radar event on 5 July will explore the ways Shakespeare’s plays have been used to circumnavigate censors on the international stage. We welcome Radio 4 Front Row and BBC1 Newswatch presenter and award-winning journalist Samira Ahmed to chair this event. Panellists include theatre director and actor Memet Ali Alabora, whose 2012 experimental theatre production, Mi Minor, and the government’s response to it, resulted in he and his creative team having to leave Turkey. Also joining the debate are Professor Tony Howard, writer of three drama-documentaries on the history of multicultural Shakespearean acting in Britain and America and Rachael Jolley, journalist and editor of the Index on Censorship magazine.  

Later in the year, we also welcome Julia Farrington, a freelance campaigner who set up the Arts programme with Index on Censorship to tackle the causes of self-censorship in the arts to chair our Censored No More? event.

Curious about our Censorship season? Read the first in our Censorship Blog series and find out more about the events.

Happy birthday Shakespeare! Maggy Roberts ill…

Happy birthday Shakespeare!

Maggy Roberts illustration from the UK paperback edition of Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten.

Call for Fan Contributors


We are soliciting Shakespeare fan work for our forthcoming monograph, The Shakespeare Multiverse. The Shakespeare multiverse emerges out of the various worlds that are built by both Shakespeare fans and members of adjacent fandoms in a similar vein to Doctor Who, Marvel, Star Trek, DC Comics, and arguable, Jane Austen’s narratives. These artifacts might include fanfics of any genre, verse, visual art, etc. We welcome fan-generated works on characters, texts, or even about the man himself.  We ask authors to limit written works to no longer than 1000 words. 

The Shakespeare Multiverse is an academic book, and like most such publications we are almost certainly not going to make any money from this, so cannot offer any remuneration more than credit for the work and its exposure in academic circles. The book is a celebration of fan work, and an affirmation of the importance of fannish reading (we ourselves happily identify as Shakespeare fangirls); all submitted work will be treated with the same utmost respect we afford academic criticisms.
Work must be submitted by July 1, 2018.
Please PM me for more information and feel free to reblog.  

fuckyeahmovieposters: Forbidden Planet


Forbidden Planet

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: Writing EmiliaMorgan Lloyd Malcolm is a…

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm: Writing Emilia

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is a playwright and screenwriter – her newest play, Emilia was written specifically for the Globe Theatre.

A story of the often beguiling and always fascinating Emilia Bassano – whom many consider to have been a muse and inspiration for Shakespeare – Emilia opens on 10 August 2018.

When Michelle Terry asked me to write this play she didn’t just send me off to scribble away on my own; she opened up a treasure box of resources that I guess only places like the Globe can give a writer.  The first thing we both recognised from the point of commission was that it would be a very quick turnaround for a new play that would have a cast of thirteen, plus a band, and would be premiered on the Globe Theatre stage less than a year after I signed on the dotted line. Because of this, Michelle essentially said ‘whatever you need, we will let you have’, which are the best eight words a writer could hear (other than ‘we love the script, here’s your royalty cheque’, of course).  

The first part of the process involved speaking to Bill Barclay (the Globe’s Director of Music who will be composing) and getting a steer on his style, his tastes and the history of music. I also met with Dr Will Tosh and Dr Farah Karim-Cooper who are two of the incredible academics that work at the Globe and who, with their team, have since our first meeting been providing me with essays, research material and amazing insight into the world Emilia Bassano would have been living in.

This isn’t the first historical piece I’ve worked with, but it’s the most detailed in terms of recognising that this is a period of time that many people know and love and I can’t just busk it. The context around Shakespeare and his possible involvement in Emilia’s life is also a layer that I have had to make sure I know enough about before writing. I have also been working with them on such things as gender politics, feminism and race in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which have a huge influence on my play, but again add another layer. This is by far the most complex play I’ve tried to write but, as a result, it’s so much fun.

Nicole Charles (who will direct the play) and I met in December for a couple of days of chewing over the research we had been given already and reading books we had both sourced that were relevant to what we are trying to achieve and essentially make sure we are on the same page. I must say that as a writer this is a gorgeous way to work – to be with my director from the very beginning so that we are both working towards a common goal and she’s not playing catch-up a few drafts down the line is a massive gift. The fact that Michelle commissioned this with no script in existence means that everyone has started from scratch on this and therefore I’ve been able to really draw on people’s opinions, research and ideas before sitting down to write.

Talking of writing – that came at the start of February! Nicole and I had another couple of days together researching and talking in January before I sat down and wrote the first draft in two weeks. This isn’t everyone’s method but it is mine (particularly since having kids – carving out dedicated time to write is tricky and I will address this in my next blog, I think). I like to think about something, research it, talk to people for a bit and then sit down and write in a massive flurry. In fact, for the first of those two weeks I think I only wrote about twenty pages as I kept finding more things I wanted to read!  So that final push was full-on but really exciting because I knew what I wanted it to be and that by my deadline it was going to exist. It’s a bit like labour when you write like this; except you have an end point you know it has to be done by. Having had two babies it’s not necessarily as physically painful, but it’s just as draining and full of the ups and downs and lack of confidence and surges of power and happiness.  

So on 12 February my new babe Emilia was born, and I had a first draft I could send to them with an email full of ‘I know that it’s still pretty sketchy in parts and I’ve not fleshed the second half out enough but it’s a start’ kind of sentences. It’s always terrifying sending first drafts, mostly because of the massive silence you have for a short while after, as you wait for people to read it. Thankfully Nicole, Michelle and the Globe’s Literary Manager, Jessica Lusk, powered through it pretty quickly and sent me their notes straight away. Thankfully it wasn’t the disaster I had convinced myself it was and even more thankfully they were very enthusiastic.

Now onto the hard bit. Redrafting…

Words: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Margot Robbie Is Producing a Female-Led Shakes…

Margot Robbie Is Producing a Female-Led Shakespeare Series:

Great news!

Our Home: A History of Bankside, LondonTour Guide and Exhibition…

Our Home: A History of Bankside, London

Tour Guide and Exhibition Assistant Jon Kaneko-James explores what the area of Bankside would have been like in Shakespeare’s time.

The Globe is a work of beautiful and almost impossible dedication, the result of a mission to reconstruct the best possible version of a timber-framed 16th century amphitheatre and to explore what that building would do to and for performance. Built with the time and money of a dedicated group of supporters, it sits framed by trees next to Tate Modern. 

The area has moved on around it. Just as the King’s Pike Garden became warehouses which became Shakespeare’s Globe, the Victorian buildings of the Bankside have become bars and eateries. New buildings replaced old. Breweries became apartment buildings.

However, for a few decades in the 16th and 17th centuries, The Bankside – a handful of streets between what is now London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge – was alive with a strange mixture of industry and entertainment. 

From the start, Bankside was where London put things it needed, but didn’t want. The city might have been covered in a perpetual pall of smoke, but there were things that even Londoners didn’t want for a neighbour: dyers, creating their pigments by fermenting ingredients in urine; sulphur workers; mercury boiling – important both for hats and medicine; tanners; brewers; soap makers and paint makers. 

These businesses would have rubbed shoulders with the amphitheatres and other, more violent, entertainments of Shakespeare’s world. Park Street, now a mixture of offices and housing, would have been Maiden Lane. A visitor to The Globe on a show day afternoon would have turned onto the street with the Monger Brewery on their left and commercial pike fisheries to their right. The Globe and Rose playhouses would have been surrounded by tanneries, dyers and glassworks. 

Alarmingly, for a modern person, plays would have been disrupted by the roars of bears in the local baiting arenas: buildings in similar style to the Globe and Rose, but used for blood sport between animals. Fliers for celebrity bears like Old Harry and George Stone would have papered the area, with occasional glimpses of the animals being wrangled from the bear sheds on what is now the street Bear Gardens, to nearby baiting houses like the Davies amphitheatre and the Hope. 

The way home would have either been a dark, hazardous journey across London Bridge, under the heads of those who had offended Elizabeth I, or the slightly more pleasant experience of a ferry ride, leaving behind the smells and noises of the Bankside for the claustrophobic overcrowding of the smoke-haunted city of London. 

The Bankside Tour explores the sights and culture of Shakespeare’s Bankside. Tours depart every half an hour from the Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition on matinee afternoons.

Read more blogs by our Guided Tours & Exhibition staff

Words: Jon Kaneko-James

Photo: From William Smith’s MS. of the Description of England, c. 1580 – The Project Gutenberg eBook, Shakespearean Playhouses, by Joseph Quincy Adams, Wikimedia

The 2018 #GlobeEnsemble: Rehearsal Room VibesYou may have read…

The 2018 #GlobeEnsemble: Rehearsal Room Vibes

You may have read our earlier blog about why our rehearsal room has been all about experimentation, collaboration and starting from scratch.

Today we thought we’d share with you a playlist of tracks that we have been using as inspiration and motivation in our theatre-making process

Have a listen on Spotify.

The #GlobeEnsemble 

The 2018 #GlobeEnsemble: Welcome to Our Test TubeWe are the 2018…

The 2018 #GlobeEnsemble: Welcome to Our Test Tube

We are the 2018 #GlobeEnsemble (currently rehearsing Hamlet and As You Like It) and we’re getting into the swing of things. Unlike many other previous Shakespeare’s Globe companies, our group really have been starting from the very beginning.

When we first got together, ‘starting from scratch’ was a key part of our collective brief. All production choices made so far and to be made in the coming weeks will spring from what happens in our rehearsal room.

In the usual theatre-making process, for Shakespeare’s Globe and many other companies, more often than not these decisions are made months before rehearsals start, often months before the production is even cast. For our #GlobeEnsemble, this process really did begin as a completely blank canvas.

The rehearsal room belongs to all of us equally (the designer, the composer, the choreographer, the actors and the directors) in its entirety – it is a test tube in which everything and anything can be flung in and we can be as curious as we wish.

As we continue work, many ideas will be skimmed off, some will dissolve and be completely forgotten… but some powerful ideas will form crystals and be eventually assembled into final productions that we welcome you to from 25 April 2018.

Unusually, this rehearsal process is also ‘open’ which means others (such as staff, students, practitioners and other directors) can sit in the room at any time to watch the plays develop. We think it can be beneficial to share rehearsal processes and experiences, especially with Shakespeare and especially when experimentation is at play. Also, the Globe Theatre is an audience-dominated playing space, more like a football stadium than a conventional theatre! The audience have a huge influence on the performance and so having a busy rehearsal room prepares us for that busy, distracted playing space.

We’ve been thinking about how else we can ‘open’ this space to you, so for the next month we’re going to be taking you inside the test tube digitally via a series of videos and photos. We want you to feel and breathe this process as much as we do. Follow the hashtag #GlobeEnsemble and get ready to see what gets thrown into the mix.

Until next time, back to work.

The #GlobeEnsemble