On the second day of our brief trip to London we visited the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, next door to the Tate Modern. They run regular tours of the theatre for visitors and there’s a museum with displays about the history of Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstruction and aspects of the running of the modern theatre.
The reconstruction of the Globe was the idea of the American actor, Sam Wannamaker who moved to Britain after being blacklisted by the McCarthyite witch hunt in the the US during the early 1950s. We’d been to see his daughter Zoe acting in the play about Stevie Smith at te Hampstead Theatre the previous evening.
The guided tour of the theatre is meant to last 30 minutes and took us into the galleries and pit area where the audience at performances sit and stand. However, we didn’t get to see any of the backstage areas or stand on the stage. The Globe’s website explains
The Globe is a faithful reconstruction of an Elizabethan theatre: in Shakespeare’s day productions did not have scenery or sets like in modern day theatres, so there was no need to have a backstage area for making props and scenery, and there were also no dressing rooms.
Our guide explained about how the theatre was recreated and talked about the audience experience both in Shakespeare’s time and today.
The pit in front of the stage would have been occupied by the “groundlings”. Wikipedia tells us
A groundling was a person who frequented the Globe Theatre in the early 17th century and was too poor to pay to be able to sit on one of the three levels of the theatre. By paying one penny, they could stand in “the pit”, also called “the yard”, just below the stage to watch the play. Standing in the pit was uncomfortable, and people were usually packed in tightly. The groundlings were commoners who were also referred to as stinkards or penny-stinkers. The name ‘groundlings’ came about after Hamletreferenced them as such when the play was first performed around 1600.
After the tour of the theatre itself we had a look around the museum.
After the tour we both felt that we’d like to experience a performance (some friends of ours have been a few times and have enjoyed it) but I doubt that we’d cope with standing in the pit for three hours! So I guess we’ll pay the extra for a seat on the (probably not that comfortable!) wooden benches in one of the galleries!