One day, I’m going to turn up at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank and discover that a square foot of the Yard has been cordoned off with red rope, from which will dangle a little sign reading “Georgina’s Spot”. And when that day comes, I will shrug my shoulders, accept my long overdue due, and nonchalantly step into the space.
For I have now attended performances at the Globe on no less than thirteen separate occasions. And as I had Yard tickets for twelve of those, I must have spent at least 36 hours of my life standing before the stage. Which makes me a bit of a veteran. And a bit of a cheat, if you have correctly deduced that my ‘new thing’ for week 28 of this year was to watch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. But, mater reared me to abhor cheats (along with sneaks, snitches, whiners, fibbers and the smelly), and therefore cheating I am not. For although this was indeed to be my thirteenth play at the Globe, it was the very first play I was to see that had been scheduled to begin at midnight.
Even for someone with Yard-legs as assured as mine, the prospect of standing up until 3am after a full day’s work to watch a Shakespeare play was a teensy bit daunting. And when the day in question rolled around, “a teensy bit” soon became substituted for “actually rather”: it was a drainingly hot day which I spent feeling increasingly “not quite right”. The latter, I am pleased to say, transpired to be the beginning of a horrible incapacitating infection, rather than evidence of feeble-heartedness at the prospect of standing through the night, or a cunning invention to heighten the dramatic suspense of this blog. Indeed, I felt so not right that even mater – who above all else reared me to abhor wasting money – advised I give the play a miss.
But when Shakespeare calls, I run. As best I can.
So, defying not-rightness and fortified by an hour’s nap and a strong coffee, at around 11.30pm on a warm, clear summer’s night I filed into the Yard with hundreds of other Yardlings to find myself a suitable standing position for the most suitable play one could possibly hope to see on such a night: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
And I am so glad I did, for in spite of my tiredness, in spite of my non-rightness, in spite of the fact that I been to the Globe a dozen times before: watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the depth of a midsummer’s night proved not only a unique experience; it proved so enthralling that for three hours, all my second-thoughts evaporated.
The Globe’s production of Dream is first and foremost raucously funny. The comical mechanicals stole my heart from the moment they clog-danced their way on to the stage in Act I to their triumphantly diabolical staging of Pyramus and Thisby in Act V that had me literally crying with laughter – which I can assure you is a state teetotallers do not often find themselves in at three o’clock in the morning.
However, the mechanicals – and above all the brilliant, touchy Bottom – would have been hilarious at any time of day. Instead, what lifted the production from being simply good entertainment to having a quality of seductive magic was the fact that this play – more than any other play by Shakespeare – delves into the twin dark, unknown realms of the forest and the night. Worlds of spirits and shadows, the nightmare and fantasy worlds of every child who’s ever read a fairy story. In our urbanised, rationalised, street-lit, Google-mapped world, it can be hard for adults to remember the mystery and power that woodland and night held for Shakespeare and his fellow story weavers. But watching the Globe’s fairies flit and tumble about their imagined forest beneath the dome of darkest night, I briefly, ever so briefly, had a taste of that power and a memory of childhood dreams; and for a brief little while was transported to an unreal world where there are no gas bills, or office emails, or traffic jams, or vacuuming.
Over the course of the dozens of hours I have spent pressed against the stage beneath the actors’ noses, there have been many spine tingling moments: when Jacques let a tear run down his cheek; the moment Falstaff realised he would one day be spurned by Hal; the time Henry V delivered his Crispin’s Day speech and I realised what a crowd of hundreds suspended in total silence actually sounds like. I may now add one more memory to the list.
At 3am as the bells of Southwark Cathedral tolled low in the distance, Puck, the almost disconcertingly otherworldly Puck, took centre stage and addressed the black sky above us:
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate’s team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic