This year it seems that the world is finally realised what some of us have known for a long time: Shakespeare rocks! Joss Whedon’s critically acclaimed Much Ado About Nothing has managed to win over both comic book geeks and Shakespeare nerds with his fresh and bold take on a classic tale. Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet, out on 26th July, promises to be a more staid and affair, but is already being compared to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 opus. However, for fans and aficionados, there’s no doubt that no one quite does Shakespeare like The Globe.
Fortunately, this year, Shakespeare’s Globe brings three blockbusters from its award-winning 2012 theatre season to the big screen. Following two incredibly successful years, the 2013 Globe on Screen season will feature Henry V, The Taming Of The Shrew and the Olivier-nominated Twelfth Night in high def, with full cinema 5.1 surround sound. Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, spoke to FilmJuice about the challenges of bringing the live theatre experience to the big screen.
Twelfth Night was performed on the Globe Stage in 2012 and subsequently went on to have a very successful run at the Apollo in the West End. What do you think is the perennial appeal of this particular play?
Twelfth Night is the perfect blend of comedy, romance and a sort of light, lyrical sadness. Crucially, it’s also popular with actors because it has eight or nine really terrific parts – it allows you to build an extraordinary cast because truly great actors will jump at the chance to be involved in something that isn’t dominated by just one person, where lots of different personalities get a shout. Twelfth Night is packed full of beautiful character writing and actors really gobble that up.
You directed Henry V. Did you do anything differently knowing that it was going to be filmed?
Not really, no. The whole point of Globe On Screen is to present the experience of a live theatre event and to give cinema audiences a real taste of seeing a Globe show. So we try very deliberately not to adjust the quality or tone of the performance for the camera. I think if we tried to compromise and the actors started reacting to the presence of the cameras, it would muddy the logic of the event and ultimately present a more confused picture of the play in the cinema.
So is there anything you would have done differently having seen it now?
As a director there are always things you would have done differently with hindsight, because you never, thankfully, believe that anything you do is not capable of growing and maturing. But I think Henry V stacks up incredibly well as a film/theatre event. It plays with that sense of distance you get when a big, epic story is told on stage, in a necessarily artificial manner. But it’s also about the journey of a particular character and there’s huge scope for imaginatively identifying with him on his wild adventure, which creates a kind of intimacy as well.
The Taming Of The Shrew has been the inspiration for several films that have used the play as a starting point. Why should someone watch the filmed Globe production instead of one of them?
The Globe always draws out the warmth and delight and humanity of a play. This is especially helpful for a play like The Taming Of The Shrew, which can seem rather toxic and ugly – but when you see it in the context of a live audience’s laughter and reaction and intelligence, it becomes more of a festival event. What the Globe also does is ‘X-ray’ a play – it shows us its bones and its original intentions in a way that can’t be replicated in other theatres or in films, because Shakespeare wrote for the open-air ‘wooden O’. So I think one of the things we achieved with The Taming Of The Shrew was a wonderful and surprising exposition of the love story at the heart of it. We showed that the metaphorical point and power of the play – which is far greater than the battle-of-the-sexes comedy – is that love is a form of service. When you have children, or get married, or feel a calling to the church to the theatre or anything all-consuming like that, you are giving the whole of your life in the service of someone or something else. That’s what Katherina’s journey is about – learning to serve – which I think is very moving. The fact that it’s framed within a poisonous and antiquated set of sexual politics is neither here nor there, and that’s why I said to the director very early on: ‘We have to present it as it is; we can’t do a post-feminist rethink.’
It helps that Sam Spiro, the actress who played Katherina, is such a titanic force. You need someone with that extraordinary willpower and complexity in the role. It means you never think she’s defeated at the end, which you shouldn’t.
How do you select which plays are going to be used for the cinema season?
Ideally we’d like to do the whole lot! It would be a huge asset for the Globe to have a library of every Shakespeare play performed on our stage. And it would obviously be great for people who can’t get to the Globe, and for Shakespeare enthusiasts, educators and students. But filming a play is an expensive project, so for now it’s about the best use of our resources and picking the plays that will be the most popular with audiences. This year we’re hopefully going to film the three Henry VI plays performed on Wars of the Roses battlefields, which should be extraordinary live and on camera.
Globe on Screen screenings Twelfth Night and Taming Of The Shrew play from July 1st and July 25th respectively. DVDs will be released later in the year.