Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on Wednesday announced its post-lockdown summer reopening plans, with a series of safety protocols in place – including no intervals.
The play’s the thing and not the glass of wine and dash to the toilet in the middle, theatregoers will realise.
Announcing the season, which will see productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, artistic director Michelle Terry said the switch to continuous performances was a good and exciting thing.
“They were never written with intervals so we won’t play them with intervals,” she said. “They’ll work better without them, in my opinion.”
Terry said there is a momentum and accumulation in Shakespeare’s plays which is best not disrupted. An interval breaks “a tension that he is deliberately trying to create”, she said.
Shakespeare himself, in the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, wrote of the “two hours’ traffic of our stage”. As many theatregoers well know, his plays can go on for considerably longer.
Terry said: “I’m not pinning directors down to make it two hours but I’ll think we’ll look for two-hour traffic, two-and-a-half hour traffic plays, and allow these plays to be played as they were written.”
It will also empower audiences, she said. “The joy is you’re not fixed in your seat. If you need to get up and go to the toilet you can go, if you need to get up and get a breath of fresh air, you can go, because we also know that he [Shakespeare] said everything at least three or four times. If he really wants you to know something he’ll make sure he repeats it.”
The outdoor theatre on the South Bank in central London will reopen on 17 May with social distancing in the audience and on stage. Seats will be placed in the space where groundlings normally stand, arrival times will be staggered, entrances allocated and drinks pre-ordered.
In line with government guidelines the distancing will be reduced from 21 June, with the hope being, as vaccination is rolled out across the population, mass congregation returns.
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, like all arts organisations, has been brought to the brink of closure by the pandemic, using its reserves and benefiting from the government bailout in order to survive.
Chief executive Neil Constable said the theatre would operate this summer at half the scale it was at before the pandemic, with annual turnover expected to be down from £25m to £12m.
Terry said it had clearly been a challenging time for everyone, but “that’s quite enough reality. Now let’s have some imagination, let’s have some play.”
She added: “That’s the aim of this season, to have some catharsis. Not deny the time … [we need to] acknowledge the grief, the loss, the anxiety. But let’s use plays, let’s use theatre to learn how to be together again.”
Luckily, she said, they had a resident writer all too aware of how to emerge from such dark times.
Terry said it was a “once in a generation opportunity where the audience will understand the context of the play as much as the players”. For example, no one would need to have “a plague on both your houses” explained to them.
“Not to deny the hell of that play, the dystopia of that play, the broken society, the police brutality. Shakespeare does not shy away from the difficult conversations and neither will we.”