All the world’s a stage – so why did she have to do it on this one?
It did seem extraordinary, to fire the feisty, feminist, inventive Emma Rice after only a year at the Globe, and the theatre community is outraged - a modicum of that outrage might be expressed in the next AI. It's sexism, a “dull backwards step”, “nonsensical”, and the Globe has doomed itself to being no more than “a museum and research centre”. A sponsor, the Joyce Carr Doughty Charitable Trust, has removed its support.
Box office has apparently been OK, so the audience is holding up; reviews have been mixed, but then this is new stuff and critics are fuddy-duddies after all; and her adventures have got the Globe onto the news pages, which must be good. So why fire her – and not till April 2018?
First, she’s done nothing wrong in that she said what she was going to do and she did it. She has taken Shakespeare, a playwright she admits to having little affinity with, and tried to give him a modern swing, as directors have been doing since the old bean wrote the stuff. She played with the script – her A Midsummer Night’s Dream that has just finished was more a paraphrase than an interpretation, but it was huge fun and was the first Globe production to be broadcast live worldwide – and “reclaimed” Cymbeline so that it was renamed Imogen. She certainly brought a new dimension to the Wooden O. So it seems she’s not being fired and she’s got a programme as well as, presumably, a contract to complete, which she will.
Those productions may have narked the Bardiasts among us, but it is legitimate playmaking. The mistake was to try to stretch this extraordinary playhouse to fit her plans. The Globe was built by Sam Wanamaker, after decades of knock-backs, to find out how theatre was made in that golden age four centuries ago: how the plays worked, how the acoustics operated, how they coped with natural light, and the effect all that had on the acting. Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole did that and introduced non-Shakespeare as well as testng the canon – as far as the venue would allow – and we’ve all learned so much about theatre then and theatre-making in general. Rice’s misunderstanding of the essence of the Globe allowed her to disguise the essential features of the theatre with lighting and sound systems that it would not have had, so that the point of the Globe was erased. She could have done this at the National, at the Roundhouse, even Nick Hytner’s new Tower Bridge theatre growing nearby. But not at the Globe.
So what the board and its CEO Neil Constable have done is, having realised that this experiment has failed, be bold enough to says so, let her get to the end of her first season and do something about it. If they were sexists they wouldn’t have hired her in the first place, and if they are backtracking, well, I would say it's more catching sight again of the original vision.