Cheryll Duncan: Reflections from the Globe Theatre

This summer the WSG annual outing was to the Globe Theatre, where a Study Day had been organised by WSG member Miriam Al Jamil in association with Globe Education. The event consisted of a visit to the theatre’s Library and Archive, followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (on until 5 August). WSG member Cheryll Duncan reflects on the trip:

The Globe’s Library and Archive is a research facility for academic scholars and theatre practitioners: the Library comprises several collections of books broadly concerning Shakespeare studies and theatre history, while the Archive’s holdings relate entirely to the history of the current theatrical site. In view of the pivotal role that research played in the Globe reconstruction project from the outset, and its continued importance in shaping the theatre’s work today, it comes as something of a surprise to find the collections are housed in a very modest building indeed. There are plans for a new, purpose-built library in the future, but with current space at a premium there is little opportunity for even the most significant items to be exhibited. We were therefore fortunate in that an interesting cross-selection of materials had been put together especially for our visit by Archivist Victoria Lane.

Mark Rylance’s costume for Olivia, Twelfth Night (2012)

A magnificent black velvet dress worn by Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia (Twelfth Night, 2012 production) from the ‘Original Practices’ Clothes Archive was the most striking item on display. This collection consists of garments created from historically-informed textiles and techniques for use in specific original practice productions. As the Globe’s first Artistic Director, Rylance is a dominant presence in the archives; among the more personal items available for us to look at was a letter from Eddie Redmayne in 2002, regretfully declining the role he had been offered because he wanted to complete his Cambridge degree. We watched an extract from the Moving Image Archive, which holds recordings of all productions at the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (only available to view on site). Several performances of each play are recorded using multiple static cameras set at different angles to the stage, thereby capturing not only a range of audience viewpoints but the arc of an entire production.

Other materials from the Performance Archive include prompt books, photographs, posters, programmes and press reviews, a selection of which was assembled for us to peruse. Among the many interesting books from the library collections is Salvador Dali’s illustrated Macbeth, Ellen Terry’s Four Lectures on Shakespeare (with her own annotations), and recent publications by the Globe’s in-house academic researchers, including Will Tosh whose particular interest concerns gender identity in the early modern period.

As an unexpected bonus, English folklore expert Jon Kaneko-James gave us a tour of the theatre’s current exhibition. This comprises an art installation and exhibits relating to Renaissance ideas about alchemical structures and transformations, which is a particular interest of Rylance and informed the experimental 1991 production of The Tempest. Jon also gave a fascinating talk about alchemy, emphasizing its significance as a democratizing force and citing the large number of self-taught women practitioners in Elizabethan England.

The day concluded with a performance of Twelfth Night, part of the Globe’s ‘Summer of Love’ season and the last to be directed by Emma Rice. Her view of the play will not endear her to Shakespearean traditionalists, yet the result was insightful on a number of different levels and hugely engaging, as was testified by the rapt attention of a packed (and largely youthful) audience.

This production takes the kind of irreverent approach to Shakespeare that an audience of the eighteenth century might have enjoyed; there are lots of amusing interpolations to the text, and the dramatic structure is subverted by an invented Prologue depicting a shipwreck, which contextualises Act 1: scene 2. From the opening dance routine where white-clad sailors sing the 1979 hit song ‘We are Family’ by Sister Sledge, music plays a very significant role in this production; Ian Ross’s score is an expertly executed tour de force ranging from Highland jigs to calypsos, hard rock, disco, punk, folk, Argentinian tango and much more. Such eclecticism surely keeps faith with Shakespeare, who calls for a wide variety of music in Twelfth Night – not as incidental to the play, but as integral to its larger dramatic considerations (though for a dissenting opinion, but still rapturous review, see Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph).

In the same way, Rice’s lengthy afterpiece with its semaphore dance routine might be seen as a homage to the traditional Elizabethan jig, though in this case with music in place of the traditional spoken text. The production plays on the gender fluidity that lies at the heart of the play by, for example, casting Feste (performed by impressive bass-baritone Le Gâteau Chocolat) as a bearded, be-sequined drag queen. The role of Malvolio is taken by the diminutive Katy Owen, dressed as a moustachioed boy and sporting a pronounced Welsh accent. There are pantomimic elements, certainly – the cheeky entrance of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (who wears a pink Pringle sweater and talks with a lisp) is itself worth the price of a ticket – but there is much more to this production than mere high-spirited, anarchic misrule. I enjoyed it immensely, but also found it illuminating and deeply thought-provoking, and have already booked to see it again.

Romantic Novels 1817: Thomas Love Peacock

WSG member Susan Civale‘s Romantic Novels 1817 seminar series continues this month with a discussion of Thomas Love Peacock’s Melincourt lead by Dr Freya Johnston (Oxford).

The session will take place on Friday, 10 March 2017, at 6pm, at the University of Greenwich, in Queen Anne Court (marked ‘2’ on the map), Room 063 (a slight change from the first session). The seminar is free and open to the public.

Melincourt, Peacock’s second novel, is a vibrant satire of opinion, with a wide gallery of characters and a sophisticated armoury of stylistic and comic tools at its disposal. Female novelists, female dialogue, and female education all feature prominently, while the greatest joke in this novel of talk is that the hero, a chivalric orang-outang who strides triumphantly across a scene of human degeneracy, cannot speak at all.

Freya Johnston is a fellow and lecturer in English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. She is general editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Novels of Thomas Love Peacock (2016-) and volume co-editor of his sixth novel, Crotchet Castle (2016).

A note on editions: Melincourt can be tricky to get hold of. There is a decent version of the whole novel available on google books.

The London & Southeast Romanticism Seminar, co-run by WSG member Susan Civale, is putting on a seminar series from January on “Romantic Novels 1817”.  After March, the next seminar is on Thursday 18 May, with Jenny McAuley (QMUL) leading a discussion of William Godwin’s Mandeville. Please contact @reading1817 or reading1817@gmail.com for further details.

Reminder: WSG January seminar 2017

WSG’s next seminar takes place in just over a week, with papers on seventeenth-century sequestration, Mary Beale’s portraiture, and imagining the future in the (very long) eighteenth century.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Saturday 21st January, 2017. Chair: Lois Chaber
Charlotte Young: “Our Wives you find at Goldsmiths Hall”: Women and sequestration during the English Civil War.
Helen Draper: Mary Beale and the Performance of Friendship.
Mascha Hansen: Beyond Marriage: Envisioning the Future in Women’s Writings, 1660-1830.

Romantic Novels 1817 Seminars

 

The London & Southeast Romanticism Seminar, co-run by WSG member Susan Civale, is putting on a seminar series from January on “Romantic Novels 1817”.  All seminars will be held at the University of Greenwich campus, starting at 6pm, and all will be free and open to the public.  Please contact @reading1817 or reading1817@gmail.com for further details.

Friday 27 January 2017, Gillian Dow (Southampton/Chawton House Library)
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday 10 March, Freya Johnston (Oxford)
Thomas Love Peacock, Melincourt

Thursday 18 May, Jenny McAuley (QMUL)
William Godwin, Mandeville

Friday 21 July, Thomas McLean (Otago)
Jane Porter, The Pastor’s Fire-Side

Friday 22 September, Anthony Mandal (Cardiff)
Ann Hatton, Gonzalo De Baldivia

Friday 17 November, Andrw Lincoln (QMUL)
Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy

Reminder: WSG September seminar 2016

The first WSG seminar of the academic year will shortly take place at the Foundling Museum.  Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  Doors open after 12.30pm with the session starting promptly at 1, and tea, coffee and biscuits at about 2.30pm.  Seminars are free and non-members who wish to attend are very welcome but will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments.  Attendees are also welcome to visit the Foundling before or after the seminar and there is currently a very interesting exhibition on Handel’s singers.

For the September session organiser Carolyn Williams has put together a programme on song, play, and translation… we hope to see you there.

Saturday 17th September, 2016. Chair: TBC
Brianna Elyse Robertson-KirklandVenanzio Rauzzini (1746 – 1810) and his female operatic students.
Judith PageAusten and Shakespeare: Mansfield Park, Shylock, and the ‘exquisite acting’ of Edmund Kean.
Lucy Gent: What is becoming in Mansfield Park? Jane Austen and Cicero’s De Officiis.