We never thought we’d see the day when the Sidney Myer Music Bowl would share its backyard with a full-scale replica of a theatre built in 1614 – but forsooth, here we are. If you’ve run the Tan or been down St Kilda Road lately, then you’ll have spotted a 900-capacity, three-storey Jacobean theatre in the gardens, gold dome glinting in the sun.
This is the Pop-up Globe: a full-scale working replica of Shakespeare’s second Globe Theatre, built in 1614 after the first one burned down. It’s an immense, 16-sided polygon, with three tiers for seating and a partly covered roof. From now until February, the theatre (which originated last year in Auckland to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) will present four of the Bard’s best-known plays: rom-coms As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, blood-soaked history play Henry V and political thriller Othello. In Auckland, the Globe attracted huge crowds and rave reviews.
Keen to see what all the fuss is about? This is Shakespeare as you’ve never encountered it before, so it pays to know what you’re getting yourself into. (Plus, keep reading for an exclusive ticket offer for Time Out readers).
1. Expect complete historical accuracy – but not in all respects
The big drawcard to the Pop-up Globe is that it’s probably the closest you’ll ever come to seeing a Shakespearean play as it was originally performed 350 years ago on the south bank of London’s Thames. Founder and artistic director Dr Miles Gregory describes it as “a time machine,” and it’s not far from the truth: plays are performed without amplified sound and with bright floodlights at night to imitate the sun. Actors are in period costume, and As You Like It is also performed by an all-male cast, as it would have been in the 17th century.
However, the Pop-up Globe isn’t simply a time capsule. Shakespeare’s plays were written for the people of his time, filled with contemporary references and jokes, and punctuated by frequent direct-to-audience address. The Pop-up Globe creators have honoured this tradition by incorporating current pop culture references, in an effort to make the stories as relatable as possible. Why wouldn’t a modern Orlando fill his terrible poetry with One Direction lyrics?
2. The view from the cheap seats might actually be the best
Tickets range from $20 to $300, but unlike most shows, the cheapest ones offer an entirely different – and some would say superior – experience. These are ‘groundlings’ tickets, which get you access to the standing room in front of the stage. The on-stage action is played out directly to the groundlings, as impassioned monologues are delivered to audience members standing just metres away, fights spill out from the stage, and characters appear from the back and make their way through to the stage.
3. Don’t stand too close to the stage if you don’t want to be splashed by blood
Henry V involves brutal fight scenes, resulting in sticky blood sprayed out over the groundlings. It’s thrilling – unless you’re wearing white.
4. If you love audience interaction, get thee to the front row
It’s something that most people either love or hate, so it pays to be prepared either way. While no one will be asked to jump on the stage and interact with the actors, characters frequently directly address audience members, often veering off-script (when we saw As You Like It, the clown Touchstone complimented an audience member’s hair).
5. Dress for the weather
The groundlings area is only partially covered, which means that you'll need to be ready for all kinds of weather activity, whether it's stinkin' hot evenings or the sudden freak summer storm (bring your poncho just in case). Even if you’re in a seated area, dress appropriately; air conditioners didn’t exist back in 1614.
6. If you’re in a stage-adjacent seat, remember that everyone can see you
Those after the royal experience (literally: this is where the royal family would sit), book a ticket to one of the private booths. These are rooms on the stage itself, looking down onto the cast and audience. The view from here is unparalleled, but don’t forget that in a stage flooded with bright light, you’re on full display.
7. Take advantage of the food trucks and bar
Instead of going out to eat before the show, why not stick around at the fairy-lit grounds surrounding the Globe? Food trucks snacks abound here; we recommend getting a Beatbox Kitchen burger.
Tickets are on sale for the entire Pop-up Globe season, until February 3.