We never thought we’d see the day when a full-scale replica of a theatre built in 1614 would pop up in the Entertainment Quarter showring – but forsooth, here we are. If you’ve been in the area lately, then you’ll have spotted a 900-capacity, three-storey Jacobean theatre, 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 November, the theatre (which originated in Auckland two years ago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) will present four of the Bard’s best-known plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice and a blood-splattered Macbeth.
The Globe has attracted huge crowds, and packed in 150,000 people in Melbourne last summer. 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.
1. Expect historical accuracy – at least in some 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 mostly in period costume, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice are performed by an all-male cast, as they 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. A few terrible One Direction lyrics found their way into soliloquies in Melbourne, so we’re not sure what might happen in the Sydney season.
What’s more, the Pop-up Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream incorporates elements of Māori culture and uses all three official languages in New Zealand: English, Māori and New Zealand sign language.
2. The view from the cheap seats might actually be the best
Tickets range from $29.50 to $163, 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 onstage 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. The shows are all around two hours and 15 minutes (with intermission) so you’re not on your feet for too long.
3. Don’t stand too close to the stage if you don’t want to be splashed by blood
Obviously you’d expect Macbeth to involve brutal fight scenes, resulting in sticky blood spraying out over the groundlings. But there’ll be blood and other bodily fluids flying in the comedies too. 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. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has got the most interaction, but don’t think you won’t be part of the show just because you pick a tragedy.
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 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 on offer at the Entertainment Quarter
There’s a Fratelli Fresh just around the corner from the Globe (always a reliable and hearty dinner option) and a Black Star Pastry, where you can actually watch the chefs in action for a little extra theatre.