Shoegazing at the Globe

All’s Well That Ends Well, The Globe, 29 July 2011

Where is the best place to see a play at the Globe? Galleries? Yard?

Viewing this production of All’s Well from both locations demonstrated that neither is guaranteed to provide the ultimate experience.

I went along for a second look, this time sat in the middle gallery, a position from which I normally like to get a first view at a play. If the production is exceptionally good, and there have been plenty of those at the Globe in recent years, then I see it subsequently from the yard.

With this production there came a point where a view from the galleries was absolutely essential. In effect, I saw something from a high vantage point that was invisible to anyone viewing the performance from the yard.

Bertram bade farewell to Helena, sending her back to Roussillon, and they embraced on the long walkway.

Crucially, at this moment Bertram looked up to the sky with a fearful air of foreboding. He was planning to abandon Helena. What he pretended was merely a temporary separation was going to be permanent.

Only those in the galleries could see his face at that instant, and his facial expression was key to understanding what was happening. Groundlings would have missed out on this moment and its significance entirely, as I had done on my first view of the production when I saw it from the yard.

Some Globe fans will only consider seeing a production standing in the yard. For them the galleries provide a second-rate experience, with the audience peering down on the real cauldron of cast/audience interaction, effectively disengaged from the “real” Globe at ground level.

But the galleries often provide a better overall experience. Seeing the stage from above can provide a fuller appreciation of the production, as this sequence in All’s Well demonstrated.

Sometimes a slightly distant overall view of the stage affords a clearer and more comprehensive view of the entire performance.

Yard devotees appreciate the feeling of connectedness that comes from standing close to the stage. And it is true that viewed from down in the yard, the galleries can seem like distant perches for the sedentary and unadventurous. But too often the yard provides little more than an opportunity to stare up the noses of the cast.

Groundlings right at the front of the yard often find themselves not actually looking at the actors, but simply staring at the back of the stage and merely listening to the play.

Gazing at shoes while listening is not really engagement or connection.

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