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Shakespearean tragedy repeats itself

Just as Shakespeare’s Globe theatre was closed three times due to the Bubonic Plague, the future of London’s famous replica Globe has been threatened by Covid-19.

Retired school teacher and theatre enthusiast Gary File cannot believe today’s Globe might never reopen because of financial issues instigated by the coronavirus epidemic.

The cultural icon and tourism magnet could close permanently if it does not receive adequate funding to make up for losses from the Covid-19 lockdown. The Globe is not funded by Arts Council England and does not qualify for any of the 160 million pounds (NZ$320m) of emergency funding designed to support such venues.

The theatre depends on ticket sales, workshops and other revenue streams that are not available in lockdowned London.

“It is ironic that the Globe closed when the plague swept through several times,” Mr File said.

“Shakespeare was always struggling against the plague — it returned frequently.”

History records that all London theatres were closed in 1593, 1603 and 1608 because of the Bubonic Plague or The Black Death.

“Here we are with a strange, ironic repetition of the Globe being threatened by a pandemic,” said Mr File.

He has twice been to the Globe Theatre, situated in Bankside on London’s Southbank. The first occasion was to watch Henry VIII, which File noted was another irony.

The original Globe went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII. That Globe burned to the ground in 1613 when it was accidentally set alight by a cannon.

Mr File went a second time to watch two of his Gisborne Girls’ High School students Lucy Suttor and the late Erica Jones perform.

There have been other Gisborne students chosen to perform at the Globe after competing at regional events and at the national Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival.

“That is another reason why it should never close,” said File.

“It is an international welcoming agency for students and teachers who love drama and performance. It opened its doors for people all around the world and gives young people a chance to perform on that great stage.”

Mat Hatten was the latest talented Gisborne youngster due to grace the stage at the Globe — until Covid-19 broke out.

Last year, he was named among 24 New Zealand actors selected to go to the Globe Theatre in 2020.

The Young Shakespeare Company was scheduled to take part in workshops, attend talks and Q&A sessions about the plays with actors and directors; go on behind-the-scenes tours of the Globe, Rose and National theatres and watch performances and rehearse.

The Kiwi actors had 12 rehearsals scheduled with a Globe director in scenes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, which they would have performed for the public on the Globe stage.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a high school student to appear at the Globe, where many professional actors had not,” Hatten said.

He is hopeful he will travel to England next year with his Shakespearean colleagues “if all goes well”.

Hatten developed an interest in Shakespeare as an NCEA student. It was amazing how relevant to contemporary life Shakespearean plays were, despite the fact they were written centuries ago, he said.

The young Shakespearean was due to perform in Twelfth Night.

The replica Globe opened in 1987

on a site close to that of the original Globes.

The second Globe, which replaced the original destroyed by fire, was pulled down in 1644, two years after the Puritans closed all theatres to make way for tenement dwellings.

Today, as in the 17th century, the audience sits on rows of hard benches in galleries above the pit, where a standing-room-only crowd of groundlings watch the play.

File watched Henry VIII “in the gods” — or in the galleries.

“I would be incredibly saddened if it closed,” said Mr File.

“I just can’t believe it.”

SUCH SHAPING FANTASIES: Much to the dismay of Gisborne Shakespeareans, shows such as this Globe Theatre production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream are at risk of never hitting the iconic London theatre’s stage again, due to the impact of Covid-19. Picture supplied