In November, the Globe's first Broadway transfer opened in New York: two ensemble productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry. The theatre is partly lit by candles and both actors and audience are bathed in the same light, with some audience members seated on the stage. Instruments and costumes are crafted using the same materials and methods as in Shakespeare's day. The productions aren't cluttered by concepts, they don't play any tricks, they aren't trying too hard to be clever. They just are what they are.
The popular response has been overwhelming and, hearteningly, the reviewers were equally thrilled. New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote: "These productions are suffused with that most fundamental of Shakespearean virtues, faith. The performers here trust wholly in Shakespeare's words and in the ability of the audience to understand them." The enthusiasm with which American audiences and the east coast intellectual establishment have embraced this way of playing has served as a pleasing vindication of what we do at the Globe – but it has made me wonder, not for the first time, why things have been so different on our side of the Atlantic.
When the Globe first opened in 1997, the negative catcalling was almost deafening. In its inaugural production of Henry V, Mark Rylance stepped out on to the stage and delivered the prologue into a culture thick with scepticism and suspicion. Epithets such as "heritage" and "ersatz" rained down (along with a fair bit of actual rain). Critics wondered aloud if the space would ever be more than a "tourist-trap-cum-playpen-for-cranky-academics". The extremity of the reaction, thankfully not shared by an enthusiastic public (a public made up of only 20% overseas visitors by the way, to knock that one on the head – though why the English are so scornful of tourists has always bemused me). Subsequent success and artistic achievement have encouraged all but the most doggedly dull to change their minds, but the extremity of that original antipathy, much of it from the theatre profession itself, for a long time confused me. What was it that the Globe was doing that so unnerved some people? Why was it so important to keep this part of our theatre and national story so tightly under wraps? Why was history so challenging?