Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre London, 2003

Theatre at the Globe is not self-evidently a transcendental experience.

If you’re budget-conscious like us, you take the £5 tickets in the pit, where you get the best view in the place but have to stand for three hours. If it rains, you can’t use your umbrella, and if you don’t have some other waterproof covering you buy the theatre-issue plastic poncho which is extremely unglamorous and makes you very unpopular with the people around you due to the rustly noises you make while trying to wrestle it on. You then stand completely motionless in your cling-wrap prison until you can buy some overpriced tea in a paper cup at the intermission to clasp in your hands in the hope that it will warm your cold-stiffened body.

You are watching an all-male, all-authentic-practices production of Richard II. All the costumes look ridiculous. The men dressed up as women still look like men dressed up as women, despite the feminine mannerisms they take on. You miss the famous speech about England because you are wrestling with your poncho.

You should be miserable, but you’re not. The parting kisses between Richard and his Queen are heart-wrenchingly tender, and you’re transported beyond the cross-dressing, make-up and Adam’s apples to the simple acceptance that this is a man and woman in love. You have finally seen the great Mark Rylance, and are not disappointed by his subtle, many-textured Richard. Time and time again you are struck by the enduring power of Shakespeare’s words and wit today, and the ability of the cast to communicate this to us despite their lack of microphones and the occasional overhead helicopter.

As the company performs an ending dance, you vaguely note as you clap your hands sore that, again, they look ridiculous to your modern eye. None of it matters. In the midst of your euphoria, you are gripped by a sudden sadness, the same one that recurs every time you feel that surge of love for this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England: you are leaving soon.

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