On Wednesday 1st. October, 2014 Rachel and I set off on an adventure to visit The Globe Theatre in London.
It had been a long time coming — I had started to plan the day soon after I was given some theatre tokens as a gift after I had conducted a wedding for two very special friends.
Why not take Rachel down to London to see The Globe, I thought. Theatre has been her life and yet she has never been there before.
And then everything began to grow. If we are going for one performance, why not stay for two — there was one in the afternoon and one in the evening. But wouldn’t it be very expensive? I discovered that if one was prepared to stand then tickets were only £5 each. But daft to stand after such a long journey. And the cost of travel? I discovered that if one booked three months ahead it costs very, very little to get a train to London, twelve or thirteen pounds or thereabouts (with a Senior Citizen’s railcard) and one can return in style in a sleeper for only thirty-six pounds — what a bargain!
So I booked the seats and bought the tickets. In the afternoon we would see one of the first comedies written by Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors, and in the evening, one the great Roman tragedies: Julius Caesar. I arranged that we would dine between shows at the Swan, the restaurant within the campus of The Globe Theatre and named after another early theatre.
Olive and Digger (my sister and her husband) and my Mum kindly agreed to care for the dogs, Mix and Rowan, and so it was that having set our alarms for 4.15 a.m. we were up, showered and away to Berwick by five in the morning.
It only takes fifteen to twenty minutes to drive to Berwick and our train was not until six but we had to drive into the centre of Berwick to park the car as we would be away for more than twenty-four hours and thus could not park in the station car park.
Our train arrived at six and our booked seats were waiting for us. I was intrigued to discover that the train went all the way to Kings’ Cross but we had to change at Newcastle. Why was that? I asked the inspector. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘you just get off the train, stand where you are on the platform, our train will move out and almost immediately another train will arrive and you get on. You’ll even have exactly the same seats reserved as you have on this train.’ The reason for the change, I discovered, is that the train to which we moved goes directly to London without stopping, while our train had many stops on its way to London.
It happened exactly as we were told and we were in London King’s Cross just before ten minutes to ten with a whole day ahead of us.
It had been raining but was just fairing up. We saw umbrellas, just a few, but only for the first few moments of our stay.
Next to King’s Cross Station is St. Pancras with its huge brick façade and great towers. I was anxious to show it to Rachel not least because it was here in one of the towers that my father went to work in the days before the second world war as a young man in the estate department of the railway.
Nowadays, St. Pancras is an international railway station, the terminus of the cross channel railway and, with its shops, restaurants and facilities it is more like an international airport than a busy city railway station.
From St. Pancras we walked along the road to Euston Station. It’s only a five minute walk but we wanted to start our journey to The Globe from Euston because that is where we will catch our train this evening and, as time might be at a premium, we wanted to know exactly how long it might take.
We went down into the tube station at Euston and caught a tube on the Northern Line (going south) to London Bridge, where we alighted. It’s a long way up from London Bridge Northern Line to the surface — fortunately there are escalators to bring us to the surface.
Now we went on a detour, really so that we could see a bit of London (we would do our time checks from The Globe to the tube later on). We sauntered across London Bridge, looking to the right and seeing Tower Bridge, the next bridge down, and between us and Tower Bridge HMS Belfast which I remember visiting so many times in the past.
From the northern end of London Bridge we turned left and walked along the River Thames, marvelling at all of the buildings we saw. There was Southwark Cathedral nestling in between two very modern buildings, and soon we had reached Southwark Bridge after which we caught sight of The Globe for the first time, on the opposite side of the river. It too was dwarfed by modern buildings but it looked grand.
Now we were at the start of the Millennium Bridge — a pedestrian bridge which took us from almost the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral across to Bankside, the site both of The Globe and of the Tate Exhibition Centre. By now the sun was shining brightly and it had turned into a beautiful warm summer day.
We admired the Cathedral and admired the bridge, and soon we had crossed the bridge and had come upon The Globe into which we went and explored the gift shop and got our bearings — already a queue had begun to form for the seven hundred £5 standing seats which are available ‘un-booked’ for every performance. Those who choose to stand are called ‘groundlings’ and will enjoy the performance in the way that almost all ordinary folk did in Shakespeare’s time.
Having sorted ourselves out, we continued (with our eyes on our watches again) walking along the riverside walk to London Bridge tube station. Yes, it should be all right. The evening performance ends by half-past ten and our train leaves for Scotland from Euston Station at 11.50.
So we wandered back to The Globe, taking our time, walking through a market, visiting Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind, and stopping at a café called Eat where we did just that, sitting at tables outside the shop from where we could see the river and St. Paul’s and the world going by. We were just in the shade of Southwark Bridge.
Now it was time to make our way to The Globe for the afternoon (2pm) performance. But we wanted to be early so that we could drink in everything about the theatre. So we were there as the gates opened and the ‘groundlings’ were admitted. We explored the courtyard where so many things were being sold — cushions for your seat (a necessity because the basic seats are hard benches); programmes, drinks, food, sweets, trinkets and so on. I suppose it must have been quite like it was in Shakespeare’s day.
For this first performance we had wonderful seats in the third (top) tier, right in front of the stage and in the very front row. It was great and we had a superb view.
Already I had started to learn about The Globe itself. The original Globe (of which this one is a very faithful reproduction — well, the architects had to explore all different sources including documents describing other theatres of the time) was erected near its present site in 1599, in no small purpose to house Shakespeare’s plays — the first of which to be performed here may well have been Julius Caesar, which we will see this evening.
The Globe burned down in the early seventeenth century and was rebuilt and now it has been rebuilt again due to the imagination and vision of Sam Wanamaker and opened in 1997. It is an experience of a life-time to sit and watch in such a wonderful surrounding — partly because of the history and partly because it is such a good setting for these plays.
The theatre was absolutely full — no photographs, I’m afraid. Well, they aren’t allowed and in any case I wouldn’t have wished to have distracted myself from the production. The Comedy of Errors is very early Shakespeare and is total farce. There are two sets of identical twin brothers, one set Lords, one set servants; both sets separated at birth and all coming together in one place. It was hilarious and, if you haven’t seen it, you must.
The acting was superb, the situation out of this world. I absolutely loved it and all too soon it was over and we were cheering at the energetic curtain call before pouring out into the street with all the rest of the crowd.
We had a bit of time in hand and so we walked along the riverside walk on the south (Globe) side of the river away from London Bridge. I noticed how St. Paul’s Cathedral continued to dominate the skyline. We saw a wonderful sand castle on a little bit of beach — and beside it was a tray inviting people to throw money as a ‘thank you’ to the sculptor.
We also saw how busy is the river — pleasure boats, cargo ships, police launches, all moving rapidly around the Thames.
We wandered back to the theatre where we made our way to the Swan restaurant for our pre-show dinner. It was superb. We sat with a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the River Thames. In its way it was every bit as wonderful as when we sat in Cairo for a meal with the pyramids in the background.
We ate right-royally as well. A soup with tomato and sweet corn and much more besides, a chicken with cauliflower, cabbage, chips and much more, a summer tart, and wine or coke depending upon which of us you were. The service, the ambiance, everything was special.
And so we wandered back into the theatre courtyard. The groundlings (you can tell I love that word) were queuing, a puppet show was telling the story of Julius Caesar, people were selling their wares.
This time we were sitting in the middle tier, again right in front of the stage, this time in the second row: really great seats.
This time everything was different. The play was performed under lights. Now it was tragedy rather than comedy. It was just as good. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. The actors used the audience as the rabble. One minute we were cheering for Caesar, the next we were supporting Brutus and the conspirators. Actors kept appearing among the groundlings, we were all swept along with the action and, although we knew the story, it moved us as it went.
There was one lovely little twist. When all is lost and Brutus persuades one of his fellow conspirators to hold his sword that he may die on it, the fellow turns out to be Caesar’s ghost — it made the audience gasp and it draws out Shakespeare’s point that we live and die according to the decisions we have already made about our lives.
If the curtain call for the earlier performance was energetic, then this was even more so and as it ended we set off on our journey walking quickly towards London Bridge where we caught a tube to Euston and were ready and waiting for our train to Scotland by quarter to eleven!
Our train duly arrived and we got into our sleeper compartment. It was extremely civilised and very comfortable. I had the top bunk and Rachel the lower one. I slept well and was woken at 6.30 with coffee by our attendant who told us that we were at Carstairs.
An hour or so later we got off the train in Edinburgh, looked around the bookstall and caught a train at just after eight back to Berwick. (I think the ticket price for this last part of the journey, necessitated by the fact that the night train didn’t come through Berwick, was just over £3. It pays to book in advance.)
In Berwick we walked to the car which I drove to drop Rachel off at her stained-glass class and then I drove home to Mount Pleasant. It had been a wonderful twenty-four hours and now it is time to plan another adventure!