What exactly is the World Shakespeare Festival? Is it part of the London 2012 Festival? And is the London 2012 Festival the same thing as the Cultural Olympiad? Or are they two separate things? The Globe to Globe Festival is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, we know that, but is it also part of the Cultural Olympiad? Is the World Shakespeare Festival only for theatre or are the things we see on TV also part of it? These questions have been chewing at us for the past few months.
We asked people out and about if they knew, on the South Bank, on bridges, outside the theatre. No joy. Answers on a postcard…
Shakespeare is everywhere. Mark Rylance is set to launch the opening ceremony of Olympics with Caliban’s 'isle is full of noises' speech, but what does it all actually mean?
What does make sense is Shakespeare's Globe's mammoth contribution. It makes sense that the Olympics bring together every nation on earth (almost) to demonstrate just how far human beings can go, and that’s exactly what Globe to Globe has done in the name of Mr Shakespeare.
It’s been so cool to see the performers' experiences here. How so many of them kiss the stage at the end. To simply get to the Globe has been a trial for some of them (never mind learning the lines, what about the government?). How they watch each other’s performances, spur each other on as athletes do. How they compete, check each other out. Are proud of each other. Hand over the baton from one company to the next.
And in the end, as trite as this may sound, what comes through loud and clear is that old idea that it isn’t the winning or the losing, it’s the taking part. Who gives a shit who’s better or worse than the next group? Who cares whether this is the finest Macbeth I’ve ever seen? Rory Kinnear said something when we were doing Hamlet: “Lots of people have done Hamlet before me, loads will do it after me. I don’t have to be the best, I just have to be me.” The boy’s right.
Our film Muse of Fire started off with the dire dilemma that Shakespeare comes loaded with so much baggage that it’s hard to run with him sometimes. Snobbery, intellectualism, confusion, elitism, fear. Shakespeare needs an enema. It’s like there are two Shakespeares: the guy who wrote the plays who cares about telling beautiful stories to whoever will listen; and his evil twin brother, who is cleverer than the rest of us and who wants to push so much useless crap into our brains that our heads explode from boredom.
But here at the Globe 'Evil Shakespeare' is nowhere to be seen. Just a stage. A handful of props. Costumes (sometimes!). A fresh language and culture every night and perhaps most importantly an open, willing audience, free of preconceptions who are up for a good story and a good time. The best theatre happens where the audience have to work just as much as the actors.
Henry V, the last play in the whole season, says it best. The chorus struts out onto the stage and tells us straight:
for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.
out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance.
Think when we talk of horses that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth,
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass.
Everyone should have seen this festival. The Queen should have opened it. The productions should have started in London and then jumped straight on the bus and done the same thing up in Newcastle or Manchester. The BBC should have filmed it – prime time. School children should have been hanging from the rafters. Cameron and his band of merry men should have realised that while they and Boris have to go all over the world and kiss nations' asses to come here and spend their bucks, this bald-headed country boy – dead 400 years, with a wicked sense of humour and a perfect heart – has them lining up to come and kiss the British stage.