STUDENT BLOGS: Theatre in London: Sites, Sounds, and Situations
A Cracked-Up Christmas:
Footsbarn's Christmas Cracker @ Shakespeare's Globe
by Zack Lynch
When we think of Shakespeare, we think traditional academia, outstanding rhetoric and a cathartic theatrical experience for the ages. We may not understand the language or rhythm's of the piece initially, but we always expect to be moved by something.
This was my first experience seeing a show in the refurbished replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It tookr years of tribulations to build the living memorial to the Bard near its original site (the New Globe is actually a few blocks away from where it stood in Shakespeare's actual period). The historical aspect of the site is very impressive since it uses an accurate interpretation of the original site in scale and material, as well as the preservation of the history of the theater process as it was historically at the Globe, plus its modernization, thanks to the present's technological advancements and theatrical expectations of today's audiences.
The group of us ended up splitting apart to view the performance of Footsbarn's The Christmas Cracker. We randomly choose our tickets. We were either seated in a restricted view seating box on the side of stage in one of the amphitheatre circles ... or we were standing in the center of the circular shaped theater on the ground, looking upward at the players onstage. I started the show on my feet, as one of the groundlings in the the center. And as soon as the show was about to kick it into starting mode, the skies opened up and the rain began to fall. Naturally at this time in London, it felt like it was -5 degrees below zero ... but somehow the precipitation was not falling as snow. Go figure. The kind attendants of the Globe were quick to tell me that umbrella usage was prohibited, and at that point, I was defeated. I closed the umbrella and looked up towards the heavens and accepted my fate ... with a great big rain drop nailing me right
in the eye.
The show itself was something very unexpected. First of all, the show is not an original Shakespeare play (for those not familiar with his library of work). The show includes aspects of Shakespearean performance, including famous lines from his plays, notable characters reimagined in a new light, and a morbid depiction of a three-headed William Shakespeare himself. If you can't tell already, this was not your grandfather's version of Billy Shakes.
A quick fact may be to describe what a Christmas Cracker actually is. It's a festive holiday treat, shaped like a little colorful, shiny Tootsie Roll. It's made of cardboard and paper product, and twisted at the ends securely with ribbon. The owner of the toy will pull both sides and out pops some candy, games, toys and a joke! What fun, right?
Well, what I am assuming Footsbarn did was to create his own Shakespearean Christmas Cracker. The show had a no structure and was a smorgasbord of wild, fanciful, weird and strangely provoking vignettes that were presented in the presentational sense. Some could compare this performance quality to that of British pantomime or American Vaudeville and Music Hall style of physicality and approach.
The show seemed to populated with actors that resembled deranged, economically low status clowns (like ... from the circus, don't let your minds wander!). They relied on some previous Commedia Del Arte training in physical performance, miming and mask work to create the theatrical illusions in Shakespeare's Globe. Some of the actors performed satirical versions of some of Shakespeare's most notorious characters including Romeo, Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. But these interpretations were also weaved within other performance elements, like the spectacle of two tight rope walkers traveling the width of the theater on a a little, plastic wire. There was no secure safety precautions for the performers, which immensely scared me as an audience member.
One of the the tight rope walkers was also a musician, and she managed to dance on the rope while playing the violin. I held my breath because I was so uncomfortable watching. I kept envisioning her plummeting two stories onto the concrete ... I know, morbidity reigned supreme.
At the interval, we switched from standing to our restricted view box seats. Restricted view literally meant that a rather large column which supported the upper level of the stage's architecture was blocking ALL of the main action in the center of the stage. By this time I was soaked and freezing ... so this little hiccup did not terribly change my mood. However, it was nice to experience how both sides of the London common folk would experience a play in the original theater space.
The Globe is a royal standard of the avid theater traveller and I felt it was an essential experience to partake in ... even if the show was a little, well ... cracked. The style of the show was literally like the festive Christmas Cracker toy: "You're going to open up this thing ... and have no idea what you're in for ... you may get a joke, a little amusing game or ... a big disappointment." Needless to say, I am still not sure what I found at that Christmas Cracker in the Globe. But I know one thing, it surely wasn't anything with a plot, nor purpose.