Much ado about … Tourette’s syndrome and other things at the Globe

I must learn how to write a blog one day.  Yes, something for the todo list.  Hm, put “Learn how to manage a WordPress web site” and “Sort out how to embed route tracks on interactive maps in WordPress web sites” too while we at it.  Ho, hum, yes, my todo list is a monster, it never actually seems to get smaller.

OK, this isn’t about todo lists and good intentions but it is a post about yesterday, despite having had a remarkable day today and despite having remarkable cycling days from a year ago all queuing up to be blogged here.  Perverse and foolish maybe just to turn back to last night, but it’ll have to do.

Yesterday evening J & I went to see “Much ado about nothing” at the Globe.  Strongly recommended and continues to the 15th of October so if you can: go and see it! If you can’t get to see it, have a look at the trailer on that link (or here).  However, I won’t say much more about the performance to avoid spoilers.  Hm,  note to self: “After 15.x.17, do a blog ramble about Much ado“.  Oops, I could see my todo list getting longer still if I put blog things onto it for future points when they are safely beyond the end of a play’s run.

Anyway, as is our wont, we were “groundlings”: standing in the flat space below the stage as the plebs did in Elizabethan times. Fantastic value for money in the 21st Century if you’re lucky enough to be able to stand for three hours without more than a few aches and some numbness.  Usually, there’s some warmth and camaraderie amongst the groundlings, or at least, we feel that.  Of course, sadly, there can be things ado there in the pit.  For example, there’s height:  there are often people who are taller than me.  Hm, that’s not statistically surprising really … and they don’t seem to realise that they should stand toward the back.  In front of us were a couple, I think father and daughter, not partners but maybe not.  Anyway, the male of the species was tallish, over six foot in old money and the female smaller, I could look over her head easily but not his.  Now this made me realise that J and I, being pretty much exactly the same height, are the right sort of pairing to be allowed to stand together as groundlings.  I fantasized that tall/short pairs, and mixed height groups, really shouldn’t be allowed in, or should be carefully marshalled apart …. OK, I really am joking.  I’d hate that.

In fact, one grumble I used to have about the Globe, which was that the volunteer ushers all used to seem very grumpy and prone to too much telling people what to do and what not to do, really seems to have improved.  I really, really don’t want them to tell people where to stand based on height.  I do wonder though if some tall people, who are maybe with other tall people, mightn’t move back.  J and I have compared notes and we have definitely swapped with shorter people in the past.

Anyway, that was all fine.   If I can’t crane to see around a tall person, I can find another spot and I was fine but amused by my rambling thoughts.  What wasn’t so good was that the lass behind J kept bumping J, leading to a pretty big dent in J’s enjoyment of the whole thing.  Why would someone do that?

But by now you’re thinking to yourself “Much ado …, Much ado about damn little …”, “I can see where he is with this rambling but where is the Tourette’s?  Bring on the dancing bears!   We want a bit more from this blog!!”

Well yes, I know, I know, I was coming to that.  You see just before the play started the actress (I am going to stick with the gendered terminology) who was to play Beatrice came on and read a short announcement to us all telling us that a group of people with Tourette’s were in the audience tonight and had asked that we be told.  She said that one feature of Tourette’s can be involuntary shouting, sometimes of rude words … and that this being the Globe, therefore we might not know that this was different … and that, this being the Globe, everyone was welcome.  I was quite moved by this as I love that approach.  What was interesting was that there was quite a lot of shouting.  Some clearly involuntary, some I’m not so sure.  This particular Much ado is a loud and lively staging of the play but it has some quieter moments and there were times when the contributions from the audience were significantly distracting.  Several of the actors, Benedict particularly, did a good job of working with the offerings, so good I wondered if some of the contributions weren’t Tourette ejaculations but planned interjections from one or more stooges in the audience.  I am still unsure about that.

However, what struck me was that the running background of vocalisations, the occasional whistle or noise, and certainly not a few rude contributions weren’t nothing for me.  They threw my concentration and I think they sucked others into offering verbal contributions.  That came to the point where I felt we were nearer to standup than to simple theatre.  That had me reflecting on the things that can niggle: someone bumping you for J, too much contribution in verbal form from the audience for me.

That also got me thinking about just how hard I suspect the change in the audience was probably making it for the performers.   The troupe on stage now seemed to me to be having to attend very differently to the audience from the normal input which is pretty much only of noises: “oohs”, sharp intakes of breath, sudden quietening of any noise at all, occasional clapping and lots of laughter (this being, of course, a comedy, though one with a grim line through it).  I guess that may have taken us closer to the Elizabethan Globe: was it more like standup, with contributions from the groundlings and ad libbing responses from the actors?  I suspect it may well have been.

My fantasy was that a huge part of good acting is a tremendous awareness of the sussurus (?sp?) of noises and quiet from the audience but that that can be treated as coming from a single entity: an audience.  Once you get to vocal contributions you are triangulated: you have an audience and a person within the audience.

Of course, unless it’s a solo play (Krapp’s last tape anyone?) there’s always triangulation, that’s an obssession of mine.  But normally it’s a triangulation on stage or between two people (at one moment) on stage and the mass of the audience.  I think even in Krapp there is a sense in which there are two Krapp’s in a triangular relationship with us in the audience: the only man listening to the tapes of his younger self.

Anyway, I’m going off on a bit of bit of a triangular tangent.  It was undoubtedly an interesting experience, distracting from time to time, and I think I would have enjoyed the evening more without all the vocalisations.  However, I agree with Beatrice that the Globe, the theatre generally, should be a place where everyone is welcome and not just a place for “nice” behaviour and reverent applause.  Not a place where the bard allowed to rule the show from 401 years on from his death.  (Oh dear, if I’m not careful I’ll be off on another tangent about the idiocy of the Globe’s board of directors terminating Emma Rice’s period as director early.)

If the next six weeks weren’t so damn busy I might almost go and queue up on an evening just to see the performance again and see just how different it might seem with just the usual audience.  I thought the staging and most of the performances are good enough to justify that without the addition (subtraction?) of the Tourette’s input, though I think I’ve seen better Much ado‘s.  However, the next six weeks are bonkers so that’s not going to happen.  But it’s been good unravelling a bit of this here.

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