Emma Rice is being shown the door as artistic director of London’s Globe Theatre after less than a year in charge. She will step down in 2018. The board felt that her extensive use of lightning and sound technology violated the spirit of the Globe, which was established to present plays in conditions similar to those under which Shakespeare worked.
I loved Rice’s previous work with the innovative Kneehigh group, and thought that the spare style she perfected in those shows would translate well to the Globe. Sadly, I have to admit that I was wrong and agree with the critics that she didn’t seem to have a clue what the Globe was all about. The productions she put on could have been done on the West End, the Young Vic or pretty much anywhere; there was no reason to trudge down to the South Bank for this. Both of the shows I saw under her regime – Macbeth (Globe) and The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (Sam Wanamaker) – depended on modern sound and lighting effects for much of their impact, and the lighting equipment for the latter (in a theater that is normally entirely candlelit) blocked my view from the upper floor. I said at the time, “Let’s hope this is a brief experiment that will be quickly dropped. These are the first two shows I’ve seen in the Globe that I would not recommend. Not a good omen for Rice’s reign.” I actually took the rare step of writing to the theater to complain.
So I’m glad they took decisive action. Hopefully this will have the positive effect of sending Rice back to Kneehigh, where she can continue the great work that she did for so many years. The unfortunate incident does highlight what makes the Globe such a unique playing space, and I’m optimistic that they’ll return to their roots with the next artistic director. I’ll look forward to going back. But only after 2018.