London's theaters stay shut, with one exception

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, April 25, 2024

London's theaters stay shut, with one exception
Shakespeare's Globe, London, England. Photo: Diego Delso.

by Alex Marshall

LONDON (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- In Shakespeare’s time, the plague repeatedly shut down London’s theaters.

It closed them in 1592, and again in 1603.

Shakespeare kept writing throughout both Elizabethan versions of lockdown. The plague might have been a time “when madmen lead the blind,” as he wrote in “King Lear,” but it certainly wasn’t one for stopping work.

The plague was not the only threat that shut down his theater, the Globe. It burned down in 1613; after it was rebuilt, the Puritans shut it for good three decades later.

Even as Londoners were celebrating the reopening of many pubs, restaurants, salons and gyms Monday, theaters across the city remained firmly shut. They will not be allowed to open before May 17.

That decision has prompted regular complaints from culture figures, questioning why people are able to mingle in stores, but not in theaters where distancing can be easily enforced, but most seem resigned to the fate.

There was one exception Monday: the Globe itself — the reconstructed version of Shakespeare’s old stomping ground on the banks of the Thames.

A steady stream of actors arrived Monday for the first rehearsal of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” scheduled to open May 19.

“Hello, darling!” Peter Bourke, a veteran actor playing Oberon, King of the Faeries, in the play, shouted when he saw Victoria Elliott, playing Titania, the fairy queen.

“Oh, I wish I could hug you,” Elliot shouted back. “This is so frustrating.”

Bourke then went to buy Elliot a coffee — a flat white with nut-blend milk — only to quickly return, having forgotten her order.

“If I forget that, imagine how bad I’ll be with the lines,” Bourke said, with a laugh.

Both actors insisted they were not annoyed that theaters could not reopen. Things had to be taken slowly, Elliot said, adding she knew someone who had died during the pandemic.

“I’m just so grateful to be here, alive and with a job,” she said.

The actors also had a lot of work to do during rehearsals, Bourke said, especially since they were no longer allowed to touch onstage and so would have to work out how to stage the play anew.

“All the hugs, all the tumbling and the lovers all over each other, we won’t be doing that now,” Bourke said.

As Bourke spoke, more actors arrived — each having been given a specific time slot to avoid congestion at the theater’s entrance. They gave each other air hugs and immediately started joking around, as if they had seen each other only yesterday.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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