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A safe pair of hands at The Globe?

I’ve just attended the press conference at which Michelle Terry revealed her first season at The Globe. And the dynamics in the room were fascinating.

Terry is in a strange position as the new Artistic Director following Emma Rice’s brief, flamboyant, controversial tenure and “hiatus” (the word used by Globe Chief Executive, Neil Constable) the Globe has been through. Rice’s “standing down” was announced only five months after she started in post although she led the Globe for two full seasons.

The changeover took place on 1 October so – looking at the forthcoming programme –  a great deal has been achieved in a short time. We have ensemble productions of Hamlet and  As You Like It to look forward to along with a tour which will – somehow or other – allow the audience to choose which play they see that particular night from a menu of three. New plays include Emilia and Eyam. “The original; Globe was always dedicated to new writing and it still is” declared Terry.

And, among other delights (such as Mark Rylance playing Iago to André Holland’s Othello) I’m excited about the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank project now in its twelfth year. For 2018 there will be 18,000 free tickets for state school students in London and Birmingham to see Much Ado About Nothing directed by Michael Oakley. These schools performances and the remarkable level of vibrant engagement they generate are, without doubt one of the best things I attend anywhere all year.

Terry was understandably nervous at facing the press – most of the big names from across the media were ranged in front of her and she must have known they’d push her hard. Railway idiosyncrasies meant I was there half an hour early so I sat quietly in the foyer for a while beforehand. I saw Terry arrive and engage in a long conversation with a man I later realised was her husband, actor Paul Ready.  He was evidently providing the reassurance and support she needed.

In the event she did brilliantly, having clearly thought hard about the angle she would take on the predictable questions. “Do you see yourself as a safe pair of hands?” One journalist asked. “is there only one answer to that question?” she parried, laughing” before adding “The whole production team is in this room and I can assure you that I feel very safe in their hands.”

Of course she was also asked about use of technology (which was one of the things Rice was criticised for) and eventually directly about how she feels about Rice. She told us that the Globe will use lighting because, unlike the original Globe, it wants to go on staging evening shows as well as matinees. But, she said firmly, there will be no sound system to amplify voices.

And here’s Terry, clearly a mistress of diplomacy, on Rice herself. “I think Emma was the best thing that’s ever happened to The Globe. It was a fantastic two years which forced the Globe to stop and work what it’s really for. And that’s a real bonus”.

I can’t have been the only person present who noticed the sentence which began “As someone who loves Shakespeare …” either. Rice, rather oddly, intimated that it wasn’t really her thing.

No wonder Terry was apprehensive. I hope that afterwards she realised just how well she’d handled it. And for myself I’m delighted that we have an actor at the helm again – back to the modus operandi Mark Rylance used when the (new) Globe first opened 21 years ago. Terry is in the ensemble for Hamlet and As You Like It. “But we shall work out who plays what when we get into rehearsals” she said.

“Will you play Hamlet?” someone asked her. “We don’t know yet” she reiterated. “Would you like to play Hamlet?” the questioner persisted. “Sure as shit, I’d like to play Hamlet” Terry returned with a huge smile and without missing a beat. “I couldn’t be a director of The Globe who didn’t want to play Hamlet, now could I?”

Well played, Michelle. I think you and the Globe are going to do very well together.


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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