Twelfth Night: Live Shakespeare with kids

It was with tremendous excitement that we awoke on 8th May to brilliant sunshine and a gloriously hot day that set the scene perfectly for our trip to the Globe Theatre to see a production of Twelfth Night. The girls are currently mad keen on Shakespeare, and as I mentioned in this post, we naturally find ourselves going with this flow, harnessing this enthusiasm and turning it into a new history project – Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.

When fishing around for stuff we could do to bring our love of Shakespeare to life, I had a little shufti at the Globe website….I’d never been there before (mad when I think that I lived in London for 4 years!) and harboured a desperate secret wish to go. I’d never looked before thinking it would be waaaaay too expensive. But it turns out that it costs the princely sum of £5 per head to enter the yard as a groundling – which, if you’re happy to stand for a couple of hours whatever the weather, is brilliant, and meaning, in short, that a family with limited means, can experience world class Shakespeare for not-very-much. Of course, this is the point – although prices have gone up over the years (back in the Bard’s day it cost a penny to stand in the pit as a “stinkard”) it means that the common man (or woman!), prepared to suffer rain or shine and possible back-pain, can afford to enjoy this wonderful entertainment.

Now to be honest, the prospect of going as groundlings hugely appealed to us all – not only would we get an amazing, authentic experience which would bring our project to life (being peasants is something we certainly have an aptitude for) but I would also not have to worry about wriggly-pants-Bod7 managing to stay (roughly) in a seat for 2 hours (this is something she struggles to do). If she need to jiggle/joggle/wiggle about I could at least relax, knowing that she couldn’t launch herself over the upper circle wall and plummet gracefully into the stalls. Audience interaction with the play/players moreover is part of the experience, so I knew they could move around, we could have whispered conversations about things that were happening onstage without fear of annoying fellow audience members.

It also turned out that, as part of their summer programme, The Globe had a production of Twelfth Night on, two days before a Bindlestick workshop we had booked for the very same play. I quickly snapped up tickets for the Bods and the Beans!

In preparation for our trip we turned back to our “How to teach your children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig which we’d started as part of our breakfast basket, but then sort of forgot about because spring sprung upon us, the weather decided to be lovely and nobody wanted to sit around memorising things. But with renewed enthusiasm the girls turned their minds to committing some of the speeches to memory – well, we only managed one, but at least became familiar, if not fluent, with some others. These were very important, particularly for Bod7, who found she sometimes got lost in the long passages of Shakespearean English – having a few familiar passages provided little “islands” within the play that helped it make sense. We read the summary of the plot from “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb, and watched the Shakespeare Animated Tales, just so that we knew the plot inside out. Having recently watched A Comedy of Errors, and being familiar with other comedies such as The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the girls enjoyed drawing parallels and links, identifying common themes and plot turns. We then watched a fabulous film version of Twelfth Night with some of out favourite actors, which had us all giggling and laughing uproariously.

I also wanted the girls to be familiar with Elizabethan theatre, so that they would appreciate the significance of the theatre in which we were going to see the play. This was a topic we had touched upon in the past, through previous history projects on the Elizabethans and other plays by Shakespeare that we had watched. As a reminder we read this lovely book on Shakespearean Theatre together, and also read relevant sections from other reference books on the Elizabethan period. We watched some lovely videos about the Globe theatre and clips of other plays staged there – discussing along the way  its history, architecture, layout, the experience of watching  plays there, and how it would be different to other theatre experiences the girls had had.

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The experience itself was wonderful – far and away the best Shakespeare production I had ever ever seen. We were very blessed because although fairly full, the theatre was by no means packed out, and there was plenty of space in the yard so we didn’t feel like sardines in a tin. And it didn’t rain! Oh joy! We’d been advised to stand around the sides (because most people crowd in the front) and positioned ourselves right at the front by the steps leading up onto the stage. With a bit of shuffling around and picking up Bod7  every so often so she could see things happening more clearly, we had a pretty awesome view of the action – right up the players noses in fact. It was a fabulous performance – only 8 actors, so a bit of doubling up on parts was necessary, but skillfully done, and a bit confusing for the kids because we had girls playing boys and boys playing girls (the latter historically accurate, granted, the former a bit muddling). As all the actors were really rather marvellous and the kids were au fait with the plot it didn’t really matter. What we all loved was the music – the actors played a variety of instruments (including, most thrillingly, the spoons!), sang and danced to lead us into and out of the play and at pertinent moments in the plot. It was wonderful and really gave you a sense of the pageantry of Elizabethan theatre. Of course, in Twelfth Night, music plays a important role, and there are a number of beautiful songs which are used to reveal the inner feelings of the characters  – these were beautifully performed, particularly by the fool Feste, who had a gorgeous voice.

It was also knicker-wettingly funny. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful it is to SEE Shakespeare, and how the words, which can seem mildly amusing on a page, are utterly hilarious when brought to life on stage. I found myself cackling loudly throughout, weeping with mirth – the kids didn’t always get it, which was maybe a good thing… There was plenty of slapstick stuff though to keep them giggling.

 

 

Standing there, gazing up at the heavens, and peeking through the cracks in the stage to hell underneath, you really did feel transported into another time. It was hard to imagine that outside those wooden walls, beyond that thatched roof, was the rest of the city, continuing with its frenetic to-ing and fro-ing. It is truly the best way to experience Shakespeare and I can feel us all becoming addicted to it…

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Methinks our Bearded Bards agree…. 🙂

Cathy xxxxx

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