Tuesday, 19 December 2006
Searching the Globe
Owen Powell – 19th December 2006
One of the other things I do, when I'm not doing this, is work at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre as a tour guide. The story of the Globe is full of cameo appearances from people who came from overseas. Some of the best evidence we have about the way theatre worked in Shakespeare's time comes from the letters and diaries of visitors from France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. People in London, I suppose, thought it wasn't worth recording the details of what went on in the theatre – it was always going to be there, so why bother? (They were wrong – the Globe burnt down in 1613, only fourteen years after it had been built). Without these writings, it would have been much harder to rebuild the theatre.
The rebuilding would have been impossible without one of the later non-Londoners in the Globe story, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker. It was Sam's idea to reconstruct an Elizabethan theatre, his drive to raise the money and his commitment to the project over the last twenty years of his life that finally saw the new Globe built. Naturally, he faced an astonishing amount of opposition, and put up with a lot of sneering, from the London establishment, who didn't want a 'foreigner' coming over here and telling us how to treat our own culture. Thankfully, many more people were supportive, and the Globe is now recognised as an important building that can tell us a lot about London's history. It has also kept its international flavour. Over the last ten years, the Globe has hosted a Japanese Comedy of Errors, a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, and a Zulu version of Macbeth. Many of the staff, too, are from abroad, and it's my intention, over the course of the year, to speak to as many of them as I can. I started off with the person who, far more than any of the actors who work here, is the face of the Globe – Benjy, the security guard.
I first started working at the Globe in late May 2002, just as the World Cup was looming. Forget the idea of 'Arts' people being uninterested in sports – I have never known a group of people so obsessed with football as my new colleagues. Within a few weeks of joining I found myself sitting in the middle of a huge crowd at the Old Thameside Inn at seven in the morning, weeping into my Guinness as the ten men of Brazil knocked us out.
Sven's first squad for a major tournament contained the then little-known Canadian-German-Welshman Owen Hargreaves. With this sudden appearance of two new Owens on the stage, many at the Globe took to calling me 'Hargreaves' in honour of the curly haired substitute. Times have changed, people have moved on, but occasionally as I cross the courtyard in front of the theatre itself, the glass doors will open, and a cry of 'Hargreaves!' will issue from a smiling man in a loud shirt and maverick hat. I quite enjoy having a nickname that is so specific in time and place that only a few know the origin, or even the existence, of the moniker.
Benjy has been working at the Globe for five years, and has been in London for twenty. He first came over from Nigeria to study, a two year course at the London School of Journalism followed by a further course at Portsmouth University, but a career in journalism didn't happen, and he moved back to London to look for work. He's living in Croydon, and recommended a Streatham restaurant called Safaris that serves Ghanaian food as a good place to eat and meet people.
By now, he's pretty settled at the Globe, describing the people he works with as his "family", and enjoys his job. He's often the first person that many of our visitors meet on site (in fact, his official job title is 'Visitor Services'), and one of only a few people who know all of the other Globe staff by name. It's not all fun, however. He has to work Christmas Day, keeping an eye on the theatre – even though it's closed – and making sure the new Globe doesn't go the way of the first …