Director struts and frets his hour upon the stage

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Globe Theatre, London
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The play's the thing. Only in this case it wasn't. The Two Gentleman of Verona is hardly one of Shakespeare's best-known works, neither was the cast quite the thing. A member playing two parts broke his leg in too rapid a descent of a ladder during the dress rehearsal and had to be replaced before last night's performance.

The parking certainly wasn't the thing: facilities seemed no better than when the Puritans closed the theatre in the 1640s and traffic wardens seemed to outnumber celebrity guests. Nor was the food the thing: despite the traditions of the Bankside area, with its alleged historic hostelries, one cafe was all that could be spied from the riverside. Advance sales were not exactly the thing: tickets were available for every evening of this first season except last night's opening.

It had to be, then, that the playhouse was the thing. And so it proved. Though building continues, the dream of the late impresario Sam Wanamaker came to pass last night and the Bard's words were spoken from underneath the wooden O of the pounds 30m Globe Theatre.

Mark Rylance, director and one of last night's Gentlemen of Verona, said: "The Globe is to be used ... to rediscover something of the original interpretation of the plays ... this reconstruction is the first opportunity to explore the physical setting and what that contributes to the plays." He has also given his blessing to the crowd, particularly 500 ground- lings standing in Elizabethan mode in "the yard".

Last night the audience, with cultural and historical accuracy, booed and cheered and even ventured the odd bawdy remark. On stage kisses were greeted with a climactic drawing in of breath by 900 people.

This accomplished and often very funny modern dress production showed there is a thirst for participatory theatre, whether that thirst for a touch of pantomime is borne out of novelty only time will tell.

Rylance in particular played the audience, often just by raising an eyebrow or nodding at a heckler. And the groundling bonhomie continued into the interval when some parties managed a covert picnic in ersatz Glyndebourne style with smuggled-in bottles of wine.

It became clear from the wooden seats last night that Elizabethan bottoms were sturdier. But it also became clear that the Globe has had a triumphant rebirth and will undoubtedly attract tourists from around the world to this intimate and stunning venue.

Indeed, among the ground-lings were Lila and Sharla Smith, a mother and daughter from Minnesota."This is where we wanted to be. I hear this is where the bawdy things happen. I guess we're the low life," Sharla said.

But the real unforeseen hero of the night was Steven Alvey, replacing George Innes, who had come down the ladder too fast. Mr Alvey was until last night a plasterer on the site who also worked in the education centre and had heard the lines so many times he all but knew them by heart. The all-purpose actor/teacher/plasterer was something even Shakespeare would not have foreseen.