Globe director demands his pound of flesh

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The Independent Online
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre has fallen foul of critics before it has even opened - by trying to charge them to review its debut production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Theatre critics were surprised and offended to receive a letter yesterday from the artistic director, Mark Rylance, asking them to buy their own tickets because the Globe still needed to raise pounds 6.7m for education and exhibition facilities. One phrase in his missive has aroused particular spleen: "If you cannot afford to buy a ticket, or feel it is improper for me to ask this of you, please accept one free from us on Saturday 24 August."

Not only is it almost unheard-of for critics to buy their own tickets, but the reviewers believe that it is a particularly distasteful method of persuading them to do so.

Nicholas de Jongh, the London Evening Standard's theatre critic, said he was "very surprised" by the letter. "It seems rather strange to worry about pounds 16 multiplied by 12, which comes to less than pounds 200," he said. "I think he is just a rather silly young man, although a rather bright one."

The consensus is that Mr Rylance may be getting his own back on the critics who almost universally panned his production of Macbeth at Greenwich Theatre last year in which Rylance sported a Hare Krishna skirt and woad tattoos.

Michael Coveney, the Observer's critic, said it was "bad PR ... It may be some revenge on the critics who didn't like his production of Macbeth". David Nathan, theatre critic for the Jewish Chronicle, added: "I'm not going to go cap in hand to Mark Rylance and say, 'Please can I have a ticket'. I've been a critic on and off for nearly 40 years and I've never been approached in this way before."

A spokeswoman for the Globe insisted the reason was purely financial: "It's a policy not to give out complimentary tickets at this stage because we really do need every penny," she said.

Mr Rylance has compounded his difficulties by offering critics - some suspect deliberately - the free tickets on a bank holiday weekend. This, too, is highly unusual. The theatre's opening, on 21 August, could hardly be worse timed, since it falls in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. "He couldn't have designed a more stupid time if he had sat down and thought about it," one critic commented drily.

Observers are having growing doubts about the entire project, which some believe is in danger of becoming more like a Shakespeare theme park than the serious theatre it was intended to be.

The late Sam Wanamaker conceived the theatre on the south bank of the Thames as a replica of the 16th century Globe, and the open-air space has been laboriously constructed using the same techniques.

Unfortunately, a proportion of the audience in the back rows will find it hard to hear the performance as a result. They will have even more difficulty if, as Mr Rylance hopes, the audience heckle and treat the theatre "like a bear-baiting pit".

Mr Rylance's choice of The Two Gentlemen - in which he will star as Proteus - to open the theatre has also been greeted with surprise.

It is thought not to be very successful as a play and Mr Rylance has himself conceded he was inspired to choose it by a dream of his wife's.