LEADING ARTICLE : Directing the Bard from the boards

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The Independent Online
"Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France or may we cram within this wooden 0 the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?" Well, yes, actually, according to the newly installed artistic director of the restored Globe Theatre. Mark Rylance is taking the prologue to Henry V to heart. He intends to stage Shakespeare as nature intended, devoid of decor beyond bare props and eschewing vulgar post-Elizabethan aids such as spotlights.

"On your imaginary forces work." Indeed, imagine the new millennium, and a spanking new bridge across the Thames taking tourists and day-trippers from St Paul's cathedral to the trendy waterside cultural centre of Bankside, where they could wander around the just opened National Museum of Modern Art, have coffee at a Thamesside restaurant then catch an early evening performance of Shakespeare at the Globe, either sitting under Elizabethan- style timber and thatch or standing in the open air exposed to the elements. Barely a year ago, it was easier to imagine Agincourt in full swing than such a scenario. But, as Jonathan Glancey points out in an article in Section Two, we are well on the way.

In Mark Rylance, the Globe has acquired one of the most talented actors of his generation. The word actor is significant. For 30 years, artistic directors by and large have been directors. Productions have reflected the interpretations of the director rather than the star player or company.

Rylance wants to change that. Audiences will come to hear and to see verse spoken by actors using only their talent to work on our imaginary forces rather than special effects, scenery, design and time shifts . Where Peter Brook gave us A Midsummer Night's Dream on trapezes, Robert Le Page in a mudbath, and Adrian Noble under a sea of electric light bulbs, Rylance will give us A Midsummer Night's Dream pure and simple.

It is a brave gamble. Yet there are signs it will pay off. The restored Globe aims to have 25,000 students a year visiting its educational centre. The RSC has already decided to pull out of London in the summer months, so Rylance should be able to attract flocks of tourists and all curious theatre-goers to the Globe.

His principal task is to persuade the country's leading actors and actresses to join him. Globe board members such as Diana Rigg, Judi Dench, Nigel Hawthorne and Brian Cox should start the ball rolling by joining him on stage.

It is an odd reflection of theatre today - and in stark contrast to Shakespeare's time - that an actor running a theatre looks almost to be a gimmick. If so, it is a gimmick that deserves to succeed.

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