The Shakespeare's Globe Collection

William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London

Michelle Terry as Titania (A Midsummer Night's Dream) Credit: John Haynes
Jamie Parker as Henry V Credit: John Haynes
Simon Harrison, Emma Jerrold and Brodie Ross in The Comedy of ErrorsThe Comedy of Errors Credit: Marc Brenner
Roger Allam as Falstaff in Henry IV Credit: John Haynes
Much Ado About Nothing Credit: Manuel Harlan
Titus Andronicus Credit: John Tramper

It’s the closest thing one could ever get to Shakespeare as Shakespeare saw Shakespeare. This glorious treasury records a golden decade from 2005 to 2015 at London’s Globe Theatre under the guidance of artistic director Dominic Dromgoole.

The 22 plays from that time, plus Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, share a common approach to staging, with continual back-and-forth exchanges with audiences that share the same lighting, occasionally the same light rain as the players within its wooden O.

In the earliest production, Love’s Labour’s Lost, the groundlings—standing customers that surround the action—fill spaces within a knot garden. In Richard II, the last of Dromgoole’s era, a few stand in trenches that cut into the stage—their heads sticking up like a row of cabbages.

The interaction between performance and audience, for which the Globe became famous, informs every play, comedy, tragedy and history alike, and works both ways. While ‘volunteers’ might be dragged onstage and the fortunate wooed or even kissed by Cleopatra, those less so receive the contents of Trinculo’s codpiece in The Tempest. In Julius Caesar, one lucky punter gets to take home a testicle ripped from the body of Cinna the Poet.

Humour is never far away, even in a gore-fest like Titus Andronicus in which the guilty laughter feeds back to the players and sharpens their edgy plots. In a glorious Comedy of Errors, it overflows in crazy farce, introduced by a comic prelude from the Buster Keaton playbook.

The Globe did not always attract the A-list celebrity actors as might the National or the RSC, and the playing of minor parts is occasionally undistinguished, but some outstanding performances merit individual five-star ratings. Roger Allam is a wonderful, fatherly Prospero, William Houston a riveting, near-demented Titus, Eve Best a sensual, timeless Cleopatra and Clive Wood her rumbunctious, ill-tempered Antony.

Jamie Parker presents such an inspirational figure as Henry V that one would not be surprised to see the groundlings follow him unto the breach, yet he can spare a remorseful tear and stutter as a bashful suitor. Jonathan Pryce, whose presence always exudes intelligence, is a magnificent Shylock, both tormentor and tormented.

Mark Rylance, the previous artistic director, returned to play a prim Olivia in an all-male Twelfth Night (with Paul Chahidi a delicious Maria). In one of those little touches that bring the text to life, when interrupted mid-word by the arrival of Stephen Fry in yellow stockings, he/she utters in astonishment: “Malvoli... (long pause) ...Oh!”

Performances by Naomi Frederick (Rosalind), Janie Dee (Countess, All’s Well), James Garnon (Parolles and Caliban), Christopher Logan (Casca), Matthew Needham (Saturninus) and Kate Duchene (Katherine of Aragon) all abide in the memory.

Design and choreography make the best use of the structure of the Globe, notably in Romeo and Juliet, the rich pageantry of Henry VIII, the lovely settings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the hellish creatures and illusions of Dr Faustus. Raw, raucous music, with scores by Claire van Kampen, Stephen Warbeck, Jules Maxwell, Nigel Hess, Olly Fox and others, features prominently, strikingly so in a cacophonous, unnerving opening of Macbeth with pipes and a dozen drummers.

The collection includes all the major works, apart from Henry VI, Richard III and Othello. An earlier release contained the 22 Dromgoole productions, to which has now been added three under his successors, the first of which is King Lear, directed by Nancy Meckler, during Emma Rice’s short, controversial period in charge.

Strident modern sounds replace the early instruments of the previous regime, spotlights hang prominently from the rafters, and the actors, no longer in Tudor dress but contemporary grunge, attack the plywood-covered theatre structure as if trying to demolish the past. This might serve elsewhere, but serves no purpose in this lovely, unique space.

After Rice’s brief occupancy of the role, the current artistic director Michelle Terry, outstanding as the Princess (Love’s Labour’s) and Titania, made a double debut in 2018, directing herself in the title role of Hamlet. It’s a gender-bending production, with a mixture of period and modern dress, but Terry is terrific, pumped up with rage, and the show is a welcome return to what the Globe does best. Completing the set is The Two Noble Kinsmen, directed by Barrie Rutter.

The closely and cleverly recorded video consistently preserves the immediacy of the performances, making one feel part of a truly Shakespearean audience that laughs, applauds, occasionally drinks, eats or cuddles in a corner. Some of the DVDs offer German as well as English subtitles, a few also French. It is a pity there is no accompanying booklet.

The admirable and still available BBC complete Shakespeare works, filmed from 1978 to 1985 (oh, happy times), also largely sticks to a conservative, historical style, but the lack of a live audience makes the productions seem sterile compared with the Globe’s offerings. With no other theatre offering the consistency of approach that characterises the Globe, these are likely to remain permanent benchmark productions to treasure.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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