Oh, to be a Groundling and a Stinkard

The Crucible presents ‘Othello’ – September 15th 2011

If I had seen Othello in the 17th century, I would have definitely slummed it in ‘the pit’.

 Pit  /pit/

Noun:  A sweaty maelstrom of ‘groundlings’ in the standing section of The Globe, sourced from the surrounding Southwark, the Jacobean equivalent of a red light district.  

For the princely sum of one pence, you could rock up, eat, slug, gossip, sling slander at the actors and generally revel your codpiece off.

And the audience at last night’s one pound public dress rehearsal channelled all the best bits of the of a groundling’s soul.  Which is why, for the following reasons, The Crucible should strive even during these wintry evenings of discontent to keep public dress rehearsals going:

1.  Anyone can come, from Dogberry to Don Pedro.  I came with a small pack of people.  At least three wouldn’t hit and run a loo in a theatre for fear of coming out poorer than they went in.  Ideally, theatres should work like libraries- a completely free service considered necessary for the public good.

Alas, that isn’t how it is.  But what if, for one night only, your average joe gets a taste of a new sort of inspiration, in a form unfamiliar?   It’s a new string to his bow, another ingredient in his cauldron that can help him to explore new aspects of whatever form of creativity he produces in life.

 2.  You lose the hushed reverence.  We’d been warned the actors might sometimes call for line prompts; that the director might stop the performance to give extra direction; that scenes might be repeated.

As a result, the theatrical experience felt less formal and more carnival.

There was a steady burble of speech in my section, and an unprecedented amount of guffawing, squeals and exclamations at inappropriate moments.  A friend of mine hid her face during every one of Othello’s and Desdemona’s snogging scenes, becoming in the process almost as entertaining as the actors.

With an increased freedom of expression comes a freer engagement with the play. What’s more, it’s a more communal experience, where the reactions of others in the crowd are a thought provoking addition to the scenes on stage.

3. Finally, you’ll get more honest feedback.  If someone spends £15 on a ticket, they’re going to be reluctant to slam the interpretation.  We collectively hated the first twenty minutes, feeling that it embodied the dull unintelligibility that Shakespeare meant to us in secondary school.

Ee by Gum

The Renaissance can keep the fleas, rats, plague and body odour, but the joie de vivre of the all-in no holds barred pit could be a welcome breath of fresh air, even if it only is once in a run.

Thanks to The Crucible then, for giving me the opportunity to spend a unique evening with my friends and fellow city dwellers.  And thanks for giving us an Iago with a Sheffield accent.  That was ace.

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