Globe appeal: Shakespeare on tour

This year, the Globe Theatre in London chose to open its 2013 season in the Middle East before taking its production of Shakespeare’s 'Romeo and Juliet' back to the UK capital. considers the reasons behind the bard’s enduring popularity the world over

All the world’s a stage and the plays of Shakespeare are being performed in all corners of it, come what may. If that sentence sounds a little familiar, well, thereby hangs a tale: it consists of phrases coined by the world’s most famous playwright. The words of the bard (1564-1616) have, it seems, been absorbed into the English language to the extent that we don’t even know we’re speaking them. 

“Shakespeare is much more around us than I think people realise,” says Fiona Banks, Head of Learning at Globe Education, the educational arm of London’s Globe Theatre. “Whether it’s footballer David Beckham naming his child Romeo or a TV soap opera that has an identical plot line to a Shakespeare play, it is just everywhere. And of course we quote him all the time without even realising it.”

Banks is part of the team that has been bringing Shakespeare to the UAE and Qatar for the last three years. Globe was first invited in 2011 by the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation to take part in the annual Abu Dhabi Festival. This year, the company performed a production of Romeo & Juliet aimed at audiences aged 11-16, premiering in Doha last month before showing for three nights in Dubai at the Madinat Theatre. The play then went on to Abu Dhabi and recently began its London run at the Globe Theatre.

As well as the Middle East, Globe also tours and screens productions of Shakespeare in Europe, America and Australia. So, why does Banks think the appetite for this quintessentially English playwright is so international? In recent years, for example, there has been a strong Chinese interest in Shakespeare. “It’s really simple – the stories are just so strong. They’re very complex stories, too, but they’re about very real, human emotions. I think they connect us to our humanity and that’s why they translate so well – they are just stories about human beings.”

Banks also has another, less complimentary reason why the playwright’s work resonates so readily. “Shakespeare was a complete thief,” she says, “he took his stories from so many different source materials. So, the chances are that there will be stories like his existing already in many other cultures.”

They’re also stories that many children grow up with, whether they choose to or not. “If a child has seen the Lion King then they know the basic plot of Hamlet,” says Banks. “So, even on a subconscious level audiences can recognize stories that they already know part of, or emotions that they’ve already felt.”

This then, is the short and the long of it – and yes, that’s one of Shakespeare’s phrases too.