I’ve been lucky to watch Shakespeare performed dozens of times, at least twice with the babes by my side — Twelfth Night at Open Air Theatre and Romeo and Juliet at National Theatre. It’s exciting and quite moving to see the impact Shakespeare can have on kids at such a young age.
So it was a treat to visit** Bankside for the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour and Afternoon Tea at the Swan, organised in collaboration with Little Bird Deals for families.
The weather was awkward but that didn’t make the walk across Millennium Bridge any less spectacular. Through the crowds, slivers of sunlight lit up some of the city’s most familiar landmarks. Thames speedboats whizzed past beneath us while further ahead loomed The Shard and, a lot less imposing, Shakespeare’s Globe.
‘But it’s not a Globe!’ Ezra pointed out and he’s right, it’s actually a 20-sided polygon as our perky tour guide would inform us later. It’s not the original Globe either, rather a replica built thanks to the vision of US actor Sam Wanamaker. The Globe is a true labour of love, painstakingly reconstructed over decades. Although Wanamaker never lived to see the finished work, he would have been beyond proud of the result.
It’s a striking theatre, with unique features such as oak tree pillars painted to look like marble, and fresco style paintings of the zodiac (representing ‘heaven’) on the stage ceiling.
You can’t help but go ‘ooh’ as the doors swing open and you enter through the yard, looking up to see other tour groups peering down at you from the seats.
The tour guide took us on a fascinating trip back in time to when Shakespeare was a jobbing actor/writer, and when men played all the women parts. Even today Shakespeare’s Globe holds occasional ‘throwback’ performances with male actors in the female roles.
We learned how only wealthy Elizabethans sat in the audience, while the peasants aka the ‘penny stinkers’ stood in the yard, amongst heaving masses of up to 3,000 spectators. Standing in the centre of the Globe, you can almost hear the crowd rowdy with beer and emotion; although thank God you can’t smell them (there were no toilets in the Globe so… ).
I’d thought the babes might get bored but the tour guide was great at engaging younger ones with her lively narrative style, as well as question and answer sessions. Our group had a toddler in a pushchair, although he slept through it. NB: The tour is only pushchair-friendly up to a certain point, you’ll need to bring your baby or toddler out and carry them up a few stairs later on.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour was an educational and fun way to spend the afternoon and afterwards we enjoyed having a wander through the Exhibition itself boasting memorabilia dating back 400 years and earlier, as well as modern props and costumes.
Afternoon Tea at The Swan
We rounded off our tour with a sumptuous Afternoon Tea at the Swan restaurant, in their upstairs room overlooking the river. This is a handsome setting and must be extra cool in high summer when they open up the balcony windows. There are two menu options: Classic Afternoon Tea (scones, Battenburg slices, lemon tart, salmon, ham and cucumber sandwiches, macaroons) and a Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea with fish finger sandwiches and scotch eggs.
We stuck with the Classic Afternoon Tea (mine came with prosecco) and I’m ashamed to say that we barely made a dent in it. There was just So. Much. Food. One massive scone and a sandwich and Ezra pronounced himself ‘stuffed’. A special mention goes to the Popcorn Tea, a green tea with delicious savoury notes that would go equally well with dim sum.
What did you like most about the Globe Tour?
‘Sitting in the seats. Because I’m lazy (laughs). No seriously, it felt grand to be sitting in seats as if we were there 400 years ago. I enjoyed finding out about Sam Wanamaker who had the idea of making a replica of the Globe, and also how long it took — like 50 years! I was impressed by the sound attic where they made thunder sound effects by rolling a cannonball around. For lightning they’d draw a zig zag and throw a firecracker! ’ – Ezra, age 10
‘I liked it when we stood where the poor people used to stand, to see what they felt like. And I liked cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea!’ – Jed, age 7
**Our trip to Shakespeare’s Globe and Afternoon Tea was kindly provided by Little Bird who are offering fantastic savings for families over Easter (until Apr 10), to complement their year round promotion. Visit http://www.littlebird.co.uk/Discount-ShakespearesGlobe2016
Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition is at Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT (Blackfriars/Southwark tube). The exhibition is open 9.30am-5pm daily (Mon-Sun), tours take place every 30 minutes, no pre-booking required; adult £15/child age 5-15 £9/under 5s FREE. During your visit there are also live demos of Elizabethan dressing, printing, stage fighting between 11am-4pm, and extra activities for kids, along with a family trail and a child friendly audio guide for the exhibition.