The most eagerly awaited event of the Shakespearian theatrical year, or, perhaps, of the decade, was the first production at the new Globe theatre. The 'Prologue Season', at what still described itself as a building site, but which presented a virtually complete auditorium and what is expected to be the final form of the stage in temporary construction, offered a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Perhaps a little surprisingly, the Globe's Artistic Director, Mark Rylance, had ceded the responsibility of inaugural direction to Jack Shepherd, though he nevertheless exercised considerable influence on proceedings from the role of Proteus. It was an event that one approached with enormous expectations and overflowing goodwill and it was a terrible disappointment.
The issues raised by that disappointment are fundamental not only to the existence and purpose of the reconstructed Globe but to the whole enterprise of Shakespeare production in the 1990s. Why had The Two Gentlemen of Verona been chosen, one wondered. The programme provided no clues, offering only a cast list. Presumably the play's presence near the top of most putative chronological lists of Shakespeare's plays made it seem an appropriate opening choice for the new theatre; it is also comparatively unfamiliar in performance, which removes some of the pressure for directorial innovation; and its limited but varied cast of older generation, clowns, and lovers, with no role dominant (except it be that of Crab) offers a good range of opportunities for a small company. All these may seem plausible reasons for doing a play. What the production demonstrated beyond doubt is that they are not reasons good enough: unless a production demonstrates from within itself its reason for existing, unless there is some sense of why this director needed to do this play at this time, the result, be the performing space never so new and never so authentic, will be essentially hollow.