Lyn Gardner: I wish Michelle Terry well at Shakespeare’s Globe, but it won’t be easy
The appointment of Michelle Terry as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe is a smart move by a theatre board that rightly came in for ridicule for making current artistic director Emma Rice’s position artistically untenable.
Rice’s departure in April 2018 will bring an end to the sorry saga. She takes up the reins of a new company, Wise Children, and the immediate support from Arts Council England demonstrates its faith in her. It will also give Terry the opportunity to put her own stamp upon the Globe.
Terry is a terrific actor who is widely liked and admired within the profession, not just for her performance skills but also her sharp intelligence and consummate theatre brain.
Still, I wish her luck because it’s not going to be easy. The Rice situation reflects internal divisions. It is an organisation caught between those who believe the Globe must not stray from its original mission to explore the conditions Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked in, and those who believe that theatres and spaces must constantly evolve or they become museums.
Terry will have a job on her hands, but she may well prove to be the bridge between the two. She offers a less radical break with the past than Rice and yet at the same time guides the theatre into a position where it may feel more comfortable about re-evaluating its role and meeting the needs of a 21st-century theatre audience.
Rice’s box-office success will be hard to match. There will also be a lingering feeling that the job is a poisoned chalice from which many established directors steer clear, either out of loyalty to Rice or fear that an organisation that treated one artistic director in such a manner would have no qualms about doing it again.
But Terry could be the woman to negotiate these difficulties. One of her great strengths is that, like previous AD Mark Rylance, she is an actor, and the Globe is very much an actors’ theatre, making huge demands on its performers and creating a unique relationship between performers and audience.
She knows how the space works, having previously played Rosalind in As You Like It in 2015, Titania in 2013’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2007. Audiences love her and she clearly loves them. I do hope her appointment means we might see more of her on the Globe stage, not less.
Her involvement with the Globe in the pre-Rice era has probably counted in her favour with a jumpy board that knows it has to get this appointment right or end up with more egg on its face.
She’s a woman and a mother, which also reflects well at a time when gender imbalances in theatre are under intense scrutiny. She will be no pushover, because she has already proved that she is a boundary-breaker and full of bravery. After all, this is an actor who has played the title role Henry V at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, was devastating in Katie Mitchell’s unflinching revival of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed at the NT and, most recently, wrote and directed with Rosalie Craig a piece at the Donmar – Becoming: Part One – which reflected the experience of motherhood and creativity.
She is a 21st-century woman and artist taking over a 20th-century theatre, which is a replica of a 16th-century building. If anyone can make that mishmash work it might well be Terry, who comes unencumbered by expectations and so perhaps can give the Globe a fresh start.
Everyone, myself included, will be cheering her on and watching very carefully to see not just what she does and how she copes with the space, but also to see how she copes with the Globe’s own internal politics.