With all eyes on London in 2012, the first time England has held the Olympic Games in 63 years, London will become the world’s stage for a short while. Whilst it may be true that the main focus will be on sporting success, with the capital hosting over 200 nations across its 34 Olympic venues, the accompanying Cultural Olympiad will have much to offer in the way of art and theatre.
In the spirit of England’s open invitation to all nations to share the country’s 2012 celebrations, Shakespeare’s Globe has come up with the idea to bring the international essence of Olympics to the theatre with its upcoming Globe to Globe season. The 2012 season will present all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, which for the first time ever, will be performed in 37 different languages from “all corners of the earth”.
Globe to Globe commences on 21 April and runs until 9 June 2012. During these six weeks Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole jokes, “The whole world is coming to the Globe!” In light of the epic scale of multiculturalism the season is set to express, it seems that this project is an exploration of language. That is to say that the Globe, home to so much of Shakespearean history, is taking what is arguably England’s greatest known playwright and offering up his much-celebrated language to world wide interpretation.
First up to kick off the season will be the Isango Ensemble from Cape Town which is set to perform Venus and Adonis in six different languages: IsiZulu, IsiXhonsa, Sesotho, Setswana, Afrikaans and South African English. In this cocktail of languages the Ensemble, which Dromgoole dubbed “the world’s greatest party company”, will present a carnival interpretation of the poem “brimming over with song and dance”. By launching proceedings in this fashion the Globe will express ways of communicating with audio and visual material, whilst dispensing with the tradition of Shakespearean plays relying on a play’s words to convey meaning.
The season seems set to investigate the different ways in which languages are communicated. For instance Henry IV parts I and II will be performed by different companies: the first by Compañia Nacional de Teatro in Mexican Spanish, and part two in Argentine Spanish by the Buenos Aires based Elkafka Espacio Teatral. Both countries have their own variances of the language. Subsequently, this may present an interesting perspective on language and the effects of how and by whom it is spoken.
For some, Globe to Globe may prove more than a multicultural celebration; it will be an opportunity for political freedom and expression. For example the season is set to present work from the world’s newest established country, South Sudan. The South Sudan Theatre Company will perform Cymbeline following a 20-page letter of request from the country’s Presidential Advisor which read: “Every night I used to lie in the bush under the stars reading Shakespeare’s plays and trying not to think about the killing that would take place in the morning”. Dromgoole described Shakespeare as a “megaphone for political aspiration” for the people of South Sudan. With this performance marking the first time Shakespeare will have ever been performed by the new country in the language of Juba Arabic, the performances on 2 and 3 May will be a real chance for the country to demonstrate itself as a unit.
Moreover, this concept of theatre as a political megaphone is extended to many parts of the world, especially those in conflict, with theatre becoming a radical form of expression. This is certainly the case for the Ashtar Theatre of Palestine which aims to make “theatre a fundamental need within Palestine society through stimulating cultural awareness.” Ashtar Theatre will perform Richard II despite the assassination of the Palestine Freedom Theatre Founder, Juliano Mer Khamis, in April of this year. Perhaps the language and political connotations of Palestine will lend a new meaning and relevance to Shakespeare’s play about conflict and dislocation.
On a slightly more light-hearted note, as Globe to Globe will present language in so many ways across the 37 works, it is near impossible to not provide something stimulating for every possible audience. For instance one may suspect that the “delightfully cheeky” Chicago based Q Brothers are set to entice younger audience with their Hip Hop interpretation of Othello in Othello: The Remix. Whilst this “smashed up” version of a Shakespeare classic, “lyrically re-written over original beats” may be seen as an affront to a cultural artifact, the argument could be presented that if one wants traditional stories to survive, they must be able to transcend the years and be reworked in order to be understandable and applicable to the modern day. Whilst it would be a generalisation to suggest that all youths are avid fans of urban music, it is certainly interesting that in a season celebrating language, Hip Hop is to be included as a form of communication. Although in terms of rhythm and metre, Hip Hop is not a million miles away from the musical nuances of Shakespeare’s famous iambic verse, the inclusion of Hip Hop as a language, or at least a valid form of communication, may well make a wider comment on the ability of one to present or receive story through music and rhythm.

Amid the 37 ‘languages’ is the inclusion of Love’s Labour’s Lost performed in British Sign Language. Deafinitely Theatre will take to the stage to perform the comedy and in doing so will “unite both a deaf and hearing audience”. In a season of linguistic investigation it will be interesting to experience silence among such a jumble of native sounds. Perhaps the silence of the play will provide a new focus and meaning to the essence of Shakespeare’s work.
All in all the Globe to Globe season promises to be what Dromgoole described as “a feast of stories”. Like the London Olympics, the season is set to be “a wild carnival of cultural interaction,” which will no doubt lead to a wide linguistic exploration as well as potentially a wider investigation into communication and comprehension. Moreover, with performances from companies such as Deafinitely Theatre and the Q Brothers, the season may well suggest a way to dispense with language as the prevalent form of communication altogether. In our ever-expanding world, with more and more languages and cultures, like South Sudan, to be recognised, perhaps the forthcoming Globe to Globe season will provide an insight into how one may go about forming true cross-cultural connections.

Globe to Globe will be performed from 21 April 2012 to 9 June 2012. For more information, visit the Globe to Globe website here.