Jonathan Croall on a place where students can taste, touch and feel the language of Shakespeare's plays.
Anyone failing to be thrilled by the new Globe Theatre in Southwark must be tired of life. As you enter the open-air oak and thatch building, those familiar but flat contemporary illustrations suddenly round into life, and you get a sense of what actors and audiences of the time would have experienced within the celebrated "wooden O".
The spirit of re-creation lies at the heart of the work of Globe Education. "Like other theatre education departments we aim to excite students about plays in performance," says Patrick Spotiswoode, its director. "But we're doing so in a particular set of conditions, and the emphasis of a lot of what we do is on the original context."
Education work has been going on at the Globe for more than 10 years, as its determined begetter Sam Wanamaker's dream slowly became a reality. Now, as the three-week "prologue season" ends with the final performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona this Sunday, the education programme will be able to make increasing use of the almost-completed theatre.
Over the coming months and before the first full season begins next summer, there will be a range of workshops for schools from key stage 2 to A-level, led by a team of actorteachers; a series of lectures and workshops for adult and university groups; a programme of evening classes and play-readings; and in-service training days for teachers.
Inevitably, the workshops on offer for the three set Shakespeare plays are among the more heavily booked. But the Globe team has refused some teachers' requests to simply put on relevant scenes from the plays. "We aim to enhance the curriculum, not provide a crutch for it," Patrick Spotiswoode says. "We're not an outside classroom."
Instead they've gone for an imaginative history-based approach. For "City Streets", the new Romeo and Juliet workshop for key stages 2 and 3, there's a morning at the Museum of London looking at 1590s street life, followed by a walk to the Globe armed with Elizabethan maps, and then a workshop at the theatre focusing on "grudge and mutiny" in the play.
The existing workshops on Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream are also firmly activity-based. In the former, students become spies, gather and assess information about a plot, and then work under cover as actors - "the perfect spies, deceivers and counterfeiters" - rehearsing a play about assassination, which happens to be Julius Caesar.
For the Dream, the morning is spent across the river at the Tower of London, looking into the nature of the court of Queen Elizabeth. Later at the Globe the students explore the atmosphere and conventions of the Elizabethan outdoor theatres before plunging into the magical world of Oberon and Titania.
"We want to encourage people to relax a bit and play around with the text, " says Patrick Spottiswoode. "We hope having this magical space here will help to demystify Shakespeare, to get the statue to stir and move." Happily, all the workshops include a tour of the Globe itself.
Teachers attending workshops earlier this year have mostly been enthusiastic. Carol Elliott took a group of lower-ability 10-year-olds from Danson Primary School in Kent to a workshop on Elizabethan drama: "It was wonderful, the leader read the kids so well, put them into role, and geared it exactly to their level," she recalls.
A similar workshop, linked to the Dream, went down well with Year 10 students from Bassingbourn Village College in Hertfordshire. "It was an excellent way of getting them to understand how the theatre worked, and the fact that the text is there to be played with," says teacher William Burrows.
Teachers who struggle with Shakespeare's language could benefit from a new workshop for all ages called "Word Play", coming in the spring. "It won't just be about meaning," Patrick Spottiswoode says. "We want children to taste, touch, feel, sense language, to understand why it's coined, and how theatre can be the mint."
Among the evening classes on offer, there's Shakespeare for the Terrified, "a gentle introduction to the tragedies, comedies and histories for those who were put off Shakespeare at school". In the meantime Globe Education has produced a beautiful Jackdaw-style activity pack on "Elizabethans at Play", a lively bran-tub of resources on themes such as Shakespeare and London, and Court Life and Country Life.
Globe Education, Globe Education Centre, Bear Gardens, London SE1 9ED. Tel: 0171 620 0202