The exit of Emma Rice from her position as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe is a happy day for Shakespeare and a happy day for the Globe. Rice – for those who haven’t followed her work – is one of those directors who thinks that Shakespeare doesn’t quite cut it and needs serious intervention to be any good at all. So for instance in her inaugural Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream she chose not only to change the setting of the play (which is sort of up for grabs) but to render the work gibberish in the process. The love-potion became a date-rape drug, thus helping to make the character motivations and plot not ‘more relevant’ but simply inexplicable. She also chose to change the language. So ‘Away, you Ethiope’ became ‘Get away from me, you ugly bitch.’ After which one of the mechanicals shouted ‘Why this obsession with text?’ So modern. So edgy. So stupid.
Rice was certainly not obsessed with text, but in simply using productions to try to work her way through her own modish, pretentious and convoluted thoughts. She responded to bad reviews in the way any such person would – by claiming that the same reviewers would not have said this about a male director. Doubtless we will hear more of this from her defenders in the coming days. But rather than pretend that the theatrical profession is the last bastion of outrageous misogyny, it would be easier to concede that whatever her other skills, her appointment as a director of Shakespeare at the Globe was an awful one. She didn’t care much about Shakespeare and didn’t care much for the text. Her audiences – and bosses – in consequence turned out not to care very much for her. Incidentally, anybody interested in a timely and devastating summary of Rice’s philistinism can read about it in Sohrab Ahmari’s brief polemic – The New Philistines – which is just out and which I happened to read over the weekend. Perhaps Ahmari should chalk up Rice as an early success for the devastating argument he makes in his short book.