Executive Director Tom Bird reflects back on The Globe’s visit to Istanbul with King Lear. The cast performed there as part of the King Lear On Tour season in April. Since then, their visits overseas have included performances in Austria and Germany. Full details about the tour and cast can be found here.

Why did the Globe decide to tour to Istanbul?

We are always looking to expand our touring internationally and to grow as an organisation. We aim to specifically do work in locations where we haven’t done work before.  So we often write to people about the possibilities of playing in their country and sometimes we get invited as well. In the case of Turkey we were invited by the Adana Theatre Festival which is run by the National Theatre of Turkey and they were very keen to have a Globe show. They came over here and then invited me over to Istanbul to look at some venues. That’s how it started really.

So did you already have a relationship with them?

Not before we were invited to the festival. We’d worked with another Turkish company for the Globe to Globe festival but this was the first time we’d worked with the National Theatre (of Turkey), which was a separate company. It was kind of out of the blue.

Are there any connections between Istanbul and Shakespeare?

That is a good question! There are some funny things, like in King Lear actually, which was really appropriate. When he’s pretending to be a beggar, Edgar says ‘in woman outparamoured the Turk.’ I think they were seen as being great lovers or being lascivious – I’m not too sure! But it was funny and the few people who understood English in the audience thought it was very funny that he was saying that in Istanbul. There are certainly lots of mentions of the Turks and Turkey in Shakespeare. In Othello, the Venetians are very worried about the Turkish fleet and its threat to Cyprus. I mean, it’s been one of the greatest cities in the world for thousands of years and Shakespeare would have known of it.

You’ve touched on it a little, but can you tell us more about how the Turkish audience reacted to King Lear?

The first night we were there in the Aya Irini Church, there was lots and lots of excitement and applause. The second night there was this incredible standing ovation, everyone on their feet going wild, so it seemed really, really popular. There was lots of laughter. I think more and more people speak English these days, even if Shakespearean English is quite difficult to understand, they still picked up quite a lot. Every house we played to was completely full. So that was just a lovely way for the company to start their tour.

How did you find the performances personally? How would you say they compared with the rest of the tour so far?

It went brilliantly. That first night in Istanbul was only the company’s fifth performance. But they were very much up and running properly by then. I think it was a really successful venue to go to and a really successful collaboration for the Globe. We did get invited back – so that’s always a good sign.

So this experience has inspired you to form future plans?

Yes, to definitely continue a relationship with that city, which I think is really important, as well as generally with the National Theatre (of Turkey) with a view to working with them. There’s no reason we shouldn’t take a show there every year. There are some really amazing non-theatre venues where we can play in Istanbul – fortresses, buttresses, public squares, the Byzantine churches like the ones we played in – or even theatres themselves. There’s just a wealth of options. It would be lovely to go back.

The King Lear company’s next overseas performances will take place in Denmark from 1 August.

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