Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour in the Bodleian Quad is nothing new, yet this year its format in Oxford is entirely different.

Because not only is the touring company bringing three Shakespeare plays to the table, but it is also letting the audience choose which play to watch before each show.

The cast of eight will then immediately perform the chosen play, as voted by the crowd gathered there for the evening.

It means they have had to learn, rehearse and perform Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice, ready to pull them out of the bag at a moment’s notice.

“In Shakespeare’s day, actors would tour with up to 25 plays rehearsed and ready to perform, so while we’re not going to replicate that many, we have whittled it down to three,” says Isabelle Marr the assistant director. “It means a lot of line learning for our cast. It’s definitely been a challenge.”

It is a great concept, but created all sorts of problems for the producers, because not only did The Globe need to fine tune three Shakespeare plays instead of one, but also find a set and costumes that suited them all.

“There was no tour last year which gave us time to sit back and think about how we could shake things up a bit and try something new,” says Isabelle, who admitted relishing the challenge. “We have a new artistic director and she’s keen to do things a bit differently, so this is a really exciting project for us and keeping everyone on their toes.”

So what has that involved? “Well we had to find eight very adaptable actor/musicians to launch straight into whatever play is chosen and design a versatile set that works for all three and a world in which all could co-exist in.

“And so far its worked really well.

“The actors are getting really good at it and its really exciting for the audience”

So how does it work? “Well the actors walk on playing music, introduce themselves and then explain that the audience are going to be part of an experiment. They name the plays and ask the crowd to cheer for whichever one they would prefer.

“Whichever play raises the loudest cheer will then start immediately.

“And to prove we aren’t biased we have an independent adjudicator in the crowd.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour has gone even further in shaking up the traditional format: “The point of the tour is to make Shakespeare accessible and universal for everyone, and this format does that, because we have cut each play down to two hours and made the cast gender and age neutral,” Isabelle adds.

“So we have a female Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Sebastian in Twelfth Night is a 50 year-old woman.”

Doesn’t that confuse people?

“Why would it?

“It’s not about who plays the part it’s about the character they portray, so it shouldn’t matter who the actor is as long as the audience can still relate to them.

“And yes it will be challenging for the purists, but that’s what we are aiming for because Shakespeare isn’t supposed to be done one way.

“Our job is to ensure the characters are believable and that people are clear about who they are by focusing on clever story-telling and so far they have been very well received.

And what if the audience wants to catch all three plays? “Then they will have to keep coming back, although there’s no guarantee that you won’t see the same play twice.

“In fact we had one man who saw The Merchant Of Venice three times,” she laughs. “But he stayed right to the end each time, so we took it as a complement.”

How do the actors feel about this new format then?

“It’s a great experience for them because Shakespeare is a rite of passage and it’s rare to perform all three while in rep. So this keeps things fresh.”

The cast is certainly treading the boards in some stunning locations, from tiny Georgian theatres in Yorkshire to castles in Kent, festivals in Germany and performances in Spain and Austria.

With the delights of The Bodleian Quad still to come, Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour then travels to Sweden, Hong Kong and even Singapore.

“We can’t wait to come back to Oxford (Isabelle did PPE at Somerville) because it’s such a special place and inspiring for theatre-makers.

“You take it for granted until you get out into the real world and realise Oxford is not the norm and it’s not always that easy to put on a play – that not everywhere has the same richness of resources.

“So yes I’m looking forward to coming back and visiting all my old haunts.

Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour

The Bodleian Quad until Sunday July 29, 2018

01865 305305