Thursday, 10 October 2019

Recreating Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatres: Shakespeare's Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Thursday 24 October)

The actor and director Sam Wanamaker (1919-1993) was a man with a particular vision. It was to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe theatre on or near its original site on the south bank of the River Thames.

The Globe had been built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt the following year and finally demolished in 1644. Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed there.

In 1970 Sam Wanamaker set up the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and the process of gathering support, addressing the technical complexities of the task and gaining the necessary official permissions began.

The site of the new Globe could not be the original one because of the buildings currently there. Indeed, the original site is now much further from the Thames than it was. The site found, chosen and approved is about 230 metres from where the original stood but close to the river.

The team tasked with building the theatre had to decide what to build. There was evidence to work with of both the 1599 and 1614 theatres. The twentieth-century theatre would have to be an approximation based on this evidence. Once the structure was agreed, there would be questions about the building materials and techniques to be used. And, of course, modern requirements concerning safety would have to be taken into account. Shakespeare's Globe today is able to accommodate less than half the number of spectators that would have thronged the building in Shakespeare's time.

The wish for authenticity was bound to conflict sometimes with practical considerations. Recreating Shakespeare's Globe would be as challenging in its way as attempting to play Bach on period instruments.

The new theatre opened triumphantly in 1997.

One of the team who recreated Shakespeare's Globe was Paul Simons, a restoration architect and our speaker at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on 24 October. Paul has had a distinguished career in heritage and tourism. Among many other roles he is Secretary General of UNESCO's Great Spas of Europe project and in Bath chairs the Cleveland Pools Trust.

Sam Wanamaker did not live long enough to see the opening of the recreated Globe. When the decision was taken to add nearby an indoor Jacobean theatre illuminated by candles, it was decided also to name it the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It opened in 2014. Paul Simons was a member of the team that designed it and brought to completion.

Mike Short