Visit London’s Historical Shakespearean theatre.

Visit London’s Historical Shakespearean theatre.

If you would really like to experience some authentic theatrical history in London without commercialism try a step into the past by visiting the  Sam Wanamaker Playhouse built Adjacent to London’s famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  The playhouse is an indoor theatre modeled after a Jacobean-era theatre. It is used for performances 52 weeks of the years enabling plays to be shown during the winter months when the main theatre cannot be used. It specializes in plays from between 1576 and 1642 by Shakespeare’s contemporaries or near contemporaries.

 

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My Visit…  Nov 9th 2016

On a chilly evening after visiting museums all day, It was my last night on London before I was due to fly back to California. I began to tie up my day by walking east along the south bank of the Thames to reminisce and take in some moonlit views of London’s bridges. As a goal I headed up to get a glimpse of Shakespeare’s globe. It was too late to take in a tour, so I took a few photos of the exterior. As I walked around  the exterior I noticed that the posters outside included a current schedule.  “What an adventure” i thought, to attend the theatre on spec. I was farther intrigued after seeing a note that the theater  seats only 340 people giving it an intimate atmosphere that is rarely found in theaters today. There was a performance due to begin in 40 mins. That was it! I quickly went about finding the entrance and box office desk, to see what my chances were.

Unusually the theatre itself is built inside a brick shell which accommodates general foyer space and a small cafe.

I was delighted to be told a discounted ticket was available very close to the stage – at $26 , listed as an obscured view. In fact I was to find it was an entirely clear view. My lucky night. While I waited to enter I enjoyed some tasty hot, reasonably priced food and a coffee in the theatre cafe.while I  ‘read up’ on this play just in case the period theatrics and scene changes are in any way confusing. I am glad I did ;  ‘COMUS, or A “Masque” in Honor of Chastity, was written by Milton in 1634 to commemorate the 1st Earl of Bridgewater being inaugurated as the Lord President of Wales. It was first performed by the earl’s three children. Egerton’s 15-year-old daughter played the main role of Alice, a young girl who resists the temptations of the debauched Comus, commending the virtues of chastity, temperance and virginity’ and all such other things like that. The story evolves from present to mystical, back to present.

 

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The bell sounds… I am enthralled as I enter another world. The oak-framed construction is striking for its warmth and smell. Very intimate. The lighting makes an architecture of atmosphere that is unexpected. It has a naked-flamed candelabra descending from the ceiling, plus, candles in sconces. Which makes the interior feel like a kind of boat. I look up, wow, The ornate mythological ceiling painting and trompe-l’oeil decorations are quite something.

The audience is so close to the actors. I can see that that people in the best seats – to the sides of the stage – are actually in touching distance of the actors. There are also benches in a pit and two U shaped galleries above.

 

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Quite promptly, THE PLAY BEGINS… The household are In the midst of their final rehearsal of a play, it’s soon time for the performance to begin.We get to meet the characters and I start to notice In the gallery above the fray, overlooking the stage, the three musicians who will play period music throughout.

Next , the fantasy world of the masque takes over, and Alice becomes ‘The Lady’.  She goes walking with her two dorky brothers. Predictably, as with all thrillers, They get separated in the entangled wood, where bacchanalian spirit Comus (an enchanter) and all earthly desires (his followers) writhe among the foliage. The morphing of the previous household players into the followers on this tiny stage is very well done. You can almost smell the rotting leaves. The forest becomes a monstrously carnal place – the followers are anarchic, with clearly naughty intentions. They make good use of the space , running into the audience and “the pits”.

The handsome Comus tricks the Lady into accompanying him, suggesting he will lead her back to her brothers. But instead, he leads her to his lair where he straps her to a magical chair and, surrounded by his followers, repeatedly tempts her; she resists, showing her pure and chaste nature. With aid of the water-nymph, Sabrina, the lady is finally freed and we are magically transported back to the household rehearsal.

Given that, essentially, Comus’s plan to drug and ravish the Lady amounts to rape — and the message that true virtue would resist is dismaying. I was intrigued that this very sexual subject by the poet John Milton would have been performed in 1634.

Milton’s play had plenty of comic irony, choc full of richly ornate verse, and with a wealth of mythic allusions. I found the whole experience of the play at such a close proximity to the stage very entertaining.

Its quite a wonderment to sit in this theatre and imagine the stenches, the clothes of the audience, their mindset, the surrounding city as it would have been.

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Facts ABOUT SHAKESPEARES GLOBE THEATRE

The shell was intended to house a “simulacrum” of the sixteenth-century Blackfriars Theatre from the opposite side of the Thames,[1] adapted as a playhouse in 1596 during Elizabeth’s reign. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s playing company, began to use it in 1608, five years into the Jacobean era.[2]

Facts about The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – 

 is an indoor theatre forming part of Shakespeare’s Globe, along with the Globe Theatre on Bankside, London. Built making use of 17th-century plans for an indoor theatre, the playhouse recalls the layout and style of theBlackfriars Theatre, although it is not an exact reconstruction. Its shell was built during the construction of the Shakespeare’s Globe complex, notable for the reconstruction of the open-air Globe Theatre of the same period. The shell was used as a space for education workshops and rehearsals until enough money was raised to complete the playhouse. It opened in January 2014, named after Sam Wanamaker, the leading figure in the Globe’s reconstruction.

I was surprised to see on the list of other theatre replicas … Buenos Aires, Argentina: Teatro Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse

BOX OFFICE 020 7401 9919