Saturday, 21 January 2017

Shakespeare's Globe theatre - with a kiwi twist

At Southwark, on the banks of the Thames in central London is a modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, famous as a venue for Shakespeare's plays in the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, the current version is only metres away from the site of the original Globe.

It's as faithful a reproduction as they can get, working from available records and it houses a small museum and gift shop. It really is worth a visit and if you are staying a few days it's worth considering attending a play there. I couldn't as my time was spoken for and the plays on offer weren't my favourites but the guided tour was very interesting.

On 29 June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching.
The Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was demolished in 1644-45 to make way for tenants.

Today it is the only building in central London permitted to have a thatched roof, which is hardly surprising given the way the orginal was destroyed and then the Great Fire of London of 1666 which spread from thatched roof to thatched roof and burned for three days.

This  reconstruction of the theatre, named "Shakespeare's Globe", opened in 1997, with a production of Henry V. It is an academic approximation of the original design, based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings, and is located approximately 230 m from the site of the original theatre.
 Many of its patrons would have stood for the entire performances (lasting hours) or hired cushions for the ground or wooden benches back in Shakespeare's day. He was one of a handful of men who had shares in the theatre and most of his more popular plays were performed there. He was also an actor. The circular form gives good sight-lines in most cases and the acoustics are good.

In 2010 the Play Henry VIII was once again performed here but this time there were no fires. The rebuilding of the iconic building stems from the founding of the Shakespeare's Globe Trust by the pioneering American actor and director Sam Wanamaker. He died just short of seeing his project completed.

I enjoyed the museum. It shows a timeline of Shakespeare's achievements along with historical events. There is also a lovely display of typical Elizabethan clothing, including fotheringays, genuine musical instruments from this period and vocabulary created by the bard which have entered into our vernacular. There are interesting models of London of the period as far as one can tell as 80% of the city was later destroyed.

New Zealand has some truly passionate Shakespeareofiles. So much so that a group of embroiders and textile artists decided to create stage hangings for the new reconstruction. Ten years later and just in time for the official opening the four hangings were completed, toured a few countries and have found their home in the Globe's lower ground floor display area.

One of the hangings depicts Atlas holding up the world. New Zealand is clearly picked out in the embroidery even though in Elizabethan times NZ was unknown. Check out the photo below.

In February 2016, a temporary full-scale replica of the Second Globe Theatre, called Pop-up Globe and based on scholarly reanalyses of the surviving evidence for the 1614 building, opened in downtown Auckland, New Zealand and presented a three-month season of Shakespeare's plays performed by a house company.


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