We know Shakespeare's Globe as the big open-air theatre in Southwark, home to bold and bawdy plays with space for 700 people jostling in the pit just as they would have in Tudor times. But now the theatre's commitment to exploring dramatic history has gone one step further with the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor space based around plans for a Jacobean theatre which were discovered in the 1960s.
Some 40 years after Sam Wanamaker – the driving force behind getting the current Globe built – came up with the idea for two theatres (Shakespeare's own company had the Globe and Blackfriars hall from 1608), and nearly 20 years after the shell was completed, the playhouse has finally opened. And it is... well, it's just exquisite. Where the Globe is vast the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is small and intimate. The stage backdrop is beautifully carved and gilded. There are trompe l'
Much like the Globe, the seating is bench style and has already attracted complaints about comfort from those not sat with their backs against a wall. There are standing tickets in the upper gallery for a tenner and the most expensive seats (£60; not bad actually, when compared to the West End) put you at the side of the stage itself, within touching distance of the actors. The Globe's Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole happily admits there are still "loads of fucking challenges" with the space but, unlike the West End, this theatre isn't simply about getting a great view and letting a performance happen at you, it's about being part of an experience.
We're completely smitten and think the SWP's audience issues are minor niggles compared to its sheer beauty and unique nature (we'll be putting this theory to the test at the Duchess of Malfi shortly). It's primarily a winter venue so if you want to get in there before the new-theatre-smell fades, book yourself into one of the plays or candlelit concerts quickly.