One of the main highlights undoubtedly of your trip to London will be catching a show at the world-famous Shakespeare’s Globe, the site where the original plays of the Bard were performed in the capital city and now still hosting daily productions. Located on the south bank of the Thames, right next to the Tate Modern, this Elizabethan playhouse is impressive to look at itself, let alone the magnificent shows that you can catch if you are looking for something different from the razzmatazz of the West End. Here is a handy guide on everything you need to know about this historic and breathtaking attraction.
A Brief About Shakespeare’s Globe
You may not know this but the Globe that can be seen today is not actually the original – it’s a reconstruction. The founding theatre was built in 1599 by a playing company that Shakespeare belonged to, known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. However it would be short-lived considering that during a production of Henry VIII on June 29th 1613, an accident with a cannon on stage sparked off a fire. The entire theatre was destroyed, and even though it was rebuilt a year later, Puritan opinion and pressure forced the site to close in 1642 – two years later, the Globe was demolished.
That would not be the end of the story, however. In 1970, US actor and director Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust, with the aim to rebuild the theatre, with the approach of an academic approximation on evidence that was available on what the 1599 and 1614 buildings looked like. At the time, critics were quick to state that this reconstruction was impossible due to the site’s 16th-century design and modern fire safety requirements, but after 20 years of hard work, Wanamaker’s vision was realised.
Constructed just 230 metres from the original site, the new Globe was eventually opened to the public in 1997 with a production of Henry V. Over the years, plays have continued to be staged here every summer, while a series of other Globe centres have popped up around the world under Wanamaker’s instructions, but we’ll get to that bit later on. All of Wanamaker’s work paid off for him, as a new indoor theatre opened at the Globe in January 2014, a candle-lit space based on the Jacobean theatres of London – and what did they call it? The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, of course!
Style and design
The main aim behind the reconstruction was to focus on the 1599 building rather than the 1614 replacement. Academic studies were looked into and the main takeaway from all of this was that the entire structure should be centred on timber. For practical reasons, some features from the 1614 design were brought in, such as external staircases, while the development was made smoother when remains of the original Rose Theatre, a neighbour to the Globe, was found.
Wanamaker was certain not to implement any spotlights, floodlights, microphones, speakers or amplification in order to replicate the original environment of the theatre. Even now, all of the music is performed live and the entire experience feels like you are part of a community event. The reason why the new Globe had to be built 230 metres away is because the Thames is now wider than it was in Shakespeare’s time.
No structural steel was used, with the entire building being made from English oak, while all seats are simple benches and the building is the first to be allowed to have a thatched roof since the Great Fire of 1666 – the modern roof does, however, have protection from sprinklers and fire retardants. There is also a thrust stage, three tiers of raked seating and the covered stage and seating areas, all like the original.
In the past few decades, other replicas of the Globe have popped up all over the, well, globe. These free interpretations look to continue the lasting legacy of Shakespeare and highlight the footprint he left on the world of literature. For example, in Germany, you can enjoy sites in the Europa-Park, while the Schwäbisch Hall houses a replica of the interior of the Globe Theatre. There is also a Globe Theatre in Rome, Italy, the Old Theatre in Dallas, Texas, the Globe Theatre in Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the Old Globe in San Diego, California. Even further afield, you can enjoy the stuning Teatro Shakespeare in Argentina, and the Panasonic Globe Theatre in Tokyo, Japan – brilliant stuff!
What can you do at the Globe London?
Beyond doing the obvious, which is buying a ticket for one of the many fantastic shows here, there is also tonnes to do. The plays are usually staged during the summer, between May and October, but the theatre is actually open all year round, with it being used in the winter for educational programmes. There is often an extensive programme of talks, workshops, seminars, debates and activities planned for all ages, so be sure to check online what may be on during your visit. The tours that will take you backstage and all around this historic site, giving you more information about how it was rebuilt, are also available all year round.
There is also a modern lobby to relax in, a visitor centre for more information, a restaurant if you start feeling a tad peckish, and a gift shop to buy a nice souvenir to remember your trip by.
What’s on this year?
There is much Shakespeare to be enjoyed this summer. The iconic Romeo & Juliet, a tale of doomed love between star-crossed lovers, will be on from April 27th to May 8th, while The Merchant of Venice looks at civil society, intolerance, justice and religious law in a world where a wealthy heiress is forced to pick between her suitors – the latter will be on from April 23rd to June 7th, while there will be a Study Day for schoolkids on May 2nd, and Q&A sessions with actors and creatives on May 6th and June 6th.
Regardless of what you see or do when you get to the Globe, be sure you have booked your London accommodation as soon as possible to avoid any disappointment – this is the perfect chance to make a real weekend of it.