Three hundred and eighty-three years after a cannon fired during a performance of Henry VIII ignited a fire that burned Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre to the ground, actors will soon strut and fret upon a rebuilt Globe stage not far from the original's site in London's Southwark district.
Fulfilling the dream of American Shakespeare lover Sam Wanamaker (1919-93), the new Globe will reopen for performances of Two Gentlemen of Verona Aug. 21 to Sept. 15. A Midsummer Night's Dream will be performed Sept. 3.
The opening production is directed by Jack Shepherd, and will star Mark Rylance, who has been appointed artistic director of the Shakespeare's Globe repertory company. The 1996 performances are billed as the Prologue Season because the first full season with the theatre's resident company won't begin until 1997.
Playbill On-Line members toured the nearly-finished construction site in late July. Because no blueprints of the original structure exist, the design for the new theatre is based on contemporary sketches of the exterior, plus what is known of stagecraft in Shakespeare's time.
The theatre is in the shape of a wooden "o." with roofed galleries, but no roof over the central playing area. Performances in Shakespeare's time were given in mid-afternoon, to take advantage of daylight. As a concession to modern theatregoing patterns, the space will have floodlights for evening performances. A flag will be raised over the theatre on performance days, just as it was in Shakespeare's time. As far as possible, original building methods and materials were used in construction. The galleries are constructed of English Oak, using wooden pegs in place of nails. The balusters that line the galleries were turned on a hand-lathe powered by a bent sapling and a rope, as lathes were in the 1590s. Perhaps most surprising of all, the roof will be thatched, though the thatch (bundles of grasslike reeds) will be impregnated with fire retardant material.
Plumbing, however, will be modern.
The stage is configured as it was in Shakespeare's day, with an open thrust playing area. The inaugural production will take place on a temporary stage; a permanent one will be installed in 1997, taking into account the advice of the actors who will attempt to make theatre on the unorthodox stage this summer.
As in the original Globe, part of the audience will sit in galleries surrounding the stage; part will stand on the ground in front of the stage, reviving the tradition of the "groundlings."
Ticket prices have undergone a slight increase. Tickets in the early 1660s cost one penny for groundlings, two pennies for a seat, and three pennies for a seat with a cushion. In the new Globe, tickets will cost 5 pounds (about $8.50) for Yard Entry (groundlings), 12 pounds for unreserved seats, 16 pounds (about $27) for reserved seats. All seats -- spaces on long benches, actually -- will be cushioned, though not all have backs.
The Globe complex will include a second, smaller theatre as well: the Inigo Jones Theatre, based on a design believed to be a Shakespeare-era original by architect Jones.
This is not the first time the Globe has been rebuilt. A new Globe rose on the site of the old in 1614, scarcely a year after the conflagration. But it was razed by theatre-hating Puritans in 1644. A road and a brewery now stand atop the original site a few hundred yards from where the new theatre has been built, adjacent to a promenade on the south bank of the Thames.
The Globe box office number is 011 44 171 401 9919 or call UK Ticketmaster at 011 44 171 344 4444.