Murder by candlelight at London's new Jacobean theatre

Tue Jan 14, 2014 2:48pm EST
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - London has a new theatre lit entirely by candles, transporting audiences back 400 years to the kind of performances seen on winter nights in Shakespeare's time.

Constructed mainly of oak, the building sits alongside the established open-air Globe theatre on the south bank of the Thames - but it offers a very different experience by replicating an indoor playhouse of the early 17th century.

While the Globe's thatched amphitheatre is breezy and holds more than 1,500 people, the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - named after the American actor and director who came up with the idea for both venues - is intimate, with just 340 seats.

Stepping inside is like entering an antique marquetry box, with the flickering candlelight illuminating woodwork and a painted ceiling that make a fine setting for the inward-looking psychological dramas of the Jacobean period.

In many ways the small indoor space is an "anti-Globe," according to artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, whose production of John Webster's dark tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi" opened there on January 9.

Modeled on drawings that fell out of an old book in the library at Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1960s, the new playhouse offers a wintertime option for Dromgoole and his team.

The second venue builds on the outdoor success of the Globe, which has been putting on shows since 1997 and had its first transfer to Broadway in November. Given the British weather, the Globe can only operate from April to October,

The sketches that form the basis for the 7.5 million pounds ($12.4 million) project are the earliest surviving evidence of what an indoor Jacobean theatre would have looked like, although the final building is not a copy of any particular historical venue.   Continued...

REFILE - CORRECTING PLAYWRIGHT Actress Gemma Arterton performs as the Duchess of Malfi in John Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi" at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre in London January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor