Shakespeare's Globe and Theatre Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on January 2, 2009

On the Thursday of my 2001 trip to London i decided to go to the Globe and after arriving at Liverpool Street station in the morning with Nikki, and after my usual cuppa tea first thing, I made my way to the Southbank area. I got to the new Globe theatre by about 10. There was a tour of the theatre at 10:30 so I spent a half hour looking at the first bit of
the exhibition in the adjoining building.

This part of the museum went into the history of the rebuilding of the Globe, a project spearheaded by American actor Sam Wanamaker who worked tirelessly raising money for 20 years. The original Globe was one street away from the present location but that property was not available. Around the outside of the theatre are bricks in the pavement that were sold for £300 in exchange for which the owner's name is carved in the brick for all to see. You can still buy a normal smaller brick for a pound if you wish. The theatre, which can hold 900 in the seating area and 600 in the Yard which is a bit of a squash admittedly, is entirely self supporting and the most expensive ticket is only £20.

The original Globe was built in 1599 and was actually moved to Bankside from a location North of London and was owned by Richard Burbadge along with the company of performers. A very early co-op! You would get to the theatre by ferry boat and there were no tickets sold in advance. Royalty would not have attended as portrayed in some movies. They would summon the troupe for a private performance at one of the Royal Palaces.

The tour took the better part of an hour. We were taken outside for an explanation of how the theatre was built using methods and materials identical to those from the early 17th C. This building is the only thatch building in London and they had to have special permission from the fire department to do it. It is lined with sprinklers for safety. Inside the building we heard about how it would have been to attend a play in such a theatre in late Elizabethan times. There is no metal used in the construction of the wooden theatre other than some ornamental pieces on the doors and some used in the floor and seating structure. The beams supporting it are aged oak and the plaster is a mixture of water, sand and lots of goat hair, just the way it would have been 400 years ago. The brick base is made of copies of 17th C style brick as well. Because there were no existing plans of the interior, it's a "best guess". There are however, lights for evening performances.

The stage is thrust out into the audience instead of in a picture frame sort of setting so you can see the actors no matter where you sit or stand. The "Yard" or floor is standing room only and you can buy tickets to see a play from the Yard for five pounds. In Shakespeare's day, this would cost you a penny.

The theatre is circular with pine benches in three tiers of galleries. The stage is oak and sheltered by a magnificent canopy supported by two huge oak trees painted to look like marble pillars. The boards are painted each season depending on performance or theme although this season they were left bare to see how it would work as the plays this season were mostly done in modern dress. When I was there in late September the season had just finished. The theatre is open to the sky and plays are performed rain or shine with rain slickers provided if necessary. No umbrellas as they would block the view. They also used the theatre for other types of performances from comedy to music. Every year one country is invited to do a production of a Shakespeare play in their own native language. This year's was in Brazil's Portuguese and one year there was a Zulu production of "The Scottish Play".

I went back and saw the rest of the theatre exhibition which I really enjoyed and I really recommend if you are a theatre fan at all. It details the history of theatre in London and the history of the South Bank area. There are loads of interactive multimedia displays on monitors, with interesting things like the various ways they used to produce sound and special effects in Elizabethan theatre. There was a display of musical instruments from that time, all hanging in a glass case and a nearby touch screen that you could use to find out about the different pieces including how they sounded. Downstairs there is an area that displays costumes and costume making, props, printing from that era, even a couple of sound booths with audio clips of various famous actors from this century performing. There were even scratchy sounding very old clips from the early part of the century. One modern actor was Sir John Geilgud though I was surprised that Sir Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton weren't featured in addition.

There is a lot to see, a very good gift shop and a good café with a limited menu for a light lunch. There are lifts for people with mobility issues. The tickets are now 10.50 but include the tour. Try to go during the morning or when there is no matinee performance because the tour inside the theatre won't be on then.
Shakespeare's Globe
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside
London, England, SE1 9DT
+44 20 7902 1400

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