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Epic Buildings: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Globe Theatre Foyer

In 2014, this amazing construction narrowly lost out on the Construction News Awards’ Project of the Year (under £1 million) to Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Aberdeen. Built to complement The Globe’s existing open air stage, the Playhouse was designed and constructed using authentic Jacobean plans and craftsmanship.
The great William Shakespeare wrote many of his plays for performance on an indoor, Jacobean stage. This project, completed by Virtus Contracts, allows The Globe to perform many of the Bard’s great plays in the original setting they were penned for, shedding an entirely new, historical light on their performance.

Architectural authenticity

Intimacy and intensity were the real benefits of a Jacobean indoor theatre. With two tiers of galleried seating, a pit area, a capacity of just 340 and a stage lit by candlelight (today the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse uses rather more advanced lighting), the audience felt more so that ever that they were a part of the dramas, histories, tragedies and comedies playing out on stage. It was crucial to the whole project that the new theatre maintained this historic intimacy and immediacy, by keeping the design as authentic as possible.

The Architecture Research Group (ARG) was set up at the Globe before the original outdoor theatre was constructed. The group extensively research Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre architecture, then work with architects and contractors to create as authentic a space as possible. A process of continual re-assessment is crucial to this process, as contractors come across issues in construction which require a reinterpretation of how our predecessors built their playhouses.

A long time coming

When the Globe opened its doors in 1997, the rectangular construction intended to become an indoor Jacobean playhouse was left as a shell, containing spaces for education and rehearsals. The completion of the Sam Wanamaker playhouse after 16 years is the culmination of a complete vision for the Globe complex.

The project also involved the creation of a foyer space, which needed to tie together both theatres in an intuitive, natural and welcoming way.

Are you impressed by the Globe’s new Jacobean theatre? Are you keen to learn the traditional skills required to work on historical projects? Share your thoughts and questions with other tradespeople below…