I have come to love the theatre so much that it often moves beyond a social outing to one of spiritual pilgrimage. It was with such a sense of reverence that I went, by myself, to the recently opened Sam Wanamaker theatre, part of the Globe complex. I see as much as I possibly can at the Globe and have never been disappointed. So expectations were high, not least because I had chosen John Ford’s deliciously naughty and bloody ’tis Pity She’s a Whore, for my inaugural visit. Upon reflection, I am not quite sure what I expected. No matter. What I experienced was far beyond mere performance, but that magical realm between watching and being, when the distance between the actors and your own soul disappears and you believe this performance is being done for you and you alone. The fact that I was but inches from the stage helped. The theater, lit by candlelight, is shadowy and mysterious, and it takes no effort whatsoever to become utterly, totally, completely engrossed in the play.
Then throw in incestuous sex, nudity, jealousy, hatred, revenge, rivers of blood and generous moments of light comedy, and what you have is a practically perfect evening in a practically perfect setting.
What the Globe, and by extension the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, does so well is in taking a play that has stood the test of time and presenting it to us in all its wordy glory. We aren’t distracted by flashing sets and outlandish costumes or reinterpretations that require extensive outside study. What we get are old words, telling old stories in ways that make them relevant. They shock, amuse, sadden and enlighten in much the same way they did 400, 500 hundred years ago.
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the sparkling musical or the challenging modern tale and I do love a comedy. But there are times to be entertained and times to be transported. And transported I was.
The Globe, or New Globe Theatre as the purists insist, is the brainchild of American actor Sam Wanamaker, who came to England after being placed on the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist. His dream was to rebuild the Globe and bring Shakespeare back to life, not as dry text to read in classrooms but words to experience on stage. Everyone told him he was crazy. But Americans are famously determined, and there it sits on the Southbank, a tourist destination in its own right. Built in the round with an open roof. Glorious in the summer months. Closed from October to April. Which meant a long, cold winter for us enthusiasts. But no more. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, built to resemble a Jacobean indoor theatre was built and opened January 2014. A venue for plays, concerts, and knowing the Globe’s ingenuity, things I haven’t even considered, throughout the year. I look forward to seasons of the grim and the glorious in this incredible space.