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London’s new theater offers tragedy by candlelight

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Published : 2014-01-15 19:23
Updated : 2014-01-15 19:23

LONDON (AP) ― Shakespeare’s Globe in London is adding a couple of innovations in its quest to give audiences a sense of theater as it was 400 years ago: a roof and candles. Hundreds and hundreds of candles.

They flicker in sconces and chandeliers inside the Globe’s brand-new indoor venue, which stands alongside its Elizabethan-style open-air playhouse beside the River Thames.

The oak-framed, wood-paneled theater will allow the Globe to stage plays year-round for the first time ― starting with a production of John Webster’s revenge tragedy “The Duchess of Malfi” featuring screen star Gemma Arterton in the title role.

The playhouse, which seats 340 people in tiered galleries, was built from original 17th-century plans using centuries-old techniques, and its shows will be lit entirely by candles ― an exercise in authenticity that came at a price.

“They’re not cheap,” chief executive Neil Constable, who oversees the Globe purse strings, said Tuesday. “We’ve had to create a new budget line.”

The beeswax candles require frequent trimming by a team of staff ― advised, said artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, by “one of the world’s leading candle experts.”

There was also the challenge of getting local government and fire authorities to agree to a wooden structure lit by open flames.

Health and safety officials were “incredibly cooperative and imaginative,” said Dromgoole. He’s emphatic that all the effort was worth it. Candlelight welcomes audiences with “a blaze of excitement and color,” he said, to a venue that smells faintly of wood, wicks and wax.

“The idea was always ― if Shakespeare walked in here, would he feel at home?” Dromgoole said.

“A lot of the great plays of the period that this space was built for were written for these conditions,” he said. “Something like ‘Duchess of Malfi,’ it’s rich with references to light.”

Building an indoor playhouse fit for Shakespeare has been a lengthy process.

The new venue is named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, after the late American actor-director who spent decades realizing his dream of rebuilding Shakespeare’s London playhouse near its original site.

Wanamaker, who died in 1993, dreamed of an indoor theater beside the outdoor Globe, and the brick shell of the venue was built as part of the reconstruction. But financial constraints meant it wasn’t completed at the same time as the Globe, which opened in 1997.

In the last few years, the company has raised most of the 7.5 million pound ($12.3 million) cost of the new venue from individuals and charitable trusts. Its indoor productions should bring in 100,000 more ticket-buyers a year.

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