Frequently overshadowed by its open-air older sibling, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse takes the ambience and electricity for which Globe productions are known and injects them with the intimacy of a traditional 16th-century indoor performance space in the heart of London.
While the novelty of a recently appointed artistic director, the Kneehigh theatre company’s Emma Rice, at the helm of the Globe Theatre, the immense success of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations and the summer months have gently pushed the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse out of the limelight for now, the upcoming winter “Wonder Noir” season promises to reclaim the recognition that the institution deserves with both hands.
Based on the original blueprints of the 1597 Blackfriars Theatre, in which Shakespeare’s acting troupe, the King’s Men, operated and performed, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is simple in its design and practice. Solely illuminated by candlelight, the theatre runs shows during the Globe’s dormant winter months, with this year’s productions including John Milton’s Comus, The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, and Othello, their sole Shakespeare play of the season. While The Globe lies in hibernation, the playhouse takes the limelight for seven months of thought-provoking new dramatic content.
Having welcomed the likes of Gemma Arterton in The Duchess of Malfi and former artistic director Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King to grace their stage, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and 1,500-capacity Globe Theatre have together defined the way in which modern companies perform the works of Shakespeare and others, their calibre of production, scholarship and research transforming the genre beyond recognition.
With the sell-out success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer, the theatrical community waits with bated breath to see what Emma Rice, the Globe players and the charity as a whole reveal in their eagerly anticipated series of plays this autumn.
Words: George Somers