Shakespeare's Globe in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Over the past twenty years, scholars, practitioners and audiences have been exploring Shakespearean staging in the Globe restored to Bankside.
Now, at last, we can begin to do the same for the pieces that were written to be performed indoors.
Not on the Globe site, back then, but at Blackfriars over the river. But this intimate space has always been a part of the New Globe Walk site, and now, as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, it's been sumptuously fitted out for its opening season.
John Webster's dark, violent Duchess of Malfi was originally performed both “privately” at Blackfriars, and “publicly” on Bankside. In many ways it is an ideal choice to start the season.
And it is a thrillingly unique experience.
The intimate auditorium still has the aroma of new wood around it. To modern eyes it seems dark, almost gloomy, though light glints off gold leaf. The beeswax candles in the six chandeliers are lit as the drama begins; they are raised and lowered to suit the scene. Our actors also have portable candle-holders, lighting faces fitfully, focussing our attention. No green running-man emergency lights here; the opening of Act Four, with the Duchess confined to her prison, is in pitch black – very effective.
Those same modern eyes will miss finding the mind's construction in the face.
David Dawson's riveting Ferdinand is outstanding – superbly adept at using his voice and his body language to engage with the audience without seeming to strive for any effect. Rather as Mark Rylance has done in the main house next door. An intelligent, eloquent performance.
His duchess is the excellent Gemma Arterton – a wonderful Rosaline for the Globe a few years ago. She too enthrals the galleries – artfully seducing her steward [Alex Waldmann], calmly meeting her violent end.
Globe stalwart James Garnon is the other evil brother, and there's a psychologically complex, rounded performance from Sean Gilder as the cynical henchman Bosola.
Webster weaves a bloody tale of murder, corruption and revenge. But, this being the Globe, and Dominic Dromgoole, there is plenty of [mostly blackish] humour.
Excellent music, too, from the shadows of the gallery – Claire van Kampen the composer, with Tom Foster leading his band of four from the keyboard.
After the eerie jig, this first ever paying audience in the SWP went wild for the brave players who learned new techniques to bring an old masterpiece to candlelit life in this brand new space. It will be the first of many revelations, I'm sure, as the Globe embarks on its third decade.