Gentlemen of Verona hope to avoid a tempest

After more than 40 years of dreaming, planning, fund-raising and laborious construction, tonight's opening night at Shakespeare's Globe is under threat from a typically English source - the weather.

Yesterday, staff at the open-air theatre on London's South Bank were scanning the skies anxiously as thunderstorms threatened to drench its sell-out first audience in its prologue season. Much of the replica of the famous "wooden O" on London's South Bank is as open to the elements as it would have been in the 16th century - and with clouds threatening a break in the fine weather, the 500 "groundlings" who will stand during the performance risk a wetting.

"I am like a fisherman, watching the Thames, watching the skies," the artistic director Mark Rylance told a press conference. "But we are quite prepared." Plastic macs will be on sale in the Globe shop at pounds 2 a time, and theatre-goers will be free to rush out to buy one at the first sign of rain - even while the play is going on.

The story of Shakespeare's Globe is the story of the American film director Sam Wanamaker, father of actress Zoe Wanamaker, who began his campaign to build the theatre after visiting the site of the original and discovering it was marked only by a brass plate on a brewery wall. He established the Globe Playhouse Trust site in 1949, 200 yards away from the first Globe, which burned down in 1613. But a decades-long battle for funds followed, solved at last by a lottery grant.

For Ms Wanamaker in particular the triumph of his vision will be bitter- sweet. Her father died in December 1993, shortly after construction started. But as Keith Baxter remarked at his memorial service: "Like Sir Galahad he saw a glimpse of his dream before he died."

Arts news, page 6

Robert Winder, page 13