Open house at the Globe but Glyndebourne it's not

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The Independent Online
It's summer, they're serving Moet et Chandon but it's not Glyndebourne. After a dummy run last year, the late Sam Wanamaker's dream has come true and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre has been reconstructed and it's finally open for business.

The two productions chosen to open the season are The Winter's Tale, directed by David Freeman, and Henry V, directed by Richard Olivier, son of Sir Laurence Olivier who helped to found the National Theatre which has its home further along London's South Bank.

Debate has raged over the questionable authenticity of Wanamaker's plans to recreate an Elizabethan theatre on the site of Shakespeare's Playhouse.

Nothing approaching a scale drawing of the original exists but principal architect, Theo Crosby, has drawn on years of theatre and building research, including details of the amounts of wood used to build similar 16th-century playhouses, and the result is a theatre unlike any other.

Opponents have made loud noises about "tourist traps" and the amount of guesswork involved, but those working on the site are anxious to prove the project's credentials. Costume designer Jenny Tiramani has used a team of needleworkers to make costume items like copies of Elizabethan ruffs which she believes might have incorporated as many as 20 yards of fine linen hand-sewn and gathered into a neckband of 15 inches and even the administrative staff have been knitting hose using hand-spun wool.

Evening performances are discreetly illuminated by floodlights secreted beneath the thatched roof which covers the top gallery of the three tiers of seats which encircle the raised stage. The audience sit on oak benches but the atmosphere is at its most exciting when standing in the area around the stage which thrusts forward into the space. The experience is similar to standing in the arena of the Albert Hall at a Promenade concert, only feet away from the performers.

The biggest problem for the directors and actors (and the audience if you are unlucky enough to be sitting in the wrong place) are the two huge pillars on either side of the stage which support the roof. The stage space is broken up and large scale action has to be constructed around them.

The gains, however, are considerable. The most exciting element is the onus the theatre places on the actor. Soliloquies and audience address become strikingly intimate. Lighting in most theatres is so strong that actors can see little but the front row. Here the actor can see everyone in the audience and thus address people directly.

With a play like Henry V this pays huge dividends. In the opening chorus, Mark Rylance - the Globe's artistic director - asks? "May we cram/Within this wooden O the very casques/ That did affright the air of Agincourt?"

By the end of the play, the answer from an audience who have been busy hissing and booing the dastardly English plotters and the villainous French would appear to be a resounding "yes".