An indoor wooden playhouse lit by candles

SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE.

Everything you need to know about the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe is home to two very different performance spaces – the outdoor Globe Theatre and the indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Now seven years old, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is modelled on the candlelit theatres of Shakespeare’s London.

A wide view of a theatre, seen from the upper seating area

Photographer: Pete Le May.

Use the page below to find out more about the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – explore fun facts, construction, photos, trailers, seating plan and more.

WHAT

A 340 capacity indoor playhouse.

WHERE

Bankside, London, UK, SE1 9DT.

WHEN

Opened in 2014, still open today.

OVERVIEW

A map of different spaces in a building

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is located on our site in London, next to the Globe Theatre.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is located on our site in London, next to the Globe Theatre. 

Named in honour of our founder, the Playhouse is based on indoor candlelit theatres known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. It’s not a reconstruction of a specific venue, but it echoes the Blackfriars Playhouse, used by Shakespeare’s theatre company from 1609. 

Lit by over one hundred beeswax candles, the intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse hosts plays, concerts, education workshops and events throughout the year. Its main theatrical season runs from October to April but there’s a full programme of events all through the summer, too. 

A view of a dark theatre with candles lit around it

The view of the Playhouse from the upper gallery. Photographer: Photographer: Pete Le May.

It was always Sam Wanamaker’s intention that Shakespeare’s Globe should include an indoor theatre, and the brick shell for the Playhouse was built at the same time as the rest of the Globe site. But it wasn’t until 2012 that work began to turn the shell into a playing space.  

The Globe’s Architecture Research Group worked with architects Allies & Morrison to design an ‘archetype’ of London’s early modern indoor playhouses. Underlying the design is a set of blueprints for a late seventeenth century playhouse drawn up by John Webb, Inigo Jones’s former assistant. These sketches provided the basis for the layout of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.   

Modern facilities, including lighting and a sophisticated ventilation system, are built into the structureThese resources allow us to stage plays under pure candlelight with confidence and safety

Architectural drawings for an indoor playhouse

Architectural drawings for an indoor playhouse, believed to be by John Webb, late 1660s (reproduced by kind permission of the Provost and Fellows of Worcester College, Oxford).

A black and white photo of a brick building

The exterior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Nick Robins.

A musician's sheet sits on a stand, lit by candles in a dark theatre

Music by candlelight in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Marc Brenner.

FUN FACTS

The Playhouse is made out of a frame of green oak that sits within a brick shell.

The decorative features in the Playhouse are based on those in recorded or surviving Jacobean buildings.

Shakespeare’s later works such as The Tempest were written for performance in a theatre like the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

The attic winch allows for sophisticated flying effects. Shakespeare’s Blackfriars had a winch too – but our technology is more 21st century!

The painted ceiling is based on an early seventeenth century mural in Cullen House, a former stately home in Scotland.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened in January 2014 with a production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, directed by Dominic Dromgoole.

CONSTRUCTION

Our YouTube Playlist documents the building of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Watch the series of videos to see the whole journey, from the initial fundraising stage right through to opening in 2014.

YOUTUBE PLAYLIST

CEILING MURAL

A decorated ceiling with candles

Photographer: Pete Le May.

The decoration of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was influenced by what we knew about the elaborately-painted indoor playhouses of Shakespeare’s time. As it cost more to visit an outdoor playhouses (than an indoor one), at the time they attracted a richer audience and so were always spectacularly decorated with rich colours that shone brightly in the candlelight.

Prior to decorating our present-day Playhouse ceiling, our researchers gathered information about carving and decoration methods used in original indoor playhouses. The final mural was based on photographs of a seventeenth-century ceiling in Scotland’s former Cullen House (also known as the ‘Astral Ceiling’) – the original design showing the goddess of the moon between clouds, stars, cherubs and putti. The Cullen House ceiling was damaged beyond repair by a fire in 1987.

The entire of the Sam Wanamaker ceiling was painted with these motifs – the piece created by a specialist team, led by artist Zaza Opperman. It was painted in panels on the ground, off-site, before being put together in the theatre, assembling for all to see.

PHOTOS

TRAILERS

Previous trailers for productions will give you a taster of what a performance in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is like.

Visit our full YouTube Playlist to see a collection of archive videos for events and projects that took place in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 2017 – 2020.

SEATING PLAN

Below is an example seating layout for a typical performance in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

The entire theatre can hold 340 audience members across two levels, 38 of those are in standing ticket positions in the upper gallery (seen as dark grey in the below diagram). The Playhouse’s shape and the presence of pillars means that your view will be slightly different depending on where you sit (or stand).

LOWER GALLERY & PIT

A black and white map of an indoor theatre with numbered seating

UPPER GALLERY

A black and white map of an indoor theatre with numbered seating

WATCH

Want to watch a Sam Wanamaker Playhouse performance from the comfort of your home?

Dominic Dromgoole’s 2014 production, The Duchess of Malfi can be rented, owned or sent to someone as a gift, via our video-on-demand service, Globe Player.

WATCH

SHOP

Enjoy further reading by heading over to our shop and exploring our range of books.

There are various titles to browse that focus on the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, including Moving Shakespeare Indoors and Playing Indoors.

DISCOVER