Remembering Professor Jerzy Limon

  Patrick Spottiswoode pays tribute to Professor Jerzy Limon OBE, Founder of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, who has passed away this March

3 minute read

We received the very sad news, today, of the death from Covid, of Professor Jerzy Limon. Jerzy was a noted Shakespeare and Theatre scholar, an author and translator, the founding Artistic Director of the annual Gdańsk Shakespeare Festival and the Founder and only begetter of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre.

A man wearing a two piece dark suit and red tie, stands holding a microphone delivering a speech.

Professor Jerzy Limon, Founder of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre. Photographer: Bronwen Sharp

I first met Jerzy on paper. His ground-breaking 1985 book Gentlemen of a Company (CUP) explored new evidence for the presence and influence of English players and their performances in Central and Eastern Europe from 1590–1660. His research not only suggested that Shakespeare was one of those players but also that the Fencing School in Gdańsk (then Danzig) was modelled on the rectangular Fortune Theatre in Finsbury, London.

His fascination with the presence of theatre companies in Danzig led him to establish an annual Shakespeare Festival in Gdańsk in 1993. It grew in stature and significance, year on year, and brought leading international theatre companies and Shakespeare scholars to the city.

A large rectangular galleried theatred, with a roof that can partially open.

The Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre in Poland. Photographer: Bronwen Sharp

lnspired by Sam Wanamaker’s plans to rebuild the Globe, Jerzy also became obsessed with the idea of building a permanent theatre in Gdańsk, modelled on the Fencing School, that would attract artists and audiences year-round; a catalyst for city-regeneration.

Like Sam, he met with obstacle after obstacle: changes in local and national regimes, recessions, cynicism and even an eleventh hour land dispute. He secured the patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales which gave his project credibility and became adept at tuning his phrase to suit the politician or the sponsor. It was a long haul.

An actor wearing black sits on a box, holding a human skull aloft and addressing it

Ladi Emeruwa as Hamlet in our Globe to Globe production, at the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre (2014). Photographer: Bronwen Sharp

When described as “Poland’s Wanamaker” he was immensely flattered but said that he only hoped that he might live long enough to see his theatre completed.

He did. The theatre opened in 2014 with our Globe to Globe World Tour production of Hamlet.

A remarkable building, designed by Renato Rizzi, it is a fusion of old drawings with the latest technology. It even boasts a hydraulic roof that can be opened and closed depending on the weather. Seats in the “yard” can sink into the floor if a director wants a groundling audience.

Jerzy was awarded the OBE in 2014 and was given the prestigious Pragnell Prize in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019. He was a dear friend to Shakespere’s Globe and was an adviser and contributor to our Shakespeare and Poland Festival in July 2019.

Jerzy was 70 going on 35. He had so much more to offer. He will be mourned by scholars and theatre makers, nationally and internationally, and of course by his family and his many friends. Our condolences to Justyna and the family.