Secrets of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
10 facts about our seventeenth-century inspired indoor theatre
Officially opened in 2014, our indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is an enchanting theatre, secreted away on our Bankside site. The wooden space is intimate, magically lit by candles, and recreates the atmosphere of playgoing in the early seventeenth century. Read on to unearth more about our jewel-box theatre…
Our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a self-styled ‘archetype’ of the indoor playhouses of Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline London
Built within a red brick shell, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a compact chamber of new green oak and pine
It can hold 340 people, most sat on benches arranged in the pit and two levels of galleries that embrace the stage in a polygonal horseshoe, and up to 50 standing positions in the gods
Boxes abut directly to the left and right of the stage; actors are never more than a few steps away from being able to physically touch their audience
During a performance, the Playhouse is lit by over 100 beeswax candles that hang in candelabra (‘branches’) affixed to the ceiling, gleam from sconces (‘wallers’) attached to the carved gallery columns, or are even carried by our Actors
The frons scenae (scenic stage façade) with its three doorways is richly painted in sable and gold
The painted ceiling, based on an early seventeenth century mural in Cullen House, is a celestial fantasy of clouds, putti and a presiding figure of the goddess Luna
The Gallery above the stage is used by both Musicians and Actors, and at times, even audience members
Striking special effects are made possible with an attic winch for aerial descents and ascents, and the stage trapdoor that leads to a deep substage cavity
And beyond the flickering amber glow of the Playhouse stage, behind the frons rests a small two-storey tiring house, bare and dark
Photography by Marc Brenner, Pete Le May, Helen Murray, and Johan Persson.
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