Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Photo story

Secrets of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

  10 facts about our seventeenth-century inspired indoor theatre

2 minute read

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…

A wide angled shot of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with its ornate painting ceiling depicting the Goddess Luna and clouds, hanging candelabra, and panelled painted doors.

Our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a self-styled ‘archetype’ of the indoor playhouses of Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline London

A brick building with a white engraved section near the roof
A single wooden beam
Details of a white door frame against a brick building

Built within a red brick shell, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a compact chamber of new green oak and pine

A view from the Musicians Gallery in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, looking out over the curved wooden seating, timber structure and candelabra hanging from the ceiling.

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

A candelabra with 12 beeswax taper candles is lit, hanging low over the thrust stage of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
A woman and man stand in the glow of candlelight, the woman's hand touching the man's chin.
White candles line the edge of a theatre stage

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

An indoor wooden playhouse lit by candles
Detail on a black wall shows gold patterns

The frons scenae (scenic stage façade) with its three doorways is richly painted in sable and gold

An intricately painted ceiling, looking up at it from below, with illustrations of clouds and angels

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

Four musicians stand in a gallery overlooking a stage, lit candelabra hanging beneath them.
Three actors rest their hand on a wooden balcony, looking down onto the stage below.

The Gallery above the stage is used by both Musicians and Actors, and at times, even audience members

People work on building scaffolding which reaches a decorated ceiling
A woman descends from a trapdoor in the painted heavens of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is lit by candlelight.
A door opens in a ceiling

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

A painted panelled door stands ajar, with sable and gold detailing.

An empty theatre in darkness

And beyond the flickering amber glow of the Playhouse stage, behind the frons rests a small two-storey tiring house, bare and dark

The candlelit interior of an indoor playhouse, with dark wooden panelling and a golden glow.


Photography by Marc Brenner, Pete Le May, Helen Murray, and Johan Persson.