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The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Commercial and Public Access Winner 2014

Location: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London
Client:
 The Shakespeare Globe Trust
Architect: Allies & Morrison Architects
Structural Engineer: Momentum Engineering
Main contractor: Virtus Contracts Limited
Joinery company: McCurdy & Co Ltd
Wood supplier: S H Somerscales
Wood supplier: Tyler Hardwoods Ltd.
Wood species: English and European Oak, European Redwood, German Spruce
Turned columns and balusters: Spindlewood
Carved capitals: Hugh Harrison Conservation

Sam Wanamaker’s vision for the Globe complex always included an indoor theatre to compliment the open air Globe, creating the two types of theatre for which Shakespeare wrote his plays. The new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with its historically based Jacobean interior, finally opened in January 2014.

The overall design is based on seventeenth century drawings for an indoor theatre discovered at Worcester College, Oxford. Just like the approach taken towards the reconstruction of the Globe, the design is an accurate historical research based re-creation. The detailed design for this archetypal Jacobean indoor playhouse is based on scholarly research and the careful study of surviving Jacobean interiors and details.

Like many of the Jacobean examples studied, the interior of the new playhouse is constructed almost entirely from wood. Much of the timber has been left natural with hand tooled finishes and untreated, although certain surfaces have been painted and particular details highlighted with gilding. The variation in surfaces contributes to the overall dramatic effect that is enhanced further by candlelight used during performances.

The main structure is an oak timber frame constructed in a series of faceted bays similar to the Globe theatre. Following historic practice the oak used for the structure is unseasoned for the larger dimensioned members while elements such as handrails and brackets are from air dried oak.

The quality of the oak and the type of conversion has been selected according to precedent from the historic examples studied. For example the beams and the columns are boxed heart conversion that now display the checks that typically occur as the green oak dries whereas the arcade brackets are from straight grained slab sawn air dried oak.

The arcade brackets and the turned columns with their doric and ionic capitals are based on examples from 1608 found in the grand staircase at Chilham Castle. There is a very subtle hint of the turners gouge on the shaft of the columns while the carvers tool marks can be seen in the carved ionic capitals. The column bases follow examples from Chastleton House with incised lozenges surrounded by a punched stippled grounding.

The jointing of the structural frame is largely pegged mortise and tenon joints and the finishes have been hand planed with chamfers and stops applied where appropriate.

The joinery has all been made from seasoned oak following Jacobean practice, but in this case kiln dried oak has been used because of the anticipated humidity levels. Halls and screens in some Oxford colleges and Jacobean interiors at the V & A Museum have informed the detailing of the joinery.

The joinery is constructed using pegged dry mortise and tenon joints for the windows,

panelling and balusters. The fluted pilasters, runs of mouldings and cornices are butted and mitred and fixed with nails which form part of the aesthetic as can be seen on Jacobean examples. The boarding for floors, ceilings and benches is imported European redwood or ‘deal’ as referred to in the 17th century.