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Bristol professor helps bring candlelit Jacobean theatre to life on Bankside

A computer generated image of the interior of The Sam Wanamaker Theatre

A computer generated image of the interior of The Sam Wanamaker Theatre Allies and Morrison, courtesy of Shakespeare's Globe

Press release issued: 28 November 2012

An indoor Jacobean-style theatre, predominantly lit by candles, is being created by Shakespeare’s Globe with the help of a professor from the University of Bristol.

Professor Martin White, one of the world’s leading scholars of historic theatre lighting, is part of the team behind the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, named after the founder of Shakespeare's Globe and due to stage its first performances to the public in January 2014.

The earliest drawings for an indoor English theatre in existence were discovered in the late 1960s in Worcester College, Oxford.  Originally thought to be by Inigo Jones, they were later understood to be by his protégé John Webb.

The drawings have strongly influenced our understanding of Jacobean indoor theatre design and construction, but the Sam Wanamaker Theatre is the first theatre in the world to be built as a response to them. It will be a Jacobean archetype in which Shakespeare or any of his contemporaries would have felt at home making theatre.

The new theatre will allow Shakespeare’s Globe to present plays outdoors in the summer and in the indoor theatre through the winter, to expand the repertoire of work it presents, and to investigate indoor theatre practice.  It will seat 340 people with two tiers of galleried seating and a pit seating area.  The theatre will be predominantly lit by candles.  The design and construction of the theatre is based on extensive research into the materials, methods, and the decorative aesthetics of Jacobean buildings.

The plans for lighting the theatre draw directly on the research of Professor White who, in 2009, created a full-scale reconstruction of the interior of a Jacobean indoor playhouse in the Wickham Theatre at the University of Bristol, lit by tallow and wax candles made using traditional methods. This research project resulted in an interactive DVD, entitled The Chamber of Demonstrations (produced by Ignition Films for the University of Bristol), in which experienced classical actors, dressed in costumes from Shakespeare's Globe, perform scenes in the reconstructed theatre from The Duchess of Malfi, ’Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Changeling, Love's Sacrifice and The Guardian.

Professor White said: "This new reconstruction will enable audiences, actors and scholars to encounter Jacobean plays written for indoor performance in a way unavailable in any other theatre in the world, and to experience the extraordinary atmosphere and impact of a candle-lit performance.”