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Murder by Candlelight

The new indoor theater at Shakespeare’s Globe

Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By SARA LODGE
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Inevitably, there are small flies in the ointment. In the outdoor Globe, standing tickets (still only £5 each) require stamina but also reward it: You get the best view. The standing tickets in the upper balcony at the Wanamaker are not for the fainthearted, or short-limbed: When two actors converse at the wrong side of the stage, they disappear. One of the features of a pillared Jacobean theater is that the sightlines are occasionally blocked from any position. (My advice would be to sit in the lower gallery, or the pit, and to favor the seats at the back, since they allow you to rest your own back against the wall.) 

But do go. This theater is an experiment that promises to shed new and fascinating light on how 17th-century plays and operas worked in practice. Eventually, it will also showcase new writing. And it can accommodate very diverse approaches: The last production I saw there was a one-woman show in which the veteran actress Eileen Atkins played Britain’s greatest 19th-century theatrical star, Ellen Terry, who delivered lectures on Shakespeare’s women and illustrated her comments by “becoming” Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, and Ophelia. 

This show was a masterclass in the art of acting: Atkins not only played Terry—which she did with sharp wit and insight into the frustrations of a Victorian intellectual often upstaged by male impresarios—but inhabited at least 10 different Shakespeare heroines, giving each a distinct voice and character. She performed the final dialogue between Cordelia and King Lear, playing both parts, so movingly that several people in the audience around me were in tears. 

An actor’s voice is a delicate instrument. And in this small playhouse built of wood, it becomes evident that the theater itself is an instrument of incredible fineness, like a harpsichord. Actors who play in it will also be playing it, bringing out new sounds from old scripts, finding beats and colors and cadences whose music resonates long after the original notes have faded.

Sara Lodge, a senior lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, is the author of Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry: Work, Play, and Politics.  

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