Wednesday 10 September 2014

From the 17th to the 21st century - time travel at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Anoushka Shankar at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, photo credit Helena Miscioscia
Anoushka Shankar at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
photo credit Helena Miscioscia
The Globe Theatre's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened for business at the beginning of this year, and already the programme is showing how fascinating and versatile the venue can be. The main run of theatrical events has included both plays and operas (see my review of Cavalli's L'Ormindo), with the plays showing that in such a venue the musicians are very much part of the performance with the music acting as an equal partner rather than something which is hidden behind the scenes. On Monday I attended a presentation in the playhouse, designed to introduce the theatre and the new season. Director of Music, Bill Barclay talked about how the theatre deliberately intended music to be an equal partner.

But it isn't just about theatre, they have been presenting a concert series too and one in which the venue has been tested in the ways that it can perform. The playhouse is an as authentic as possible to early 17th century theatre, with lighting only from candles and natural light, and all hand finished surfaces. But there is an electricity supply and they can have a PA. In fact, one of their concerts this year hosted the Rubber Bandits, an Irish comedy hip-hop group, complete with video, a PA and a DJ.

But 17th and 18th century music is inevitably central, Trevor Pinnock has been giving a sequence of recitals. And what performers like about the space is the sense of shared light, that they can see the audience, and they are aware that the audience is sitting on hard(ish) benches and must sit up and pay attention. The results, for performers, make the audience members far more active participants than usual.

We were treated to a pair of musical performances, just to demonstrate how well the building performs. The guitarist Dario Rossetti-Bonell played a contemporary Brazilian piece, whilst the tenor Stuart Jackson sang some RVW and The Foggy Dew (alas, he used the Britten version and didn't include the saucy verses that Britten cut). The playhouse has what has been described as an 'honest acoustic', at 0.6 to 0.7 seconds reverberation it is about half that of the Wigmore Hall and thought it doesn't help, it doesn't hinder either.

You can see and hear for yourself in their season of concerts Winter by Candlelight which includes Ian Bostridge with guitarist Xuefei Yang, music by Judith Weir, jazz from Jacqui Dankworth and the Brodsky Quartet as well as the John Langhan Band.

For the season of plays this winter, the Globe is continuing to explore the intersection between music and drama. The Royal Opera's production of Cavalli's L'Ormindo returns, (hurrah!), and Clare van Kampen has written a play Farinelli and the King which explores the castrato Farinelli's strange relationship with King Philip V of Spain, with counter-tenors Iestyn Davies and William Purefoy taking the role of Farinelli and Mark Rylance as the King. Other drama includes John Ford's Tis Pity She's a Whore, Francis Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's The Changeling, John Ford's The Broken Heart and Christopher Marlowe's early Dido, Queen of Carthage which is being performed by the Globe Young Players. These are a company of 12 to 16 year olds specially selected and trained at the Globe.

Full information from the Shakespeare's Globe website.

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