Yesterday we went to see “The Duchess of Malfi” at the recently-opened Wanamaker Playhouse (the play is the inaugural production in the playhouse, opening on January 9th 2014 and closing on February 16th 2014).
“The Duchess of Malfi”, an archetypal Jacobean tragedy, all dark alcoves and sepulchral poetry, was completed by the London-born playwright John Webster in 1613. It has been suggested that the more elegiacal passages were written in response to the early death of James I’s son, Prince Henry, in 1612 (Webster had young children himself at this time). The play is known to have been performed at the Globe, at the Blackfriars, and later at the Duke of York’s, where the inveterate theatre-goer Samuel Pepys went to see it on September 30th, 1662, and again on November 25th, 1668 (on the latter occasion “with little pleasure – for fear of my wife’s seeing me look about”).
The Wanamaker Playhouse, named in honour of the late American film director and all-round good guy Sam Wanamaker, whose vision it was, was completed in 2013. It was built alongside Wanamaker’s reconstructed Globe according to a set of plans for a Jacobean theatre that was discovered in a collection of Inigo Jones’s works in Worcester College, Oxford in the 1960s (although now attributed to Jones’s protégé John Webb). Unlike the Globe, but like the Blackfriars, it is a covered, all-seater theatre, accommodating only around 300 in some – although not much – comfort, and at some expense. Inside it, one gets a very real sense of what a Jacobean theatre like the Blackfriars would have been like. A sense of enclosed space, of intimacy, of proximity to the players, of exclusivity perhaps. Of being surrounded by sound, and in interludes by the sound of music. And above all of being surrounded by the shadowy light of dancing candles and reflecting costume jewellery. (Below is a video about the use of candles in this new Jacobean-style theatre)
The fundraising continues for the final £200,000 of the total £7.5 million it has cost to build this beautiful theatre – for further information (or to make a donation), here is a link to the relevant page on the Globe’s website Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Production images from The Duchess of Malfi are featured in a photo album on The Globe’s facebook page here