Shakespeares Globe is a world-renowned family attraction that was voted Best in Europe in 1996, before it was even completed or officially opened – which occurred in 1997. Located by the Thames at New Globe Walk on Bankside, Shakespeares Globe is about 200 metres from the site of the original theatre, uncovered under a car park in 1989. Excavations during 1997-98 indicate that the first Shakespeares Globe had 20 sides, and the new family attraction replicates that polygonal open-air design.
The life and times of the first theatre are outlined in exhibits at Shakespeares Globe, offering an illuminating and fascinating introduction to a family day out, taking in the Elizabethan world of London before the Great Fire of 1666.
Founded in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men players’ company, of which Shakespeare was a partner, it was ruined by a blaze of June 1613, when a cannon report during Henry VIII led to the thatch roof catching alight. Restored in 1614, Shakespeares Globe went on to operate until 1644, when it was closed during the British Civil War at the behest of the Puritans – not supportes of any type of family day out!
The latterday reimagining of Shakespeares Globe follows the original design of 1597-98 supervised by carpenter Peter Smith, utilising thousands of hand-crafted wooden pegs and thatch. Construction started in 1987 with six-metre foundations and the edifice began to take shape in 1993, with the plaster and thatch added two years later. Finished by June 1997 at a cost of £30 million, the new building is one of the most jaw-dropping and inspirational in the metropolis, its whitewashed timber exterior, unorthodox shape and, above all – quite literally – open central space, makes it an icon, in addition to being a top family day out, or evening, for that matter!
The 16th century Shakespeares Globe could take in some 3000 theatre-goers, while its successor, with a capacity of 2100 square metres, offers rather more comfort for up to around 1500. The ornate and grandiose family attraction has facilities undreamed of by Horatio or any of the visitors to Shakespeares Globe in his day. (Although the original did boast a gambling house and brothel – the theatre being dubbed “The wooden O” in a nod to that part of the establishment’s activities!). Along with the faithfully contructed interior, based on existing sketches of the Globe’s sister theatre, The Swan, Shakespeares Globe features a bar, café and displays accessible to ticket holders, fulfilling the vision of the man most instrumental in the genesis of the project, American actor Steve Wanamaker (founder of the Shakespeare Globe Trust, in 1970).
Today’s Shakespeares Globe has regular tours that show how its predecessor deployed props like cannons, pyrotechnics and ‘flying’ rigs, and reveals the stage’s trap-doors and gallery, where music was produced by elaborately dressed players. The core of the Shakespeares Globe Exhibition lies beneath the reconstituted Theatre, the UnderGlobe. The purpose-built area is available for private entertainment of up to 400 people, including theatrical presentations, dinner-dances and receptions. The tour allows ticket holders to see the other side of Shakespeares Globe, along with exhibits dealing with the activities of the professional theatre outfit, Globe Education, which works with students. Additionally, there details of the historical context, explaining the role of the Actor and others involved in plays, as well as the Architecture and artisans who raised and furnished Shakespeares Globe. There are also descriptions of city life during the time of the Bard, and the Audiences that attended his performances. Nowadays, the family attraction pulls in more than 750,000 bums on seats per annus.
The Shakespeares Globe Tour also features some exquisite Elizabethan costumes, Renaissance musical instruments like mandolins and sackbutts, and details about how they were played, as well as dramatic tales of the first Globe’s past. The costume display outlines the designing, manufacture and fitting of clothes for Shakespeares Globe productions past and present, and vticket holders can feel the fabrics used in current productions and even get fitted in armour in the Elizabethan attiring room. Just the ticket for would-be Knights of the stage! The tour additionally features touch-screens that reveal how the Elizabethans created the illusion of stage hangings, produced thunder and other cimatic effects, and what was used as blood and flesh in the bloodier scenes of the tragedies and histories. There’s even a full-scale mock-up of a 17th-century printing press and the chance to make your own edition of Hamlet on screen, using one of the interactive displays that make the Shakespeares Globe Exhibition and Tour an informative and entertaining family day out.
Ticket holders can take one of the half-hourly tours around Shakespeares Globe, except during matinees, when visitors are guided around the adjacent site of The Rose Theatre, where contemporaries of Shakespeare such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson had their biggest successes, and which has been largely uncovered by archaeologists. A short film on the history of The Rose, Bankside and discoveries at the site is aired in the Shakespeares Globe Exhibition, bolstering an already memorable family day out.
Further, numerous events through the year at the family attraction are staged, including lectures, seminars and staged readings that furnish historical and theatrical context to Shakespeare’s plays and the Globe. A research library and performance archive can be used by ticket holders via an appointment, while research seminars are common and several spaces are given over to hospitality events, including the Shakespeares Globe Balcony Room on the top floor, with grand vistas over the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the City of London and the Millennium Bridge, its French windows leading to a balcony with a 70-guest capacity.
Ticket holders can enjoy fine dining at the Shakespeares Globe café/restaurant too, while the whole complex is disabled-friendly, making it a family attraction that everyone can enjoy.
21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT
Tel: 020 7930 6961
Times: See attraction for specific details.