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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - Exhibition and Tour

Today I went on a guided tour of the Globe Theatre in London, and visited their exhibition about the rebuilding of the theatre and how it functions today. After reading the article about Hannah Lobelson, wardrobe manager at the Globe (see my post on this here), I was really interested in seeing more about how this theatre works, and its focus on accurate historical detail.

The Globe Theatre was originally built around the 1590s for Shakespeare's theatre company, the Chamberlain's Men. Sadly it only lasted until 1613, as it burnt down after the thatched roof caught fire during a performance. The current theatre, a recreation of the original, was opened in 1997. It is a fully functioning theatre, performing Shakespeare's plays as close as possible to how they would have been played in his time. The theatre is open-air, with wooden seating benches, and although I haven't yet seen a performance there, I'm sure the atmosphere is completely different to our contemporary theatre set-ups! This year, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, companies from all over the world have been invited to perform Shakespeare's 37 plays, each in a different language - from Swahili to French. For more information on 'Globe to Globe', go here.


The Tour


Our tour started off outside in the piazza, where we could see the outside of the theatre, the thatched roof and wooden/plaster walls. It's funny because I always imagined the theatre to be much more imposing, but next to the Tate Modern it looks so small! Inside there is space for almost 2000 people, which was definitely a surprise!

The stage decoration is fantastic! Although it is made entirely from wood, it is intricately painted to give the illusion of texture and luxurious materials. For examples the columns aren't real marble - they are just painted that way! The roof is even more awe-inspiring, although it isn't visible from the seats. It is painted with images from the zodiac and even has a trap door - this one symbolises the Gods and heavenly subjects, while the one below symbolically leads to Hell.
Unfortunately the tour doesn't take you backstage, which I would have liked, but you can understand why. The exhibition gave a good insight into how the costume department works though....
Hand woven ribbons/braids
Starched ruffs drying by a fire

The Exhibition

The exhibition shows both how a dressmaker would work in Tudor times, and how costumes are constructed for the Globe nowadays. The photos opposite show examples of historical costume making.

The costume department at the Globe work incredibly hard to be as historically accurate as possible. Although it isn't plausible to sew every seam by hand, as many hand-woven threads, fabrics and natural dyes are used as possible. Embroidery is done by hand, and is so fine you can barely see the stitches!
One source that the costume makers use to create their period costumes is Janet Arnold's collection of books, Patterns of Fashion. I have these books, and I agree that they are incredible for any costume enthusiast - the research is in depth, the drawings are wonderfully clear and detailed, and the patterns are easily to use.

A few of the costumes were on display, for example Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth. There was a video showing the dressing of Cleopatra: the layers of clothing are endless - I hope there weren't any quick changes for that character! Also on display were samples of velvet and silk fabrics from the 15th-17th centuries, that might have once been part of garments or furnishings. It's stunning that these have remained so intact!


The tour and exhibition of the Globe Theatre are available every day, more information can be found on their website. Highly recommended for anyone interested in historical theatre or costume, and for school groups studying Shakespeare or Tudor England.

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