Saturday, 4 February 2012

Jacobean Theatre Symposium.

A wonderful day at Kings College attending a symposium on Jacobean Theatre, which had been partly organised to talk about the forthcoming opening of the Indoor Theatre at the Globe which, funding permitting, should open in 2013.

As with the Globe itself the new site will help us understand more about the staging conditions of Shakespeare's time and bring a particular focus to his later works, many of which were written specifically to be played indoors at the long gone Blackfriars theatre across the river from the summer playhouses. It'll also bring us new discoveries about the work of Jonson, Fletcher, Shirley, Massinger, Ford, Brome and a host of, as yet, little known playwrights who continued writing into the Caroline period.

Already the Indoor Theatre has a fascinating history. It's shell has been in place ever since the rebuilt Globe was opened fifteen years ago. Sam Wanamaker, the canny visionary whose enthusiasm led the theatre to be built, put it in place in the hope that a future generation might find the investment to convert it into a Jacobean playhouse. At the time designs were based on the Worcester College drawings, which were taken to Inigo Jones' sketches of the Blackfriars.

Recent scholarship, however, suggests that these plans were probably drawn up some thirty years later by Jones' apprentice John Webb and is, mostly likely, the Sailsbury Court Theatre. Even if it's not quite as historically accurate as originally envisaged, the new theatre will certainly bring us closer to the intimate, auditory drama of the final years of the playhouses.

There was so much to think on but I was particularly interested in the descriptions of the gallants who, in the early years of the seventeenth century, would pay for seats on the stage so that they could upstage the performance. Clever writers, like Jonson, knew that their peacock posing and cocksure sense of entitlement couldn't be ignored and so began to write in commentary, banter and references to these early cavaliers who, of course, loved the attention, particularly when the actors poked fun at their dress sense, impertinence in invading the space, stupidity and general bad behaviour. The gallants were rich enough to ride these criticisms and the actors were resourceful enough to realise the play through to completion, despite the decorative imposition. It must have made for memorable evenings of raucous and witty exchange.

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