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Unlike other venues for Shakespearean plays, the new Globe was designed to resemble the original as closely as possible, which means having the arena open to the fickle London skies, leaving the 700 ‘groundlings’ (standing spectators) to weather London’s spectacular downpours. Visits to the Globe include tours of the theatre (half hourly) as well as access to the exhibition space, which has fascinating exhibits on Shakespeare and theatre in the 17th century.
Despite the worldwide popularity of Shakespeare over the centuries, the Globe was almost a distant memory when American actor (and, later, film director) Sam Wanamaker came searching for it in 1949. Undeterred by the fact that the theatre’s foundations had vanished beneath a row of heritage-listed Georgian houses, Wanamaker set up the Globe Playhouse Trust in 1970 and began fundraising for a memorial theatre. Work started just 200m from the original Globe site in 1987. Wanamaker died four years before it opened in 1997.
The Globe was painstakingly constructed using 600 oak pegs (nary a nail or a screw in the house), specially fired Tudor bricks and thatching reeds from Norfolk that apparently evoke displeasure in pigeons. Even the plaster contains goat hair, lime and sand, as it did in the Bard's day.
Shakespeare wrote for both outdoor and indoor theatre, and an indoor playhouse had always been part of the Globe's ambitions. In 2014 this was realised with the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a candle-lit Jacobean theatre. The Playhouse is sometimes visited on tours instead of the Globe, depending on rehearsals and performances.