- Playing Indoors. Staging Early Modern Drama in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by Will Tosh
Will Tosh's illuminating monograph raises and answers a number of questions about how anecdotes drawn from research in reconstructed playing spaces and historical drama might connect to current audience and actor experience. Indeed, it directly answers the question posed in the program of the opening season at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: "What might this theatre tell us?" Tosh fruitfully investigates the relationship between architecture, actor, and scholar in the present, ever mindful of the possible implications for understanding how these might be informed by our knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean contexts. Tosh is alert to the distinction between working in an early modern space with early modern actors and working in a reconstructed space with twenty-first-century actors, while receptive to possible lines of connection between them through the texts they share.
Playing Indoors reinforces Shakespeare's Globe's interest in and commitment to research. With careful attention to the history and protocols of documenting such fleeting work, including early studies by Pauline Kiernan and Rob Conkie, Tosh moves into current approaches under the guiding hand of Farah Karim-Cooper, the Globe's Head of Higher Education and Research (5–8). Tosh's "Prologue" grounds his later assertions with a helpful (if brief) look at the history of the Lord Chamberlain's Men's involvement with indoor playhouses, and specifically their somewhat fraught relationship with the Blackfriars Playhouse and the children who played in it before the men's company moved in (xv-xvii). Moving on to the construction of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of the Globe complex on the South Bank in London, Tosh is careful to distinguish this playhouse from its predecessor, noting that it is a "self-styled 'archetype' of the indoor playhouses of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline London" rather than a reconstruction of any one. He walks the reader through the complex genesis of its establishment, noting various discoveries and decisions that resulted in the neo-Jacobean space that the Architectural Review Group at Shakespeare's Globe ultimately decided upon. By building on the positive reputation Shakespeare's [End Page 603] Globe had earned by moving past claims of Bardolatry and fears of the commercialization of culture, the organization was able to engage in the enthusiasm for British cultural heritage and to lead new ways of thinking about the relationship cultural institutions have had with such mundane (but criticized) areas such as the sale of merchandise.
The next section dives into the indoor Jacobean experience the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (SWP) produces. By opening the SWP with The Duchess of Malfi and continuing with The Knight of the Burning Pestle and The Malcontent with a revival of the 1644 opera L'Ormindo, the playhouse explored the work of Shakespeare's contemporaries. Tosh wisely notes that some attention needs to be paid to the danger of promoting the sensationalism and "complex presentations of gender relations and sexual violence" without caution. The philosophy behind Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole's season selection rings true, as Tosh quotes it: "You're not teaching a space, you're trying to let a space teach you" (36). The selection of tragedies has out-numbered the comedies in early programming, leading some audiences to view the Jacobean world in that light, as Tosh notes introducing quotes from early audience members (38). The audience members' responses support Tosh's argument that the SWP challenges the notion of "humane sameness," encouraging audience members to find differences between themselves and the first to see these plays four hundred years ago (40).
The following section, "Playhouse at Work," includes insights not just from audiences, but also from those actually working in the space: front of house staff, actors, designers, and directors. Cautioning the reader to note that "subjectivity" is a key word in the collected interviews from which he has drawn, Tosh organizes his text around the space, the skills and techniques required to play there, the candlelight, and the...