A Globe Theatre in France

The wooden playhouse in the grounds of Hardelot Castle

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

An Elizabethan theatre on the French side of the Channel? It’s surprising but true. Hardelot Castle in northern France, home to the arts centre “L’Entente Cordiale”, always put up temporary theatres for its annual summer festival. Last year it went one step further and created a permanent wooden structure: a British-style Globe Theatre, with natural ventilation, paying tribute to Anglo-French relations.

This form of architecture has always fascinated theatre-lovers.

Not only aesthetically pleasing, it fires the imagination with its ability to be constructed and deconstructed without leaving a trace. Since the Elizabethan Globe Theatre was first reconstructed in London, the public has been able to relive this historical experience of theatre. But it is hard to imagine a Globe Theatre anywhere else apart from in the U.K., as it is inextricably linked with the era of Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson. Nonetheless, the arts centre team at Hardelot Castle took on the challenge and had an Elizabethan theatre built here in 2016, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The castle is situated in the French province of Hauts-de-France, some 30 km across the sea from England. On a good day, you can even see the cliffs of England from the coast.

The origins

The arts centre “centre culturel de l’entente cordiale” was founded in 2009, and launched with a midsummer festival held on a former horseracing track in the castle grounds. A temporary, round, wooden theatre was built in an Elizabethan style for the occasion. In the meantime, an expertise was also commissioned to apply for permission to build a permanent structure. In 2013 the Andrew Todd architectural firm won the competition and received the commission to design the theatre. “As I was finishing my studies, I found the remains of the ‘Rose’ (editor’s note: an Elizabethan theatre of 1587, discovered during excavations in London in 1989) and witnessed the rough planning of its reconstruction. I was obsessed by the theatre,” explains Andrew Todd.

Elizabethan theatre features an unusual arrangement linking the auditorium and the stage. There is no separation between the two, unlike in today’s theatres, which are strongly influenced by the historical Italian model. Elizabethan style was developed fundamentally close to the public and politics, and with the drama in mind.

The theatre

First a circular building site was plotted out; the round shape echoes that of the adjacent castle grounds. The new theatre, shielded by a shell of wood and bamboo, is situated by an avenue of chestnut trees, forming a kind of English landscaped garden. On ground level, the theatre is surrounded by shells. The ticket office and foyer are located at the entrance to the castle grounds in a medieval watchtower. The entrance is almost hidden, in a Japanese style. The bamboo rods open on to it like a curtain being raised.

The cylindrical structure is 17 m in diameter. Larch wood was used for the supporting structures, spruce for the exterior walls, and oak panelling for the floor. The 12 m high bamboo rods from Bali perfectly echo the circular shape of the building, and enliven the structure and the shadows that fill it. The wooden slats can be rotated by 45 degrees to ensure constant sunlight and capture the light as required, creating very different atmospheres in summer and winter. The natural ventilation is an essential and innovatively devised element of the project, with sensors regulating the temperature by controlling the speed of the ventilators. Air flows through the central chimney up to 13 m high and is naturally sucked in; the volume is determined by a sensitive control mechanism.

A modestly sized foyer connects the theatre’s exterior and interior, fitted with an integrated skylight. The auditorium consists of stalls and two balconies, arranged around 230 degrees, which surround the stage and forestage and so take account of the typology of Elizabethan theatre. The stage opening measures 8 m, corresponding to the four steps that an actor needs to take to reach the centre of the stage.

Flexible fittings

The seating in the stalls, consisting of portable rows, can be completely removed. It is a modular theatre with seating rows that can be varied from 380 to 298 seats, to fit around the proscenium or the orchestra pit as required. It is the only Elizabethan theatre with a mobile orchestra pit, accommodating up to 20 musicians.

A bridge in the form of a mobile Elizabethan set piece has been built into the backstage and can be positioned 3 m from the edge of the stage. It contains a platform that is accessible from the first balcony and enables performers to move easily from one side to the other.

This special venue makes it possible to present drama of a different kind, inspiring reflection on the place of the public and the role of theatre. It was inaugurated on 25 June 2016, two days after the UK Brexit referendum was held. The arts continue to cross the borders that politics tries to build.


BTR Ausgabe 5 2017
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 164
von Mahtab Mazlouman

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