London: William Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has finally put a 400-year-old taboo to rest by staging the play which burned the original house down during the Bard’s lifetime.
The theatre on the south bank of the River Thames in London, which burned to the ground during the staging of a play about Henry VIII in 1613 and was rebuilt in the late 1990s, has staged the first version of the play that has come to be called “Henry VIII” since that fateful day.
The first Globe theatre was 14 years old when a stage cannon fired during a performance of the play — famous in its own day as a visual pageant of masques and royal ceremony — set fire to the thatched roof and destroyed the theatre.
The modern Globe, also in its 14th theatre season, having opened its doors in 1997, is today equipped with fire retardant thatch coating and a specialist sprinkler system, so was unlikely to suffer the same fate.
Mark Rosenblatt directs, with Dominic Rowan in the title role and “Spooks” actress Miranda Raison as Ann Bullen.
“It’s pretty rare to stage a play that once burnt down a theatre — it’s even rarer to stage it again, for the first time, in the theatre which replaced it,” Rosenblatt said on the theatre’s website.
He said there was still an explosion in the production at the point when the old Globe caught fire — during Act 1 Scene 4 — to announce the king’s entrance.
“During the technical rehearsal we all looked up, saw smoke leaking out the roof and wondered, maybe, just maybe, history would repeat itself. But I was quickly reminded that the new Globe’s got a pretty fierce sprinkler system,” Rosenblatt said.
The poet Sir Henry Wotton recorded the fire, describing how “being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly and ran round like train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds”.
In 1996, the Globe theatre became the first thatched building in London since the Great Fire 330 years earlier, and is today recognised as one of the most famous thatched buildings in the world.
Henry VIII runs at the Globe until 21 August. It is complemented by the world premiere of Howard Brenton’s new play, Anne Boleyn, which runs from 24 July to 21 August.