Shakespeare’s Globe will celebrate the London 2012 Olympics by staging an unprecedented multilingual Shakespeare project, which will see 38 international companies present all 38 of the bard’s plays in 38 different languages at the Bankside landmark over the course of six weeks, launching on Shakespeare’s birthday, 23 April 2012.

Also announced today, even more ambitious plans beyond 2012, the Globe is moving forward with its long-held vision of completing an indoor Jacobean theatre, the shell of which already exists on the riverside site. The capital project is estimated to cost up to £8 million, £2.7 million of which is already secured. A fundraising campaign to obtain the remainder will launch next month, with the aim of commencing construction in November 2012 and launching the theatre with an inaugural winter season in November 2013.

The opening of the 320-seat second stage will turn the Globe into a year-round producing house for the first time in its history, with distinct summer and winter seasons. As it is completely open to the elements, the 1500-capacity main stage closes during the winter months, barring one-off festive forays over the past two years.

Speaking of the building plans, Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole said: “The faithful recreation of the Globe 14 years ago revolutionised people’s ideas of what a theatre can, could and should be. The recreation of an indoor Jacobean theatre, the closest simulacrum of Shakespeare’s own Blackfriars that we can achieve, will have the same effect, and will prove a revelation of equal magnitude."

Not the Inigo Jones

The Globe's creator Sam Wanamaker had originally intended for the site to include a second theatre space. However, 14 years on from the Globe's opening in 1997, the building which will contain the second stage still remains a shell.

Designs for the Jacobean theatre are based around a set of plans discovered in Oxford in the 1960s. Originally thought to have been drawn by celebrated Renaissance architect Inigo Jones, subsequent research suggests they are in fact the work of Jones’ protégé, John Webb. Whoever the author, they are thought to be the earliest plans for an English indoor theatre in existence and show a U-shaped galleried auditorium embracing a platform stage.

The naming of the new theatre remains up for grabs. Previously referred to as the Inigo Jones, that name has been abandoned in light of the fresh authorship discovery. Other ideas include the Indoor Jacobean (shortened to IJ, so the initials still give a nod to Jones) and the Wanamaker (after Sam Wanamaker). Theatre executives have not ruled out the idea of granting naming rights to a major donor. The capital project – as with all of the Globe’s activities – is being undertaken without any government subsidy.

Programming-wise, the new space will remain distinct from the main Globe schedule. The winter season is likely to comprise three in-house productions running back to back – rather than in rep with the Globe – for six-and-a-half weeks each, as well as four weeks of a touring production either of the Globe’s or a visiting production. A core ensemble of approximately eight actors will appear in all of the winter productions, with additional cast members brought on per show.

No specific productions have yet been announced but Dromgoole wants to use the new theatre to widen the repertoire, concentrating on late Shakespeare plays – such as Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and Cymbeline - and Jacobean peers including Middleton, Johnson, Hayward and Lightly.

The average ticket price for productions in the Jacobean theatre will be around £30, as compared with £19 in the Globe, where the average is significantly lowered due to the 600 groundling tickets. There will be no standing room capacity in the indoor space.

Zoe Wanamaker, honorary president of the Globe and daughter of Sam Wanamaker, commented: "The indoor Jacobean theatre is a vitally important contribution to the Globe project. The whole idea of the theatre world in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked is incomplete without it."


A model box of the Jacobean theatre's interior. Model: Jonathan Fensom. Photo: Fiona Moorhead

The exterior of the indoor theatre's shell as it currently stands. Photo: Nick Robins

Olympic ambitions

Billed as one of the "most ambitious multilingual Shakespeare projects ever attempted", the Globe's six-week Olympic season builds on a tradition of international interpretations of the Bard's work being shown in London. The Globe itself has played host to a Zulu Macbeth, Grupo Galpão’s Brazilian Romeo and Juliet and Mansai Nomura’s Japanese Kyogen of Errors in recent years. It is also hoped the project will celebrate the mixture of ethnic communities and languages that make up London’s multi-cultural landscape.

As part of the project, the Globe itself will stage one production (not yet named), with the remaining 37 plays presented by theatre companies from around the world. Still to be confirmed, the Globe hopes to present work in Lithuanian, Urdu, Pakistani, Greek, Aboriginal languages, Shona, Maori, Turkish, Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Italian, British Sign Language, Cantonese and Arabic.

Amongst the artists and companies who will be asked to present work are the National Theatres of Greece and China, Pakistani television star Nadia Jamil, Istanbul theatre company Oyun Atolyesi, Hong Kong director Tang Shu Wing and one of the world’s leading Shakespearean directors Eimuntas Nekrosius.

Speaking about the multilingual festival, Dromgoole said today: "It has long been recognised that Shakespeare, as well as a great playwright, has become an international language, and has proved one of the most life-affirming and barrier transcending ways that people can speak to one another. During the course of these six weeks, the Globe will create an international Shakespeare community in the heart of London."