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September 25, 2017

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London's new theater offers tragedy by candlelight

LONDON--Shakespeare's Globe in London is adding a couple of innovations in its quest to give audiences a sense of theater as it was 400 years ago: a roof and candles. Hundreds and hundreds of candles.

They flicker in sconces and chandeliers inside the Globe's brand-new indoor venue, which stands alongside its Elizabethan-style open-air playhouse beside the River Thames.

The oak-framed, wood-paneled theater will allow the Globe to stage plays year-round for the first time — starting with a production of John Webster's revenge tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi" featuring screen star Gemma Arterton in the title role.

The playhouse, which seats 340 people in tiered galleries, was built from original 17th-century plans using centuries-old techniques, and its shows will be lit entirely by candles — an exercise in authenticity that came at a price.

"They're not cheap," chief executive Neil Constable, who oversees the Globe purse strings, said Tuesday. "We've had to create a new budget line."

The beeswax candles require frequent trimming by a team of staff — advised, said artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, by "one of the world's leading candle experts."

There was also the challenge of getting local government and fire authorities to agree to a wooden structure lit by open flames.

Health and safety officials were "incredibly cooperative and imaginative," said Dromgoole. He's emphatic that all the effort was worth it. Candlelight welcomes audiences with "a blaze of excitement and color," he said, to a venue that smells faintly of wood, wicks and wax.

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