Poland’s New Theater Celebrates Ties to Shakespeare

A new Elizabethan-style theater opened in Gdansk last week on the site of a building that showed Shakespeare’s plays during his lifetime in the Baltic Sea city.

Celebrating its ties with the English playwright, the Gdansk Shakespeare Theater hosted actors on its opening night from Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, who are putting on “Hamlet” there this week.

Revolving platforms and 56 lifts allow the theater to change from an Elizabethan stage, to a box-set or into a central theater-in-the-round, and its 90-ton roof can open or shut in three minutes. Shows are viewed from a three-story gallery.

EU funds used

The theater, built with help of EU funds, stands where the Fencing School – modeled on London’s Fortune Playhouse – stood more than 400 years ago and hosted English troupes, performing Shakespeare’s plays just a few years after the London premieres.

Viewed by a capacity, 680-strong audience inside the theater, and relayed via a video screen to thousands more outside, the opening show on Friday was a performance of theatrical fencing by The Royal Drama School RESAD from Madrid and a display by Poland’s MIRA-ART Acrobats.

“A memorable day,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the audience, thanking the theater’s Managing Director Jerzy Limon for his “huge faith and determination” in giving life to “this theater impressing us all with its appearance, functionality, architecture and modernity.”

In the heart of Gdansk’s Old City, meticulously rebuilt after widespread bomb damage during World War Two, the theater’s modern exterior nevertheless evokes the Gothic architecture of Gdansk’s many historic brick-built churches.

Clad in black

Italian architect Renato Rizzi’s choice of Belgian black bricks to cover the whole exterior, is in stark contrast to the galleried wooden auditorium and stone-clad foyer.

“Black like a black dress or a black suit, emphasizing the elegance of art,” Limon told journalists during a guided tour before the opening show.

“But our building, however interesting in itself, now has to be filled with content that belongs to the 21st century but does not deny tradition,” said Limon, who lobbied for 25 years to get the theater built.

Following the official opening, the theater’s first week – Sept. 20-26 – offers performances of “Hamlet” from Shakespeare’s Globe and “Missing” by British performing arts company Gecko.

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