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I knew that a new English Renaissance inspired theatre was being built in my home city in Poland since the first public announcement, but I had decided to not look at the design online – I wanted to see the theatre first-hand. When I finally arrived in Gdańsk, I saw something that could only be described as a brutalist-style Imperial freighter from Star Wars. Hoping that the builders went easy on the laser turrets, I went inside for a guided tour that uncovered architectonic symbolism I would otherwise not be able to decipher by myself.
Firstly, the ceiling – an obvious wink towards the Elizabethan theatres. The ceiling weighs one hundred tonnes, but can open or close in just three minutes. The turquoise colour is a reference to Verdigris, a pigment that develops on certain metals over time (it can be, for instance, seen on the Statue of Liberty or on the roofs of some of Gdańsk’s most iconic buildings). The stage is also mobile – it can quickly change from Elizabethan to Italian (proscenium), meaning that the theatre can adapt for many types of plays and performances.
Black bricks were used to build the theatre with a long-term goal: they will naturally lighten over time as opposed to red bricks that darken over time. The theatre is meant to fit in with the adjacent brick houses more and more with time, almost like a neighbour settling in in a new city. Interestingly, the same bricks were used on a pavement nearby to outline a shadow of a no-longer-there synagogue.
The location of the theatre is also not accidental – it was built exactly where a 17th century theatre, called the Fencing School, used to be located. The Fencing School was probably the only place in Central and Northern Europe where Shakespeare’s plays were performed by various English troupes during the Bard’s lifetime.
Behind the exterior wall of the building, visitors can take a walk through labyrinth-like and exceptionally narrow corridors that reference streets of Gdańsk’s Old Town, thus creating a miniature city within the theatre. Lastly, to add to the Shakespeare Theatre’s meticulous design, small gaps between the walls and ceilings inside alter the acoustics in such a way that the staff members can communicate with each other from distant corners of the building without any difficulty, which is convenient and spine-chilling at the same time, especially when the voices are unexpected.
If you are planning on visiting Gdańsk, I highly recommend visiting the Shakespeare Theatre. Though the non-traditional design may seem like madness at first, there is a method in’t.
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham