London by candlelight
THIS week, I fulfilled a long-standing ambition to visit the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse beside the Globe in Southwark. Completed in 2014, the playhouse is based on a 17th-century theatre design by John Webb. The production was of Milton’s Comus, a masque written for performance in Ludlow Castle in 1634. I was curious rather than enthusiastic about it in prospect, but the lively delivery of the verse and the intimacy of the auditorium won me over.
Perhaps the most memorable thing was the candle-lit stage. The suffusing warmth of hundreds of candles is something I associate with the grandest City Livery dinners—with so many flames, all of them flickering and moving, it’s strangely enlivening. Shadows lose definition, but not depth, reds and golds particularly stand out in the orange light and the overall effect is preternatural.
In a theatre, candles are also happily democratic. Rather than facing a blinding wall of light, the actors can see beyond the stage and they can emphasise themselves by moving into the glow of a candle. The audience can also look at each other. Emerging into the cold and dark afterwards, I felt reconciled by this magical festival of lights to the abrupt start of winter outside. JG