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Old Globe Comes Full Circle

July 12, 1986|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — It was an unlikely battle: trash versus culture.

On one side was an American determined to build the ultimate memorial to William Shakespeare; on the other, 12 South London municipal street sweepers.

After five years of legal wrangling, a London High Court recently ruled in favor of Shakespeare.

As a result, the Cockney street sweepers will pack their trash bins, empty their teacups, clean out their crumbling depot and vacate a historic bit of land. A replica of Shakespeare's Globe Playhouse will be built on the site where the original stood nearly 400 years ago.

"If Shakespeare moves in 'ere, I'm movin' out," lamented one of the street sweepers, Charlie Cox.

The court ruling appeared to remove the last major obstacle to reconstruction of the Globe in its original form and, eventually, the production of Shakespearean drama exactly where it was first performed in the early 1600s.

The poet would have been flattered by the support he was given in this effort. At various times the campaign has enlisted the help of the late Princess Grace of Monaco, industrialist Armand Hammer, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and the Duke of Edinburgh.

But the real power was provided by an idealistic, irrepressible, 67-year-old American actor/director named Sam Wanamaker, who has never recovered from the shock of his first trip to London, in 1949.

A devoted Shakespeare admirer and veteran of several festivals in the United States, Wanamaker was crushed to find that only a small plaque marked the original Globe site amid decaying warehouses across the Thames from St. Paul's Cathedral.

For years, he nurtured a dream of rebuilding the circular open-air theater. The idea won official approval at a world Shakespeare congress in Vancouver in 1970, and Wanamaker has been talking, negotiating and fund-raising ever since.

He obtained the support of influential people, including Prince Phillip, who set aside an oak tree in the royal woods at Windsor Great Park for the corner post. Armand Hammer chairs an international council formed to promote the project. Among its patrons have been Fairbanks and Princess Grace.

In 1981, an agreement was concluded among Wanamaker, the Southwark Borough Council and a property developer to replace the warehouses with offices, housing and community recreational facilities, including four-fifths of an acre for the Globe.

But the euphoria that accompanied all this was short-lived.

Local elections in 1982 returned to office a group of committed Socialist councillors determined to scrap the project. The list of titled patrons for the project meant little to them. Besides, they argued, the street sweepers' depot could not be be relocated because there was nowhere else to put it.

A legal fight was undertaken to force the Southwark council to stick by its agreement, and last month the court decided it must do exactly that. Just where the street sweepers will go is undecided.

The new Globe is to go up at a place believed to be about 200 yards from the original site, but for the jubilant Wanamaker, that's close enough.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," he said. "It's been a very long struggle."

Diana Devlin, administrator of Wanamaker's Shakespeare Globe Trust, said about $3 million of the estimated $18 million required for the project has been raised.

"We're hoping to get a third of what we need from the United States, a third from Britain and a third from the rest of the world," she said. "It is finally going to happen."

The original Globe was built in 1598. Its cost was modest by today's standards, only $900, and its life was remarkably short and plagued by problems.

In 1613, it burned when its thatched roof was ignited by gunfire during a production of "Henry VIII." It was rebuilt the next year, only to be torn down 30 years later by the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell.

Shakespearean scholars the world over have helped re-create the theater's initial design. The Royal Oak Foundation post could be set as early as next summer and, with luck, Devlin predicts that the first production could open in the summer of 1991.

Wanamaker's Globe could also have company. Similar Globe replicas are contemplated at Wayne State University in Detroit and in Tokyo.

As any fan of the old Globe would have said: "All's well that ends well."

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