Strictly speaking, the Shakespeare Theatre in Gdansk, Poland, which opened in 2014, is not a reconstruction of a lost venue. Thanks to the great passion and commitment of an initiative, a new cultural centre has been built on the edge of the historical city centre. The memorable, and indeed for a theatre unusually hermetic structure surrounds an Elizabethan auditorium, which can be adapted for different performances.
It is a historical fact that in the first decades of the 17th century, English travelling ensembles used to perform works by Shakespeare in Gdansk. The Fencing School, a wooden building with galleries around an open courtyard, was used as the theatre. In 1991 the Theatrum Gedanense Foundation was established; its objective was the reconstruction of the Elizabethan theatre. A competition for the newbuild was staged in 2004, from which the Venetian architect Renato Rizzi emerged as the winner. The theatre was built with funding from the EU, the Pomeranian Voivodeship, and the City of Gdansk.
The Fencing School was located on the southwestern edge of the medieval city wall. From the late 19th century until it was destroyed in 1939, the Great Synagogue of Gdansk stood on part of the land. To the south the site is now bordered by an expressway dating from the 1960s.
The façade of the strictly structured edifice is made of dark brick. The building is layered horizontally: a 6-metre-high accessible outer wall, behind it, lengthwise, the 12-metre-high façade of the auditorium, and crosswise the 18-metre-high fly tower. Vertical pilasters structure the blocks and evoke associations both with brick Gothic buttresses and St. Mary’s Church in Gdansk, as well as with the machine-like architectural fantasies of the Italian futurist Antonio Sant’Elia. The roof of the auditorium has two wings, which can be fully opened up and out, with the flanks then soaring to a height of 24 metres around a bright courtyard.
On the inside bright, narrow corridors alternate with large spaces. The auditorium is modelled after the Fortune Playhouse in London, which dated from the first half of the 17th century and had a rectangular footprint. In the theatre in Gdansk the auditorium is to a certain extent the gem in a brick casket. There are timber galleries on three levels, while the planning grid for the 2.8-metre-high columns corresponds to the finds made during on-site archeological excavations. The stage and the stalls can be adapted for different performances. The administrative wing is located in the eastern part of the theatre.