There is going to be a long post on all Shakespeare’s venues soon, I promise. (Part of the problem is that it’s becoming too long – it’s likely going to become a multi-part multimedia event.) But in the meantime you all need to stop what you are doing and go and visit the Rose Theatre in Bankside*.
The Rose is about the only remaining venue where Shakespeare’s plays were originally staged, and it is certainly the only theatre that exists as more than a line on the ground or a plaque on a wall. No, the Globe does not count – fabulously impressive though it is, it is a reconstruction (and on the site of the bear pit, rather than the original theatre).
The Rose was built by Phillip Henslowe in 1587 on an old rose garden (hence the name). There is a surprising amount of information about its building and maintenance, as many of Henslow’s and Edward Alleyn’s papers were kept by the school the latter founded (the College of God’s Gift at Dulwich, now ahem less formally known as Dulwich College). The site went for redevelopment in 1989, and a campaign was started to save the theatre, particularly when it became clear that much more of it remained than anyone had thought. They found not just the brick courses which supported the timber and plaster structure above, but even the floor surface – made of cinder and crushed hazelnut shells from a nearby soap factory.
The remains, which had been kept preserved by London’s famously high water table, were soon in danger of being damaged by exposure to the elements, and the building works needed to continue. So the Rose was flooded, and sits below the enormous girders which carry the weight of the building ahead safely away from the archaeological remains. The Trust have grand plans for the future – to re-excavate, and put the remains permanently on display, beneath a glass floor which will allow actors a unique opportunity to perform on an actual Shakespearean stage.
In the meantime, they use the current extraordinary atmospheric setting for intimate performances of plays, and open to visitors on Saturdays, when you get to see the venue, watch a very informative film and – if you are very lucky and no-one else volunteers for the audience participation – get to say a line or two or Shakespeare yourself in the place where they were first performed.
So go on. What are you waiting for?
* Don’t literally do this. It’s only open on Saturdays between 10 and 5, and when they have shows on. But do go and visit.