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The Rose: Bankside's First Theatre

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published October 23rd 2012
Travel Back in Time to Shakespeare's Theatre
Back in 1587 Philip Henslowe contracted John Griggs to build The Rose theatre. It was the fifth playhouse in London, and the first to be built on the Bankside, the area to the south of the Thames that satisfied the pleasures of Londoners. They willingly crossed the river via London Bridge, or by boat, to sample the delights of the taverns, bull and bear baiting arenas, gambling dens, theatres and prostitutes. Modern day Soho can't even begin to compete. Thanks to 'Henslowe's Diary', preserved by his step son-in-law and leading actor of the day, Edward Alleyn, we have a wealth of knowledge of his transactions and of the history of Elizabethan theatre. The Rose was the arena where Christopher Marlowe's plays were performed, and where Shakespeare's early dramas, Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part I were first acted.

The Rose Emblem
The Rose Emblem

Although the Rose is somewhat eclipsed by its younger neighbour, Shakespeare's Globe, the remains of the older playhouse are a historical and archaeological reminder of the Elizabethan stage, whilst the Globe is merely a reconstruction, and one that could never have been built without the information we have about its older sibling.

The Submerged and Preserved Remains of The Rose
The Submerged and Preserved Remains of The Rose: the Red Lighting Delineates the Outer Walls and the Two Stages from 1587 and 1592

Following demolition of an office block in 1989, the site of the Rose became available for excavation. It was subject to a huge campaign led by the public and by thespians.

Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Dustin Hoffmann Campaigning in 1989 (Picture Courtesy of The Rose Website)
Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Dustin Hoffmann Campaigning in 1989 (Picture Courtesy of The Rose Website)

Thanks to this publicity two thirds of the remains of the Rose have been preserved under sand, concrete and water, and the Rose Theatre Trust is raising funds for excavation of the remainder of the site. You too can help by visiting the Rose, buying merchandise, donating funds, becoming a Friend, and attending the plays that are now a regular feature of the theatrical calendar. Visit and allow yourself to travel back to the period between 1587 and 1603 when the likes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Alleyn trod the floor a few feet beneath your feet. The Rose is open for tours, including a film narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, every Saturday.

Excavated Rings
Rings Excavated from The Rose, including the Rose Ring Inscribed 'Pences Pour Moi DV' (Think of Me God Willing): Picture Courtesy of The Rose Website

The next play in the Rose's repertory will be The Winter's Tale, which will run through most of November, complete with live music, period costumes and Elizabethan dancing. The theatre will also be home to a Halloween Special (on 28 and 29 October) featuring ghosts, revenants and witch hunters.

The Blue Plaque that was Unveiled by Sir Ian McKellen
The Blue Plaque that was Unveiled by Sir Ian McKellen
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Why? To learn about the history of England's theatre
When: Check on the website or phone for opening times. Performances are usually at 7.30 on weekday evenings (with the exeption of Mondays), Sunday afternoons at 3pm, and open days are Saturdays betwen 10am and 5pm
Phone: 020 7261 9565
Where: 56 Park Street, London SE1 9AS
Cost: Tours are free (but donations are encouraged), and theatrical performances are 12
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