The Rose: Bankside's First Theatre

The Rose: Bankside's First Theatre


Posted 2012-10-24 by Sandra Lawsonfollow
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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