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Timothy and The Rose Theatre in London.

Timothy and The Rose Theatre in London - 1989.

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This is what the excavation of The Rose Theatre looked like.

The site of the Rose Theatre, above, was the first Elizabethan theatre on London's Bankside where Shakespeare learned his craft, where he had his first plays performed and where he probably acted.

The discovery of the theatre site in 1989 was greeted by a blaze of publicity. Its remains are of huge archaeological and cultural importance, but have sadly been hidden for conservation reasons below a protective crust of sand and concrete and a pool of water for nearly 10 years. Now, at last, work has begun to present the site to the public.

The Rose was found by Museum of London archaeologists carrying out an exploratory dig on the site of a proposed office block on the south side of Southwark Bridge. They first moved onto the site on Dec. 19, 1988, and the first trace of a foundation wall was discovered on Jan. 31, 1989. As digging continued, it revealed a site redolent of the history of the greatest period of English drama.

Built in 1587, The Rose is the only playhouse from this period to have been substantially excavated and it remains the only one where a full excavation is possible. An English Heritage report published recently, identifying for the first time the sites of all known Tudor theatres in London, confirms that none of the others are likely to become available for excavation in the foreseeable future.

Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus received its first performance on this stage, as did his Henry VI Part I. The Rose was also the venue for the plays of Shakespeare's famous contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great, Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta were all performed at The Rose, as were works by many other famous playwrights of the day including Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd. Until overtaken by later rivals, including the Globe, The Rose was central to the development of drama in England.

In 1989, The Times described The Rose dig as the most celebrated archaeologicalsite since Tutankhamen's tomb. Thousands of visitors queued for a glimpse of the relics of the great theatre, while celebrated actors and theatrical scholars joined with the archaeologists, the developers, the local authority and the Government to find a way in which to save The Rose.

The developer for the office block, Imry Merchant, agreed to alter their designs so that the remains could be preserved in the basement of the new building, now the headquarters of the Health and Safety Executive. The company also donated 230,000 for the eventual re-display of the remains which, for their protection in the meantime, were reburied on June 16, 1989. They are being carefully monitored by English Heritage but cannot be left indefinitely in this state.

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The cast of Hamlet, with Timothy as Hamlet, which was performed as part of the Save The Rose Campaign.

Sir Ian McKellen was one of the first of many famous actors who joined and still support the campaign to Save the Rose. Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Lord Olivier were Founding Patrons of The Rose Theatre Trust. Sir Peter Hall and Janet Suzman are Patrons, and Dame Judi Dench and James Fox are Trustees. Among the many others who have been involved are Timothy Dalton, Ralph Fiennes, Leslie Grantham, Dustin Hoffman, Tim Pigott-Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Steven Spielberg and Patrick Stewart.

The Rose Theatre will join the growing range of cultural attractions associated with the regeneration of Bankside. Southwark Cathedral, the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art, the Millennium footbridge and the Globe Theatre are all nearby. The Rose Theatre Trust has been working very closely with the Globe and joint tickets for the two sites will be made available to all visitors.

The above article was featured in What's On Stage, April 1999


The History of The Rose Theatre by David Nash Ford.

London is well known today for its theatrical attractions. Before the first of these were built in Shoreditch in the 1570s, plays were mostly performed in tavern yards, sometimes in the streets or on temporary stages or carts. Bankside in Southwark, outside the jurisdiction of the City fathers, quickly became the home of Elizabethan theatre, and it all started with the playhouse called The Rose.

On 10th January 1587, two South London businessmen, Philip Henslowe and John Cholmley, signed an agreement to build a playhouse in Bankside and run it together for eight years. Though the profits from this endevour were to be divided equally, being a grocer, Cholmley was to retain sole interest in a house for selling refreshments at the southern end of the theatre plot. At the time of the agreement, the theatre itself was already in the process of being erected by their carpenter, John Grigge, on the site of a house known as The Rose. The building is known to have been open to the public by October of the same year when there was a complaint about plays being acted on the Sabbath. It may have originally been intended as a more general place of entertainment, but the building soon became known as 'The Playhouse': the only one in Southwark.

Cholmley appears to have died some time before the eight year partnership was up. From at least 1595, Henslowe was working alone. It may have been from this time that the theatre gained its new name. In 1596, the Dutchman, Johann De Witt, wrote of it as The Rose on account of the sign which hung outside it. Henslowe was a dyer who had married his dead master's widow. He lived in Clink Street in Southwark and had several property interests in the area as well as holding minor positions at court. He is said to have been a generous man, allowing various companies to perform at his theatre and giving out loans for some productions. However, money leant was quickly paid back from the first takings and Henslowe was said to have had few scruples in his business dealings.

Much is known about Henslowe's time at The Rose, due to the survival of his papers which were placed in the library of Dulwich College by its founder (1619), the principal actor of the company known as The Admiral's Men and Henslowe's son-in-law, Edward Alleyn.

The Admiral's Men appear to have arrived at The Rose in May 1591 after they split from the company of London's most famous actor, Richard Burbage, at 'The Theatre'. They probably brought with them, in their repertoire, plays by Robert Greene and especially Christopher Marlowe who became particularly associated with The Rose. Edward Alleyn married Henslowe's step-daughter in 1592 and the two men became partners in several theatrical ventures. Grigge undertook major alterations for them at the Globe. They bought the nearby 'Bear Garden' and later established both 'The Hope' and 'The Fortune' Playhouses.

Lord Strange's Company performed at the Rose throughout 1592, but the Admiral's men remained the playhouse's mainstay. In March, they showed off their theatrical skills in a play called 'Henry VI' and it is generally accepted that this was the version written by William Shakespeare, though there were other contemporary plays of the same name. It has even been tentatively suggested that Shakespeare may have been attached to the company at this time and may have walked the boards of The Rose.

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Disorder in the city led to the suspension of all theatrical events until December 1592. Their return saw the premier of Marlowe's 'Massacre at Paris' held at The Rose in early 1593. Plague forced another closure in February until the end of year. By this time, the repertoire of the Admiral's Men was seriously depleted. There were no new plays from Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd or Christopher Marlowe who were all dead.

Several other companies took to playing at The Rose': The Queens' Men and Lord Sussex's Men who staged Shakespeare's 'Titus Andronicus' in January 1594, though this was probably not a premier performance. By May, however, Alleyn had restored the Admiral's Men to life. They returned to The Rose and entertained audiences there for some seven years. At their height, in the year from June 1595, they acted out nearly three hundred performances of thirty-six plays, twenty of which were new. There were occasional closures due to the plague or riots, such as at Southwark Market, but The Rose thrived and Henslowe was able to give the theatre a cosmetic overhaul.

However, the decline of The Rose was on the horizon. In the Winter of 1595-6, 'The Swan' playhouse opened nearby. Performances at 'The Rose' began to be reduced in the face of this new competition. People were turning more to comedies and tragedies, rather than the great history plays for which The Rose was renowned. Then, in 1598, Ben Johnson killed his fellow Rose actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a dual in Shoreditch where both men lived. Alleyn decided to retire and Henslowe shifted his position from landlord and banker to that of full financial manager. The entries in his papers begin to dwindle at this point.

It was a bad time for theatres as a whole. A now-lost play called 'The Isle of Dogs' performed at 'The Swan' was thought to be seditious and the Privy Council considered closing all the playhouses. There was a temporary closure of 'The Swan' until mid-September.

By the Spring of 1599, The Rose was receiving still further competition from the newly opened 'Globe' theatre. The Chamberlain's Men, under Richard Burbage, were performing Shakespeare's plays there to great acclaim. In January the following year, Henslowe and Alleyn turned their attentions north of the Thames and built 'The Fortune' using Peter Street who had erected 'The Globe'. Despite the decaying state of The Rose, the Admiral's Men had several months of success there until their last appearance in July 1600. They moved to 'The Fortune' in November with Alleyn coming out of retirement to help them on their way.

The Rose was left in the hands of Philip Henslowe's actor-manager nephew, Francis. Lord Pembroke's Men appeared there briefly in August 1600, but it largely remained unoccupied until August 1602. There was a short-lived revival under Lord Worcester's Men and Will Kempe. New plays brought success, but this was cut short by mourning for the death of Queen Elizabeth I in March 1603. The theatres reopened in May, but it seems that The Rose had withered at last. Plague again forced its final closure. Henslowe's lease ran out in 1605 and the playhouse was demolished soon afterward.

For many centuries, only Rose Alley remained to show where this historic building had stood. However, in 1989, the extant remains of the theatre were discovered and partly excavated. After a lively campaign to Save the Rose, the area has been preserved for future investigation and an exhibition of the theatre's history.


Timothy's Interviews Regarding Saving The Rose Theatre - Introduction.

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Timothy as Hamlet during the Save The Rose Campaign.

During the Save The Rose campaign Timothy, who went down to the site to perform in a 15 minute performance of Hamlet, was interviewed by some of the news programmes in the UK and I have those interviews here on video and these were Timothy's comments about saving The Rose:-

Interview number one.

Timothy: "This site which has attracted enormous international response would become a focus for tourism all we would have would be a monument to philistinism, an office block with huge piles going down to this precious site? No, it's nonsense."

Interview number two.

Timothy: "I am ashamed to say that it never occured to me for a second that this site was precious err would be threatned and when I did discover so I was shocked and that is why I am here now. I mean it is part of learning, it is part of education, it is part of our history. The English language is one of the greatest languages in the world umm it is what the kids are about, it is what were are about, it is what everybodys about. Who would want an office block on that? You know it is precious."

How To Find The Rose Theatre.

If you are planning to visit London and would like to go to The Rose Theatre that Timothy, and other colleagues of his helped save, then here are all the details:-

Address: The Rose Theatre 56 Park Street London

Phone: +44 (0)20 7593 0026

Tube: London Bridge, Mansion House

Bus: 45, 63, 172, 15, 17, 11, 15, 17, 23, and 26.