Unearthing the Rose Theatre
Two of Shakespeare’s earliest plays were performed at Philip Henslowe’s Rose Theatre, and he almost certainly acted on that stage. The foundations of the Rose were discovered during building work near Southwark Bridge at the corner of Rose Alley and Park Street, and unearthed in February 1989. The excavation revealed a polygonal building (irregular 14-sided and galleried, full-house capacity of 1,600), with a small stage 16½ feet deep, so intimate that the furthest spectator was only 50 feet away from the action. Certain scenes in Henry VI would have filled the space completely.
The Rose was hailed as the cradle of British theatre — the stage that Shakespeare himself trod — but it had only been uncovered because the site was about to be redeveloped. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher offered only verbal support.
I PLACE MY FAITH IN THE FREE MARKET VALUE OF CULTURE. BUT THE COUNTRY’S ACTORS CAME TOGETHER IN AN IMPRESSIVE SHOW OF SOLIDARITY — IAN MCKELLEN, PEGGY ASHCROFT, JUDI DENCH, RALPH FIENNES — EVEN DUSTIN HOFFMAN WAS THERE.
They saved the Rose in a philistine cultural environment that had been slashing subsidies to British theatre for years. Almost. Rose Court is built over rather than on the theatre, which awaits full renovation.