The discovery of remains from The Curtain Theatre, where Shakespeare’s company performed before moving to The Globe, has prompted developers to plan a “performance space” to commemorate the site and hope the attraction will revitalise a run-down part of east London.
Remnants of the 16th century playhouse, which staged the premieres of plays including Romeo & Juliet and Henry V, were discovered in a down-at-heel part of Shoreditch after archaeologists started exploratory digs in October.
The experts from Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) studied the site in anticipation of a development project to regenerate the area around it. Plough Yard Development, which owns the site, said the surprise discovery meant it had binned the original plans and now wanted to make the remains of the theatre “into the centrepiece of a new development”.
The archaeologists believe the findings, which so far include the walls forming the gallery and the yard inside the playhouse, to be one of the best preserved examples of an Elizabethan theatre in the UK. Chris Thomas, who is leading Mola’s archaeological work, said the site “gives us unique insight into early Shakespearian theatres”.
While historians knew The Curtain was in the area its exact location had long remained a mystery and a blue plaque commemorating the building was put some distance from the newly discovered site.
London’s second theatre, named after the nearby Curtain Close, opened in 1577 near the first, simply called The Theatre. The Curtain was home to William Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for two years until they moved to the Globe in Southwark. The last historic record of The Curtain was in 1622.
The new development proposals, which will go on display at the site in Shoreditch this Friday and Saturday, are expected to keep the remains in place and a “performance space” is also under consideration. Plough Yard plans to build new homes, offices, shops and restaurants in the area.
A more substantial excavation will be carried out towards the end of the year after the full plans have been submitted in the summer. A spokesman for Plough Yard said the quality of the remains found was “remarkable” before adding they “will add to the area’s rich heritage.”
Neil Constable, chief executive of Shakespeare’s Globe, said the company was “very excited” about the discovery. “The find is another wonderful opportunity to further our understanding of Shakespeare’s theatres.”