Rose Theatre revived after 393 years

A TEN-YEAR campaign to save the remnants of the theatre where Shakespeare and Marlowe staged their plays culminated in a partial victory yesterday when the Rose Theatre reopened.

However, despite the presence of the Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith, and the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, the early wishes of the late Lord Olivier and Dame Peggy Ashcroft that it reopen as a theatre have not been fulfilled. Instead, it will be an exhibition centre - a victory of sorts certainly, as developers once wanted to cover the whole site permanently with offices.

The foundations of the intimate open-air theatre, discovered during building work in 1988, are still shrouded in a foot of concrete, sand and water, to preserve them.

A decade ago, protesters including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Lord Olivier and Dame Peggy joined local residents to picket the site and save it from the bulldozers.

A pounds 1m grant from the government of the time compensated developers for changing their plans so they could suspend their 13-storey block on three massive girders over the irreplaceable remnants of Philip Henslowe's theatre.

There are eventual plans to redesign the new building to include a special basement display space for the theatre remains and it is hoped arch-aeological advances will enable full excavation in future.

Visitors will be able to see the exhibition, incorporating a sound and light show narrated by Sir Ian telling the site's history. The campaign patrons Janet Suzman and Sir Tom Stoppard were there to see the opening. Sir Tom's Oscar-winning screenplay Shakespeare In Love centres on the theatre. He said: "The exhibition is very informative and has been very well done."

Preserving the remains of the Rose had been the right thing to do despite the cost, he said. "We put on a show and a lot of us came here to persuade the government to stop it [the redevelopment]. Nobody suffered from it. The office building is here anyway."

Ironically, the office building had stood empty for three years after completion, until a government department moved in, and it is only intended to last a generation.

The lifespan of the Rose was short, from 1587 to 1606, when it was overshadowed by larger, newer rivals such as the Globe, now reconstructed near by.

It was Christopher Marlowe's theatre, but the young Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part One were staged there before he formed his own company.

Geoffrey Rush, the actor who played Henslowe in the film, sent a message saying: "I applaud this venture. If I was able to stand in front of you and it today, I'd be wearing rose-coloured glasses."

The constituency MP, Simon Hughes, said: "This is the holy of holies of English theatre."

From today, visitors can see the exhibition, with admission pounds 3 for adults, pounds 2.50 for concessions and pounds 2 for children.

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