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Tuesday, 13 April, 1999, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Rose Theatre looks up from watery grave
rose theatre - shakespeare in love
The Rose Theatre was similiar in construction to The Globe
As the world of film pays tribute to the Elizabethan era, with seemingly dozens of Oscars and Baftas going to Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth, people are taking a closer look at the age's roots.

The theatre where William Shakespeare learned his craft is receiving its first regular paying audiences in four centuries - despite being submerged under a 10-storey office block.

On Tuesday, the première of a sound and light show saw VIPs climb onto a viewing gallery above the remains of London's Rose Theatre.

The theatre's original foundations had been submerged in bog since the playhouse's demolition 20 years after it was built in 1587, until their discovery in 1989. They were resubmerged some time afterwards.

So "theatre-goers" now have the rare experience of standing over a pool of water to watch the show unfold from the depths.

Underwater lights dramatically illuminate different parts of the building's remains.

Shakespeare's first plays would have been staged at The Rose
And a technique called "Pepper's Ghost" - originally used in Victorian music halls and fairs - casts an image of a narrator onto the area where the stage once stood.

The spectacle features a voice-over, narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, one of the many prominent actors who campaigned to save the historical site after its discovery.

Further excavation work - at an estimated cost of 8m - is needed before the remains can be dried out and refurbished.

It is hoped that the cash can be raised with sales of tickets to the exhibition.

The Rose was discovered during a routine excavation on a building site near Southwark Bridge.

judy dench
Dame Judi Dench now owns the reconstruction of the theatre from the film
The theatre was a half-timbered building, with an apron stage, open-air standing room and tiered galleries for the good seats, similar to the later Globe theatre, a replica of which now stands on London's Bankside.

Experts knew the Southwark site corresponded roughly to what they thought might be the location of The Rose.

No-one, however, was prepared for how well, relatively speaking, the theatre's foundations had been preserved in the boggy peat soil surrounding the Thames.

Campaigners including Sir Ian, Dame Judi Dench and MP Simon Hughes fought to stop developers going ahead with the construction of an office block on the site.

Some of the country's best known actors staged a vigil in an attempt to stop the bulldozers moving in to where many of Shakespeare and Marlowe's plays were originally performed.

the rose theatre
How the Rose was depicted in Elizabethan times
But government ministers at the time refused to schedule the site as an ancient monument, arguing it was already well enough protected.

They instead offered 1m to the developers to allow them to preserve the theatre in the building's basement.

Three years later, however, heritage ministers decided to schedule the site, with the effect that any proposals for future development would need the approval of the Department of the Environment.

Campaigners said it was too little, too late. Sir Ian told the Daily Telegraph: "This is, I suppose, a great victory but it is a dreadfully late decision. The office block has been built.

"This was a matter which touched people's hearts. It was a very special piece of the nation's history which was completely disregarded by the politicians against the advice of those in the theatre, the academics and the ordinary people."

chris smith
Culture Secretary Chris Smith will be at the launch of the show on Tuesday
The 157,000 square foot office building was unable to attract a tenant for some time, and had to lower the asking rent from 35-40 per square foot, to 25.

The building is now home to the Health and Safety Executive.

In 1992, on the 400th anniversary of the rebuilding of the theatre's stage by impresario Phillip Henslowe - shortly before the theatre was re-submerged - a touring theatre company performed The Merchant of Venice there.

Clare Graham, of the Rose Theatre Trust said the film Shakespeare in Love - where the action centres around a full-size reconstruction of the theatre - had done much to bring the Rose back into the public eye.

Indeed, Dame Judi Dench, who received both the Oscar and the Bafta for best supporting actress for her role in the film, was so taken with the reconstruction that its makers gave it to her.

One possibility is that the replica theatre will be sited on Islington Green, on the site of a former music hall and appropriately close to the site of this year's Bafta award ceremony.

Although property developers are currently working on the site, Islington Borough Council says it hopes to incorporate the theatre into whatever is actually built.

Anyone wanting to see the original version is able to do so, at 56 Park St, London, SE1 9AR.

See also:

22 Mar 99 | The Oscars 1999
Tom Stoppard: A bard for our times?
12 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Shakespeare and Elizabeth dominate Baftas
01 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Dame Judi takes the stage
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