A sound and light show, by theatre designer William Dudley, will tell the history of the Rose and of Bankside. The event, the exact date of which is still to be confirmed, marks the first stage of a massive fundraising campaign by the Rose Theatre Trust to rescue the archaeological remains of the theatre from eventual decay and to secure them for future generations by carrying out a full-scale excavation.
The discovery of the theatre site in 1989 was greeted by a blaze of publicity. Its remains are of considerable archaeological and cultural importance but have 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 19 December 1988 and the first trace of a foundation wall was discovered on 31 January 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 Theatre, the Rose was central to the development of drama in England.
In 1989, The Times described the Rose dig as the most celebrated archaeological site 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 16 June 16 1989. They are being carefully monitored by English Heritage but cannot be left indefinitely in this state.
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, 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.
For further information, write to The Rose Theatre Trust, c/o HSE (Room 007a GSW), Rose Court 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS or call the Trust on +44-171-207-6280.