If you're a fan of the 1998 Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love, and if you're in London in the next few weeks, why not drop by the Rose Theatre? It's not a full reconstruction like The Globe (which is just around the block), but rather a real archaeological site. The Rose was built in 1587 by Philip Henslow. Who can forget Henslow (as immortalised by Geoffrey Rush) getting his feet toasted by a debt collector? Or some of his wonderful lines like: 'Love and a bit with a dog, that's what they like.' And: 'Strangely enough it all turns out well.' How? 'I don't know. It's a mystery.'
Henslow built the Rose and maintained it for two decades. For five of those years he even kept a diary. This diary, now at Dulwich College, is full of fascinating facts about the day-to-day running of an Elizabethan theatre. There are lots of delightful details like how much he spent on gold braid for the actors' costumes. Coincidentally, when archaeologists were digging on the site of the Rose, they found several lengths of gold braid. They also found a gold ring. And the thigh bone of a Russian bear! Apparently, as well as plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe, the Rose put on combats between bears and bulls, and sometimes mastiffs, too. Those Elizabethans loved a good bear-baiting!
Anyway, every Monday to Saturday evening at 6.00 for the rest of August, you can see a short film called 'The Genius of Chrisopher Marlowe'. Some of Britains best actors perform scenes from Marlowe's plays: Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Menzies, Alan Rickman, Ian McKellan, Rebecca Knight, Anthony Sher and Henry Goodman just to name a few. (above right: Alan Rickman as the Duke of Guise from Marlowe's Massacre at Paris)
After this delightful Marlowe-taster, one of the site historians will tell you something about the Rose and its history. Did you know it was only rediscovered in 1989? Did you know it was originally surrounded by canals for market gardens? Did you know that they didn't use blanks in prop guns but rather real bullets? In 1587 an actor waved his hand while firing a pistol on stage. The bullet killed a pregnant member of the audience and her baby, and it also wounded a man. Eek!
The 35 minute film and the talk only cost £4.50. Great value.
The Rose Theatre isn't hard to find. I went to Waterloo, then walked up to the river, going along the South Bank past the polka dot trees and the skateboard park and the second-hand bookstall outside the NFT and Gabriel's Wharf and the Millenium Bridge and the Tate Modern. Turn right at the reconstructed Globe and walk down New Globe Walk with The Globe on your right and Starbucks on your left.
Take the first left down Park Street (left) and walk for about a minute until you reached the door by the blue plaque (below). If you pass some stairs or go under the bridge, you've gone too far. The doors of The Rose usually open from 5.45pm on. (If the door isn't actually open, give it a push) The film starts at 6.00. While you're waiting for it to start you look down at the level of the original Rose which - like almost every building from the past - is below street level. The archaeologists have marked its outline out in red lights, so you can see how big it was and where the stage was. There's also literature about the Rose, a small model of it and info boards on the wall.
There are several productions planned over the next few months, all on a much more intimate scale than the Globe. From 17 - 29 August, the Carpe Diem Theatre Company will be performing Shakespeare's Othello. A performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream is also planned. For mid-winter! Unusual? Maybe. But I think it will turn out well. How do I know? 'I don't! It's a mystery.'
For information about The Rose Theatre, go to the official site: www.rosetheatre.org.uk. The address is: The Rose Theatre, 21 New Globe St, London SE1 9DT