Shakespeare 400: The Curtain

I’ve blogged before about our newly awakened consciousness of London’s theatrical heritage, thanks for the most part to the archeologists at the Museum of London, aka MOLA. (Click here for previous blogs)

The first, and the most astonishing find in recent times was of the Rose Theatre on Bankside, in 1989. Ever since then it seems if there is any new development happening on a site of what could be historical interest the archeologists are permitted a certain time to excavate it before the building continues. This happened some years ago on the site of what was (arguably) the first ever purpose-built playhouse in London, in Shoreditch, call The Theatre. It looked like this:

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The Theatre MOLA excavations in 2010

The Tower Theatre were supposed to be building a new theatre on the site but they ran out of money, so it looked like this:

The Theatre 2012

The Theatre July 2012

Eight years after excavations first began it looks like this:

Shakespeare 400 The Theatre 2016

The Theatre April 2016

Which is a crying shame as while arguments continue over who gets to own and develop the site no one gets to see any of the Theatre’s original foundations so meticulously excavated all those years ago.

HOWEVER

Along comes the Curtain Theatre, just down the road from the Theatre. Currently under excavation as I write this by MOLA, I was privileged to be able to visit the site yesterday – but strictly not allowed to take photos – as part of a Shakespeare 400 walk called ‘Rogues and Villains of Elizabethan Theatre’.

Shakespeare 400 Shoreditch walk (6)

Old buildings viewable behind the hoarding from the outside (Hewett Street)

So far most of what they have discovered in this huge site is 18th century, but there are sections of it that just could be the remains of the Curtain Theatre itself. It is all very exciting, and whatever they do uncover will be preserved as part of the building’s development, which will I believe also include a playhouse.

There will be more news about this site when excavations end in June.

For more information on MOLA and the Curtain Theatre click here:

Patsy Trench April 2016

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Shakespeare 400: The Complete Walk

In 1769 the actor-manager David Garrick organised a three day festival in Stratford-on-Avon with the aim of putting both Shakespeare and Stratford on the map, but the weather was so bad the temporary theatre he built for the occasion flooded when the River Avon burst its banks and the jubilee had to be abandoned on its second day.

I was thinking of this as I arrived on the South Bank in London yesterday  – 400 years to the day since Shakespeare’s death – on a freezing cold day with the rain threatening (and occasionally showing itself), to stroll the South Bank taking in some of the 37 films of Shakespeare’s 37 plays on 37 screens organised by the Globe Theatre, only to find half the screenings not working. No Hamlet, no Henry V, neither Richards. And it seemed the closer you got to the Globe Theatre itself the worse it got.

Globe The Complete Walk

(shakespearesglobe.com)

It turned out that due to the security cordon surrounding President Obama’s visit to the Globe the technicians were unable to get access to the screens in order to fix the problems. On my way back to Waterloo from Southwark Cathedral (where I had the privilege of sitting in Shakespeare’s own choir stall listening to an idiosyncratic talk by the comedian Arthur Smith on Shakespeare’s publishers) most of the glitches had been fixed, though there was still no Henry V.

The Globe’s Complete Walk, masterminded by its outgoing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, was a triumph of art and technology (once it got going). The 10-minute films were especially made for the occasion and filmed in their original settings – Hamlet in Elsinore, The Merchant of Venice in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Love’s Labours Lost in a castle in Spain for example – and the excerpts were combined with snippets from Globe productions. So we had two Richard IIs – James Norton in Westminster Hall and Charles Edwards at the Globe; two Olivias – Olivia Williams at Parham House in Sussex and Mark Rylance, likewise; no fewer than four Hamlets (slightly confusingly), including one female (Michelle Terry) and Alex Jennings; two versions of the same actor in Jonathan Pryce as Shylock, with beard at the Globe and without in Venice, performing a scene with his daughter Phoebe Pryce as Jessica, and no Richard IIIs at all barring a voice-over and a silent-film version, and a scene with the two conspirators filmed in the Tower of London.

Shakespeare 400 South Bank (2)

Gemma Arterton in Love’s Labours Lost outside the National Theatre

It goes without saying that the performances and the films themselves were first-rate, in particular Lindsay Duncan in All’s Well that Ends Well and Toby Jones as Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1. And if you missed any of the famous speeches (as I did) such as John of Gaunt’s ‘This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle … ‘ – why, there was Simon Russell Beale performing the same in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two-hour Shakespeare extravaganza televised live at the RST in Stratford, attended by the Prince of Wales, who also took part in an improvised masterclass on how to perform ‘To be or not to be’ masterminded – if that’s not too formal a word for the ensuing chaos – by Tim Minchin, Judi Dench, Harriet Walter, Rory Kinnear, Ian McKellen, David Tennant, Paapa Essiedu and Benedict Cumberbatch (did I miss anyone out?).

Shakespeare 400 South Bank (9)

Romeo and Juliet in front of the Royal Festival Hall

What total joy. Shakespeare would have been proud. Thank you Globe Theatre. Thank you the Royal Shakespeare Company. Thank you London. Never mind about the weather, it all added to the total Britishness of the whole glorious experience.