Remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre discovered in Shoreditch

MOLA team

The remains of London’s second playhouse, The Curtain Theatre, could be unearthed in Shoreditch as part of a development by Plough Yard Developments in conjunction with The Estate Office Shoreditch.

The Curtain Theatre was home to William Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, before they settled at the Globe and staged several of Shakespeare’s plays including Romeo and Juliet. Despite being immortalised as “this wooden O” in Henry V, which had its premier at The Curtain Theatre, little detailed information is known about this early playhouse. Excavations are expected to provide great insight into its history.

Archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have been undertaking exploratory digs at the site of The Curtain Theatre in Hackney. They have discovered what is believed to be one of the best preserved examples of an Elizabethan theatre in the UK. The discoveries include the walls forming the gallery and the yard within the playhouse itself.

Later operated by theatre impresario James Burbage, The Curtain Theatre opened in 1577 close to London’s first playhouse “The Theatre” and was one of a number of early theatres built outside the City of London’s walls. Named after the nearby Curtain Close, it was the main venue for Shakespeare’s plays between 1597 and 1599 until the Globe was completed in Southwark. The Curtain Theatre disappears from the historic record in 1622 but it may have remained in use until the Civil War.

The discovery of The Curtain Theatre’s remains comes as a result of the planned regeneration of the area. With the site currently largely covered by buildings, the redevelopment of the area is the only way to uncover the remains. The site’s owners, Plough Yard Developments, in conjunction with The Estate Office Shoreditch, now want to make the remains of The Curtain Theatre into the centrepiece of a new development. The proposals include keeping the remains in place and potentially opening them up to the public via the public space alongside a mix of new homes, offices, shops and restaurants for Shoreditch.

A spokesperson from Plough Yard Developments said:

“This is one of the most significant Shakespearian discoveries of recent years. Although the Curtain was known to have been in the area, its exact location was a mystery. The quality of the remains found is remarkable and we are looking forward to working with MOLA, local community and Shakespearian experts to develop plans that will give the public access to the theatre remains as part of a new development.

“Shoreditch is one of London’s most vibrant and creative districts. Once this discovery is open to the public it will add to the area’s rich heritage.”

Eddie Raymayne, who won last year’s Critics Circle Theatre Awards for Best Shakespearian Performance with his Richard II performance at the Donmar Warehouse, commented:

“The discovery of The Curtain is a thrilling prospect particularly in this year of the World Shakespeare Festival. With The Globe and The Rose having helped add such cultural vibrancy to Borough, I'm excited to see what the exploration of this exceptional site will unearth and bring to this already brilliant area of the capital.”

Chris Thomas from MOLA, who is leading the archaeological work, said:

“This is a fantastic site which gives us unique insight into early Shakespearian theatres. We are delighted that Plough Yard Developments plan to preserve the remains in place and open them up to the public as there are few similar sites across the UK.”

Proposals for the site are set to go on display on the 8 June and 9 June 2012 at the site in Shoreditch. A planning application for the redevelopment of the site, including the preserved theatre space is expected to be submitted in the summer.

Read related articles from: The Guardian, Sky News, BBC News, The Independent and The Mail online.

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