In the name of the Rose

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Volunteers at Southwark’s first theatre are calling on residents to reclaim the Rose as it launches a new season. First opening in 1587, twelve years before the Globe, the Rose was the first theatre in Bankside and possibly all of South London, Operations Manager Pepe Pryke says.

At the end of last year Trustees of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre received First Base Heritage Lottery funding, which means they’ll soon be able to employ some staff; currently the theatre is run entirely by volunteers. The trustees have 18 months to apply for a Second Base Lottery bid, which could see the final section of the site excavated if successful – it is the only playhouse from that period on Bankside for which the complete foundations are thought to survive. Part of the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is also for the creation of a new visitor and education centre, which would display the remains of the theatre and provide more than 530 square metres for activities and events. Currently the capacity is 50 seats but renovation would allow for at least 200, creating opportunities for greater revenue.

“We need a total of £4.6 million and two thirds of that needs to be brought in by revenue,” Pepe says. “We have an incredible space, it’s where Shakespeare worked, it’s internationally important, not just locally and we’re slowly waking up the beast.” The target is to start digging up the Rose in 2014 for the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

As part of this year’s line-up there’ll be Shakespeare classics including Hamlet and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, while the next piece of show is Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. “They’re all quite big hits for this year,” says Pepe.

The Rose isn’t tied to just Shakespeare either, Pepe argues. “We have local boy Philip Henslowe who owned the Rose, the actor Edward Alleyn, Marlowe; we want to celebrate all of these characters as much as Shakespeare.”

Henslowe, who died the same year as Shakespeare, was a pioneer in the theatre and entertainment industry particularly across bankside, Pepe continues. “He was very much a Richard Branson of his day, very forward thinking”.

Later in the year Jonson’s The Alchemist is playing from June 6-30 as another nod to a Shakespeare contemporary. “Jonson was very much involved in Bankside and that play isn’t done as much as it should be but there’s so many mentions of Bankside that we can use” Pepe says.

The theatre is trying to attract more students, but as it is run purely by volunteers it can’t open during the day, which makes bringing in revenue difficult, Pepe says. They don’t charge for space and split the box office with the production companies, as the Rose did historically.

The organisers are calling on more local volunteers to get involved with the theatre. “We don’t want to be just a theatre space or museum space that doesn’t belong to the people who live locally,” Pepe says. “We have some amazing theatres in Southwark and we want locals to reclaim the Rose in the run-up to the dig. The Rose belongs to the borough.”

Dido, Queen of Carthage is on at the Rose Theatre, 56 Park Street, SE1 9AS from March 6-31. Admission: £12 / £10 concession. Phone: 020 7261 9565. http://www.rosetheatre.org.uk

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