The 16th century theatre where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was first performed will be excavated and turned into a Scheduled Ancient Monument at the centre of a vast performance, exhibition and commercial space in Shoreditch.
Built in 1577, the playhouse – home to Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, as well as the premiere of Henry V – was rediscovered in excellent condition last summer, a year after a Museum of London Archaeology team had begun digging there.
© Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will
Working three metres below ground level, they found the original stage floor and brick walls from a theatre measuring 22 metres along 14 sides. The development, which includes a 164-seat indoor auditorium and a 200-seat outdoor space, will place the artefacts alongside finds from other Elizabethan theatres.
“In my 30 years of experience as an archaeologist there is only one thing in development that excites the public more than archaeology, and that is Shakespeare,” said Chris Thomas, one of the archaeologists.
“We have both here. The scheme has been designed to make the Curtain Theatre the centrepiece, providing it with a generous amount of space for the display and offering the large public open space with a focus few other developments can match.
“This is a site of international significance that, without this development, will lie hidden and inaccessible to the public.”
Thomas said he expected the exhibition space, designed by the company behind the new Mary Rose Museum, to become “one of the archaeological highlights” for tourists and “an unrivalled educational and heritage resource” for residents in Hackney.
In a submission during the planning process, English Heritage said a successful resurrection of the Curtain would have “value across the board educationally”, allowing audiences to be “moved, excited and awestruck” by the remains of one of Shakespeare’s favourite stages.