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Exhibition to dig up secrets of Shakespearean playhouse the Theatre

Reconstructed view of the entrance to the Theatre in Shoreditch, London. Photo: David Toon/Lee Sands/MOLA Reconstructed view of the entrance to the Theatre in Shoreditch, London. Photo: David Toon/Lee Sands/MOLA
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Remains of Shakespearean playhouse the Theatre are to go on display to members of the public for the first time, as part of an exhibition that will also feature artefacts uncovered from excavations of the site.

The Theatre, reported to be London’s first playhouse, was built in 1576, in Shoreditch, east London. It was where Shakespeare performed and had some of his own works staged, including Romeo and Juliet.

Remains of the theatre’s inner wall were originally discovered in 2008. These walls would have housed the yard, where theatregoers would have gathered to watch plays.

Opening in late 2019, a new exhibition centre will now reveal these in-situ remains to the public for the first time, alongside objects discovered as part of the archaeological dig carried out by the Museum of London Archaeology. Items recently discovered include a complete Elizabethan goblet and pieces of money pots used to collect entry fees.

The excavation work has also recently begun exploring the area outside the theatre, where people from across class divides would mingle prior to a show. MOLA said it hoped this research would reveal “new insight and artefacts” that would eventually be in the exhibition.

Lead archaeologist Heather Knight described the site as “internationally significant” and a “special place to archaeologists, historians, thespians and Londoners”.

Remains of the Theatre will form the heart of the exhibition, which “will examine how and why commercial theatre flourished in London”, and how the Theatre became “one of the most important places in the story of Shakespeare in London”.

Institutions across London will also loan the exhibition other 16th-century objects.

The new exhibition space, on New Inn Broadway, is close to where another theatre, called the Curtain, was built a year later. Remains of this playhouse will form part of a new mixed-use development, called the Stage.

Construction of the exhibition space for the Theatre is being undertaken by the Box Office New Inn Broadway Limited, a subsidiary of the Belvedere Trust. The exhibition is designed by Nissen Richards Studio, which has worked for museums including the Natural History Museum in London.

Curtain Theatre regeneration dubbed ‘most important Shakespeare heritage project for 20 years’