HISTORY & HERITAGE
Part of London’s first Theatreland
The Curtain Theatre is first recorded as having opened its doors in 1577 in an area of land called Curtain Close in Shoreditch, home to Shakespeare’s earliest theatres and arguably the birthplace of modern theatre. Shakespeare’s Lord Chamberlain's Men used The Curtain from 1597-1599, and Henry V is believed to have debuted there.
PAST: THE CURTAIN PLAYHOUSE
The Curtain Theatre is first recorded as having opened its doors in 1577. It was located in Shoreditch, east London, an area that can lay claim to being the birthplace of modern theatre. Audiences flocked to the Curtain Theatre to enjoy theatrical performances and other entertainments until the 1620s, with a small break in the late 16th century as the plague gripped the capital.
Historical records reveal little about the Curtain Theatre, and in particular about its construction, however like other London theatres at this time, it is thought to have been a timber building with three tiers of galleries that surrounded an open central yard, where audiences stood. According to an account from a Swiss theatregoer, it cost one penny to stand in the yard, two pennies to sit in the galleries, three pennies to sit in the galleries with a cushion, and six pennies for a seat in a box.
William Shakespeare’s acting troupe, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, used the Curtain Theatre as their base from 1597-1599. In that time it is believed that Henry V debuted at the Curtain and that other famous plays were performed there, including Romeo and Juliet and Every Man in His Humour that starred Shakespeare himself.
As The Globe and other theatres opened on Bankside, the Shoreditch playhouses went out of use. By the 1630s the Curtain Theatre had been converted into tenements.
PRESENT: 2011-2016 THE DISCOVERY PHASE
Historical records have always pointed to the Curtain Theatre being close to modern-day Curtain Road in Shoreditch, east London. In 2011, archaeologists from MOLA were undertaking exploratory excavation for The Stage Shoreditch when they came across the remains of the Curtain Theatre.
This trial excavation only revealed a very small section of the Tudor building but an open-area excavation, which took place in spring 2016, allowed archaeologists to expose all of the surviving remains and study the Shakespearean playhouse in detail.
All of the artefacts uncovered were taken back to MOLA and examined by experts and the archaeological and historical material brought together. The theatre’s remains are covered over and will be preserved in the ground to allow for them to be revealed again in a public visitor centre on the site.
FUTURE: A brand new cultural destination for London
To showcase what will hopefully be Hackney’s first scheduled ancient monument, the site of The Curtain Theatre will be transformed into a captivating tourist attraction that will allow residents to lose themselves in Shakespearean history.
The Stage will incorporate dedicated space for the arts, education and history, providing a new venue for public interaction and recreation.explore the stage
1577The Curtain Theatre was first used as a theatre venue
1592The Curtain Theatre is closed for two years as London is gripped by The Great Plague
1597The Curtain Theatre becomes the premier venue of Shakespeare’s company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, after nearby playhouse The Theatre closes and before The Globe Theatre opens on Bankside
1620sThe Curtain Theatre falls out of use; after 1627 there are no more recorded references to it
1630sThe Curtain in transformed into tenements – earliest record is 1639
1690sThe Curtain Theatre is still standing in 1698. Rental documentation references 1s/7 ½ d due on “garden and houses called the Curtain Play-house in Hallowell Lane in Shoreditch”
1998A recreation of The Curtain Theatre is featured in hit film Shakespeare in Love, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes
june2011Archaeologists from MOLA discover the remains of The Curtain Theatre during trial excavation
july2014Planning permission is granted for The Stage, a new development set around the excavated and preserved remains of The Curtain Theatre
2016A detailed excavation, undertaken by archaeologists from MOLA, commences
April2016The main excavation of the Curtain playhouse begins with a visit from Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey
may2016Archaeologists from MOLA reveal that the playhouse is rectangular not polygonal
july2016Detailed excavation ends and the examination of the findings begin
august2016The excavation of the Curtain playhouse comes to a close and the remains carefully covered over for protection during construction of the visitor centre
november2016Archaeologists from MOLA reveal that they have uncovered evidence of the stage and a passage way which ran below it. They also reveal that it was a purpose-built structure
MOLA is an experienced and innovative archaeology and built heritage practice. In 2016 archaeologists from MOLA excavated the site of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch.
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