‘Shakespeare would recognise this theatre… except the scaffolding’


Shakespeare's Rose theatre in York.
Anthony Robling


The replica theatre has been built in a month in a car park

When Shakespeare wrote about the winter of our discontent being “made glorious summer by this sun of York”, he wasn’t worrying about the city’s weather.

But 300 “groundlings”, who will watch plays in a roofless replica Elizabethan theatre in the city this summer, will hope “this sun of York” shines on them.

Shakespeare’s Rose, which opens on Monday and has cost £3m, is Europe’s first “pop-up” Shakespearean theatre.

The Bard “would totally recognise it”, according to producer James Cundall.

The temporary theatre has been built in a car park in 28 days to a circular design, similar to those erected on Bankside in Shakespeare’s day.

JMA Photography


Alexander Vlahos and Alexandra Dowling will play Romeo and Juliet

It will stage four of his plays with a cast including Versailles and Merlin actor Alexander Vlahos, who will play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and Catesby in Richard III.

As well as the audience members standing in the centre, a further 660 will watch from three levels around the edge.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries would recognise the design and “tricks” like trapdoors and flying, which have hardly changed over the past 400 years, according to Cundall.

“They’d find everything they had in their theatre – they just probably wouldn’t recognise layer scaffolding,” he says.

“Each length [of scaffolding] is probably about the same size as a standard oak beam, so that’s how Shakespeare’s oak became German scaffolding.”


An aerial performer rehearses on stage at Shakespeare’s Rose

However, the stage area is “very authentic”, he insists, and it has the “intimacy” of the original playhouses.

“The space and the works go together and you’re seeing them acted in the very space that Shakespeare wrote them for, which I think is fascinating.”

There was an actual Rose theatre in London in the Bard’s time, which was recreated for the 1999 film Shakespeare in Love.

  • The replica Shakespearean theatre being built on Merseyside
  • What happened to Shakespeare’s theatres?

But the naming of the York venue as Shakespeare’s Rose has irked some academics who have pointed out that Shakespeare didn’t set up the original, and it should be called Henslowe’s Rose after its owner Philip Henslowe.

But Professor Judith Buchanan of the University of York, who has advised on the pop-up theatre, said: “Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre is not a historical reconstruction of the early modern Rose playhouse on Bankside, nor of any other early modern playhouse.

“It is an approximate and suggestive architectural allusion to the idea of the early modern playhouse.”

The creators of the York theatre will hope that their venue doesn’t replicate some other aspects of the original Rose – which had to be closed occasionally due to riots or the plague, and which had one cast member who killed the other in a duel.

Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email