In 1988, following the demolition of a 1950s office block, archaeologists uncovered two-thirds of a ground plan of the first purpose-built theatre to grace London’s Bankside, The Rose. Built in 1587, on reclaimed land from the Thames, it sat amongst other Elizabethan attractions also considered to be unsavoury, such as brothels, gaming dens and bull/bear-baiting arenas. It pre-dates The Globe by 12 years and in fact, the latter probably owed its original creation to its success. Ironic, therefore, that it should fall out of use and disappear from the map in the early 1600s, in contrast to The Globe, which was going from strength to strength.
Today, it is an interesting mix of an archaeological dig and a small, modern theatre with a slightly gothic feel. With an old (as in long-standing, seeing as he’s probably reading this) friend, I attended a ‘readathon’ there last summer, before I broke my wrist. This involved the reading through of the abridged versions of several well-known plays. I had a commitment in the evening, so I could stay for the first four only: Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors and Frankenstein. At least, I think those were the plays … Long-standing Friend can correct me if I’m wrong.
We met outside the theatre and wandered round the corner to have a bite to eat. It was really not much more than a bite, with London prices. Then we wandered back to the theatre. It was a strange sensation, walking into the auditorium; some of it was sectioned off for the dig and there was a distinct cold blast. But it was lit up and looked pretty (I never thought I’d describe a dig as pretty). I was reminded of the only time I’ve been on a dig; a few years ago I joined a local archaeological group and found myself at a site called Rocky Clump. I arrived with a trowel and a fork and lots of trepidation. Having studied Latin to ‘A’ Level, I’ve always found Ancient History interesting and have visited a few amazing archaeological sites in my time. Rocky Clump was not amazing. It was a rectangular hole, filled with people, all holding trowels and forks, with nothing interesting in it. I didn’t even last the day. I scraped, scraped and did a bit more scraping, just in case I needed to scrape a bit more and I found enough earthworms to start one of those wormeries, but nothing else. I left at lunchtime, claiming I didn’t think they’d be there all day and I never returned. Hats off to all those people who dig and scrape and dig and scrape for so little return. I reckon for every minute of Time Team that’s aired, a whole day of digging and scraping is on the cutting-room floor. Anyway, it isn’t all a sad tale of digging and scraping – I enjoyed visiting some pre-dug digs during my time as a member, along with joining some great historical walks both across the Downs and through the streets of Brighton. The latter is where I found out the origin of North Laine and so I have some evidence to support my insistence upon it being called so. A laine was a farming plot and there were 5 laines surrounding the old town of Brighton. In 1977, the area we call North Laine was going to be developed into high-rise buildings, a flyover and a car park, but Ken Fines, the borough planning officer for Brighton at the time, struck by the charm of the area, fought to protect it from development and so the North Laine Conservation Area was designated, the name a recognition of its mediaeval roots. The Lanes have nothing to do with this: they are, as the name suggests, made up of a series of lanes, unlike North Laine which refers to an area and is actually a series of quaint roads (ok, you could call Kensington Gardens a lane). But anyway, we have Mr Fines to thank because without him, bohemian Brighton would not exist.
Back to London! The readathon . . . so, we pulled names of characters out of a hat and then we had to play that character in the shortened play. In Frankenstein I had a few bit-parts which was fine, because I teach it every year to Year 8. It was the same story with Comedy of Errors but that was fine too, because back in the day when I was young and thin, I played Luciana. But we did Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet in a row and I pulled out ‘Olivia’ for the former and ‘Juliet’ for the latter. I played Olivia first which was pretty cool and Juliet second, which was even cooler. I agonised over whether or not to replace the name, as I’d just played a big part, but I ran with it. I’m too old to play Juliet now, so I figured that this was my last chance. And Long-standing Friend played the nurse, so actually, it was perfect. I doubt that he will ever get to play the nurse, so no doubt, he was thinking the same.
When I told Long-standing Friend that I’d cried off my audition, his reaction was:
‘What? You enjoyed acting with me last summer!’
He was right. I had. So why was I doing this? I can’t really explain why, but I brooded over it for quite some time. Then I thought: it’s ok. I can do the readathon again, every summer if I want to. That’s what I enjoyed. Just because I liked the redathon, doesn’t mean I want to be in plays any more. Only I am in a play, but not to play a part.
I broke my wrist just days after the readathon so I’m thankful for that. Not that I broke my wrist, just that Fate allowed me to play Olivia and Juliet before pushing me into that chalky puddle. If I’d managed to play Joan of Arc too, or Alison from Look Back In Anger, then it would have been a hat-trick. I think they are my only two regrets.