Shakespeare's Rose Blooms

The site of the Rose Theater, where William Shakespeare honed his dramatic art, opens to paying visitors Wednesday. But it looks nothing like the stunning replica painstakingly recreated for the Academy Award-winning film "Shakespeare in Love."

For now, it's just a dark, damp basement under an 11-story office building on the South Bank of the river Thames.

But it's the atmosphere that counts.

"This is the holy of holies of English theater," lawmaker Simon Hughes said at a Tuesday preview.

Hughes was among the campaigners who linked arms 10 years ago with the elite of Britain's acting profession to stop bulldozers clearing away the Rose foundations after they were discovered during construction work.

The office building went up, but only after the public uproar forced the government to cough up $1.6 million for the developers to suspend the structure on girders. That gave the Rose relics a space where they could be preserved and monitored.

Now, they must wait until the office building ends its commercial life and is pulled down -- expected in less than 10 years -- to allow full excavation of the site.

The open-air Rose was built in 1587 and demolished after 1606 when Shakespeare's Globe theater surpassed it in popularity. The height of its commercial success came in the 1590s, with a repertory of plays by Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

A replica of the Globe was reopened in 1997 at the initiative of the late American actor Sam Wanamaker. It now puts on a slate of plays.

For now, visitors to the Rose will merely be able to stand on a viewing platform, built where the galleries lay on the theater's east side.

In front of the platform is a 2-foot-deep pond, covering a concrete cap. Under the cap is a network of irrigation pipes and a foot of sand smothering the Rose foundations, kept moist and monitored with instruments.

Other remains indicate the position of walls and the stage.

"The remains, which had been buried in soggy Thames mud for 400 years, would have turned to dust if they had been left exposed to the air," said Jon Greenfield, an architect who worked on the reconstructed Globe nearby.

Visitors to the site -- which will charge $4.80 per adult and $3.20 per child -- will be shown a video of the site's history narrated by actor Sir Ian McKellen, with scenes from "Shakespeare in Love" projected onto glass screens suspended over the water.

One of the movie's stars, Geoffrey Rush, sent a message for the opening saying, "I applaud this venture. If I was able to stand in front of you and it today, I'd be wearing rose-colored glasses."

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