Archaeologists have begun detailed exploration work on the Curtain Theatre, one of William Shakespeare’s least well-known playhouses, in east London.
The playhouse, which saw the first performance of Henry V, is now at the centre of a new residential development, The Stage, offering experts from the Museum of London a rare chance to excavate a key cultural location.
The dig was officially launched by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy just days after the nation marked the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
Trial explorations began in 2012 which offered promising indications that the site, two to three metres below modern ground level, has been well preserved.
Museum of London Archeology (Mola) is hoping to uncover more clues about the physical structure and use of the theatre and shed new light on the cultural makeup of the area and performances in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Archaeologists have started digging through the 18th century remains that encase the Curtain Theatre and now they have reached key layers from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Senior Mola archaeologist Heather Knight said: “We hope to find out more about the structure of the theatre – where Henry V was first performed – which will give us a clearer indication of how Elizabethan playhouses were used and the evolution of theatre.
“There is also the possibility of finding fragments of props, costumes or items used by the audience, including food remains or drinking vessels, which could tell us more about theatre productions and culture at the time. We look forward to sharing our findings in due course.”
Once the detailed dig is complete, the remains of the Curtain will be preserved in-situ, and artefacts discovered and records taken during the excavation will be studied in detail.
A display of the finds will sit alongside the theatre remains as part of a cultural and visitor centre at The Stage , a new £750million mixed-use scheme including 33,000 sq ft of retail, over 200,000 sq ft of office space, and more than 400 homes.
Mr Vaizey said: “Shoreditch is one of London’s most vibrant locations, and its prominence as a theatrical hotspot during Shakespeare’s time highlights this area’s enduring cultural appeal.”