It was once the scene of romantic overtures, scripted by Tom Stoppard, from Joseph Fiennes to Gwyneth Paltrow. Now plans are afoot for the "wooden O" seen in the hit 1998 film Shakespeare in Love to be turned into a real replica Elizabethan theatre to rival the Globe in London.
The set's dismantled oak timbers have been mothballed in a warehouse for more than a decade after being given as a gift to one of the stars, Dame Judi Dench, who won an Oscar and a Bafta for best supporting actress as Queen Elizabeth I.
Dench wants to see the set turned into a full-scale replica of the Rose theatre, which stood close to the Globe on the south bank of the Thames and was also used by Shakespeare. The actor, who was born in York, has donated the set to the touring British Shakespeare Company for re-use as a permanent Shakespeare centre in the north of England.
Dench said her husband, the actor Michael Williams, had called her mad to accept the present, but she had been determined to see the open-air apron stage, with its horseshoe of galleries and open space for cheap ticket "groundlings", used as a working theatre. Structural reinforcement will be needed, but the building parts are basically sound and it held up to heavy, sometimes rowdy, use during the making of the film.
The BSC is in talks with York, Manchester and Sheffield councils over the site of the theatre, and other northern centres could join the field. The BSC's patron Sir Ben Kingsley was born in Salford, which has won plaudits for its renovation of the Manchester Ship Canal docks, while Halifax is the base of Barry Rutter's Northern Broadsides company, which has won acclaim for its regionally accented Shakespeare productions.
A charitable trust will be set up to manage the replica Rose.
The BSC's founder, Robert Williamson, said: "The north is the place to have the Rose. London has got the Globe, it's got Regent's Park, it's got the wonderful season by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
"In the Midlands they have got a fantastic series of theatres with the RSC doing some incredible work. But in the north of England there isn't anything serving as a centre for Shakespeare, or even a constant series of his plays taking place."
The plan chimes with a long-standing campaign for recognition of Shakespeare's northern links, and the claim that he fled to Lancashire after prosecution at Stratford-upon-Avon for poaching deer. Although tenuous, like much of the playwright's biography, the theory is supported by documentary evidence including the will of a member of the powerful Catholic Hoghton family.
This was made during Shakespeare's "lost years" between the birth of his twins in 1585 and the first reference to him in London in 1592 as an "upstart crow". It refers to plays, costumes and musical instruments and asks for care to be taken of a "William Shakeshaft now dwelling with me".
Northern partisans argue that the young playwright was found refuge at the Hoghtons by his last schoolteacher, John Cottom, who came from a village on their estates near Preston. The area also had the only Elizabethan theatre known outside London, on a site now occupied by a hairdressing salon in the Merseyside town of Prescot. This was involved two years ago in an ambitious but unsuccessful attempt at creating a replica, which failed to win £20m from the National Lottery's Living Landmarks programme. The Rose plan also faces funding obstacles in the recession.
Existing northern theatres are vulnerable to competition – Williamson first approached his native city, Leeds, but was turned down because of the possible effect on the Grand theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse, as well as the lack of a site.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017