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Rose at Ten

by on 25 March 2018

Buds to Blooms.

Rose at Ten

RTK’s anniversary exhibition

The Rose Theatre, Kingston until 29th April

Mark Aspen celebrates a local treasure.

“It might not have happened”, said The Rose Theatre Kingston’s Chief Executive, Robert O’Dowd when looking back on the ten years since The Rose was officially opened on 16th January 2008. The occasion was at a reception last Friday (23rd March) to thank some of the people who had helped make sure that The Rose, Kingston’s treasure of a theatre, did happen, and happen with resounding success.


Some representatives of those he wished to thank were there to raise a glass to their theatre, artistic teams, staff, volunteers, donors, audience, sponsors, Kingston University and Kingston Council, and others. Even theatre critics were included in the others! But then again, The Rose can be confident in the high quality of the work that it produces or hosts.

That The Rose did happen, Chris Foy, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees recalled, was initially due to campaigning by well-known broadcaster the late David Jacobs, who in 1989 became the first Chairman of the Kingston Theatre Trust, which was instituted to bring back a professional theatre to Kingston since the demolition of the Kingston Empire in 1955.

The area situated between Kingston’s ancient market square and the River Thames at its confluence with the Hogsmill River, then largely scattered with rundown timber buildings, was acquired by property company St George plc. As one of the concessions for St George’s construction of Charter Quay, an award winning residential and commercial development, was that the shell of the building was to be provided to the Trust for at no cost. It was handed over in 2003. Charter Quay later won architectural and other awards for its site that comprised 238 apartments, five town houses, river moorings, restaurants, bars, and cafés, a piazza and a waterfowl conservation area, as well as the theatre shell, which was to be called The Rose, after its illustrious Tudor namesake in Southwark.

The community in Kingston rallied round with fund raising events and shows, such as Don Juan in Kingston, in the spring of 2004, which took place in the shell of the uncompleted building, with no seats, no loos and temporary lighting. The theatre was still very much in the raw just before Christmas that year, when Sir Peter Hall was invited to direct a production of As You Like It, now with porta-loos for the audience.


The theatre had gained an auditorium of 900 seats around its wide, thrust stage when it was officially opened on 16th January 2008, again with Sir Peter Hall directing, this time Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in co-production with English Touring Theatre.

Foy paid tribute, not only to Sir Peter Hall, but to other eminent directors who had lifted The Rose to its present high standing, including amongst others, Stephen Unwin (who was present) and Sir Trevor Nunn.

The Rose’s Executive Producer, Jerry Gunn, speaking in celebration of some of the milestones in the theatre past ten years, gave an optimistic outlook for its future, although noting that it had at times had a bumpy ride. Highlights of the past decade included Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which had starred Dame Judi Dench as Titania. It was this production that propelled The Rose to international fame, following its transfer to Broadway, although it was admitted, by the subterfuge of describing The Rose run as a London opening, hence not untruthfully fulfilling the requirements of the US promotors.


Other landmarks included the trilogy The Wars of the Roses, first presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and adapted from Shakespeare’s history plays, which was directed by Trevor Nunn; and the world premiere of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, adapted by April de Angelis, presented in the spring of last year.

Looking forward to the coming year, Gunn mentioned that, specifically to mark the Rose’s tenth anniversary, a major revival of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Much Ado About Nothing, in the spring paves the way for the autumn’s blockbuster, the world premiere of a double bill written by Nick Dear, Hogarth’s Progress. This a follows one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, William Hogarth, on two of his benders, one at the beginning of his career and one at the end. It promises political satire, boisterous romps and sleaze!

On that note The Rose’s tenth anniversary was toasted, followed by the cutting of a remarkable cake, which was decorated with images of the plays presented at the theatre over the past decade.


Replete with cake, the guests were able to wander amongst the exhibition, The Rose at 10, which continues until 29th April. One comes face to face with Sir Peter Hall on the stairs, in a full length portrait, before coming across Titania’s dress from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was worn by Dame Judi Dench.


Among the assorted costumes and props, the set models and plans, and the press cuttings and behind-the-scenes photographs some surprises jump out. Is that Bill Clinton visiting The Rose, with his family? Yes, it is, what else does a US President do on a night out in Kingston?  (Bill and Hilary Clinton actually visited the Rose and saw the production of As You Like It when it transferred to New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.)  And does that chest really contain a wooden leg and a lobster? Yes, from Treasure Island (2009). And the steampunk tea trolley? The last Christmas show, Alice in Winterland.

The exhibition holds a cornucopia of rich pickings, all gleaned from what “might not have happened”. But it did … …  Happy Anniversary, The Rose!

Mark Aspen
March 2018

Photography by Quentin Weiver

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  1. Much Ado about Nothing | Mark Aspen

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