Red Lion (theatre)

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Template:EngvarB Template:Use dmy dates Template:Distinguish2 Template:Infobox Theatre The Red Lion was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Whitechapel (part of the modern Borough of Tower Hamlets), just outside the City of London. Built in 1567, by John Brayne, formerly a grocer, this theatre was a short-lived attempt to provide a purpose-built playhouse, the first known in London, for the many Tudor touring theatrical companies.

The Red Lion had been a farm, but a single gallery multi-sided theatre (constructed by John Williams), with a fixed stage Template:Convert by Template:Convert, standing Template:Convert above the audience, was built by John Reynolds, in the garden of the farmhouse. The stage was equipped with trapdoors, and an attached Template:Convert turret, or fly tower – for aerial stunts and to advertise its presence.<ref name=MoLAS> Red Lion Theatre, Whitechapel Christopher Phillpotts (CrossRail Documentary Report, prepared by MoLAS accessed 21 March 2011</ref> The construction cost £20, and while it appears to have been a commercial success, the Red Lion offered little that the prior tradition of playing in inns had not offered, and it was too far from its audiences to be attractive (at the time, the area was open farmland) for visiting in the winter.

The only play known to have been presented here was The Story of Sampson, after some corrections had been made to the structure<ref name=MoLAS/> and there is little documentary evidence that the theatre survived beyond the summer season of 1567.

The exact location of the theatre remains unknown, with commentators identifying the eastern edge of Whitechapel, where it meets the western edge of Stepney as the most likely location. This is the junction of Whitechapel High Street with Cambridge Heath Road, where there are proposed works for London's Crossrail project. A survey has been prepared that argues for a position on the southern side of Whitechapel High Street, closer to the site of the 18th-century London Hospital and opposite the contemporary Boar's Head Inn, with The George, a further playhouse Template:Convert to the east.<ref name=MoLAS/>

The little that is known of the Red Lion comes principally from lawsuits between Brayne and his carpenters, and also with Edward Stowers, a blacksmith of Averstone, Essex (the modern Alphamstone). Brayne was married to Stowers' sister Margaret. The suit concerned Template:Convert of land straddling the Essex-Suffolk border, and alleged that Brayne raised a mortgage on the land, by trickery, to build the Red Lion. Separate actions were brought against the carpenters. In July 1567, William Sylvester, the constructor of the galleries for the spectators, was brought before the Court of the Carpenters' Company and resulted in arbitration. The second was against John Reynolds in the Court of King's Bench in January 1569, and the outcome is not known.

The venture was soon replaced by a more successful collaboration between Brayne and another brother-in-law, the actor-manager James Burbage at Shoreditch, known as The Theatre. The Red Lion was a receiving house for touring companies, whereas The Theatre accepted long-term engagements, essentially in repertory, with companies being based there. The former was a continuation of the tradition of touring groups, performing at inns and grand houses, the latter a radically new form of theatrical engagement.

References & Reading


  • Chambers, E K, The Elizabethan Stage (1923)
  • Janet S. Loengard An Elizabethan Lawsuit: John Brayne, his Carpenter, and the Building of the Red Lion Theatre in "Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3" (Autumn, 1983), pp. 298–310
  • William Ingram, The Business of Playing: The Beginnings of the Adult Professional Theatre in Elizabethan London, Cornell, 1992. pp. 92–113
  • E.A.J. Honigmann and Susan Brock, eds., Playhouse Wills 1558–1642, Manchester, 1993. pp. 45
  • Mary Edmond, Yeomen, Citizens, Gentlemen, and Players: The Burbages and Their Connections', in Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honour of S. Schoenbaum, Delaware, 1996, pp. 30–49.
  • An Introduction to Shakespeare's Life and Times