Theatre and Other Entertainments

From Inktober posts Oct 2018 – part of my Pick and Choose History of Courtenay Street, Kennington and Lambeth:


Theatre and Other Entertainments. We all know that the South Bank is full of glorious possibilities for entertainment, but I’ve lived in Kennington for 20 years and didn’t know that the first Elizabethan playhouse was sited on what is now the road junction between the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and the Strata building! In 1594 Henslowe brought the players here from the Rose (which was closed) and notes in his papers that they performed Titus, Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare was almost certainly among their number (I do hope they make this into an episode of Upstart Crow!). Down by Westminster Bridge (where St Thomas’ hospital now stands) was Astley’s Amphitheatre – begun by Astley a soldier with extraordinary skill with horses it originally showed only equestrian shows but expanded (to keep up with the competition) to include other circus acts. One of their most famous performers was Pablo Fanque a black equestrian – he even gets a mention in a Beatle’s song! On a huge site between the Walworth Road and Kennington Park Road, with entrances on Penton Place and Manor Park Place was the Surrey Music Hall and Zoological gardens. A 300 ft conservatory, large boating lake and various animals – including 3 giraffes and a rhino occupied a site which is now mostly small streets, the Peacock yards and several blocks of flats – I walk across the boating lake everytime I go to Abacus Arts in Browning Street! We still have the White Bear Theatre on Kennington Park Road (recently refurbished but running since 1988) but it cannot compete in splendour with the Princess of Wales / Kennington Theatre which once stood on the corner of Kennington Park Road and Park Place – a huge edifice with luxurious bars and salons – knocked down in 1949 the site is now occupied by a block of flats.

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