TV presenter’s link to Clerkenwell theatre that upstaged the Bard’s Globe
Pointless host unveils plaque at site of forgotten Jacobean playhouse
31 August, 2018 — By Helen Chapman
TV’s Alexander Armstrong and sons Paddy, 9, and Rex, 11, with Mayor Dave Poyser and Dr Eva Griffith
POINTLESS presenter Alexander Armstrong has unveiled a plaque at the site of a Jacobean theatre.
The TV-show host has an ancestral link to the radical Red Bull Playhouse, which stood in Hayward’s Place, Clerkenwell, from 1605 to 1665.
From the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? programme in 2010, he discovered that he is 12 grandfathers away from Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester, a patron of the theatre.
Historian Dr Eva Griffith, who campaigned for the plaque, contacted Mr Armstrong to discuss with him her research into the theatre.
Mr Armstrong said of his ancestor: “He used his influence to shove things in favour of the playhouse. He wrote letters to the City of London arguing for more playhouses to open, despite them being seen as dangerous things at the time.
“I am immensely proud of him and through him having a connection to this. It’s just exciting to look at the footprints of where things once were.”
An illustration of how the theatre looked
The theatre was known for its special effects, including fireworks, actors swinging on ropes and, unusually for the time, men dressing up as women.
The plaque is at the spot where the theatre was sited – now the home of Liz Dymock who has lived at the address for 20 years. She said: “I never knew it used to be a theatre until they knocked on my door and told me they wanted to put a plaque here. It’s amazing.
“I don’t go to the theatre myself, only at Christmas to see the panto, but it’s interesting to know the history.”
Mr Armstrong added: “When I started my career as an actor I got paid several months’ rent for saying ‘Red Bull gives you wings.’ But the Red Bull Theatre gave you not just wings, but an auditorium and entertainment.
“Even during the Civil War, when theatres were getting shut down, it kept on going. Bringing people together always posed a risk of being shut down.”
Dr Griffith, who has written a book about the theatre, said on Wednesday: “Where we are standing once stood a theatre with a larger capacity than Shakespeare’s Globe. I am so excited to be unveiling this plaque after more than 20 years of research.”
Mayor Dave Poyser added: “The Red Bull Theatre goes with the artistic tradition of Islington, with Dickens and Orwell, and hipsters in Old Street drinking vodka and Red Bull.”