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Elizabethan Theatres

The Red Lion was an Elizabethan playhouse located in Mile End (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 for the many Tudor touring theatrical companies.

The Red Lion had been a farm, but a single gallery multi-sided theatre, with a fixed stage 40 feet by 30 feet, standing 5 feet above the audience, was built in the garden of the farmhouse. The stage was equipped with trapdoors, and an attached turret, or fly tower - for aerial stunts and to advertise its presence. 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. There is little documentary evidence that it survived beyond the summer season of 1567.

Little is known of the Red Lion, principally, from a lawsuit between Brayne and Edward Stowers, a blacksmith of Averstone, Essex (the modern Alphamstone). Brayne was married to Stowers sister Margaret. The suit concerned six acres of land straddling the Essex-Suffolk border, and alleged that Brayne raised a mortgage on the land, by trickery, in order to build the Red Lion.

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 later a radically new form of theatrical engagement.

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