The Theatres Trust

History of theatres

Early theatres

The first buildings used for theatrical performances in Britain were amphitheatres introduced by the Romans, who copied theatres from ancient Greece. These were semi-circular structures, constructed of wood initially and later rebuilt in stone. They were open to the air with banked seating surrounding a raised stage.

Medieval theatre was presented on elaborate temporary stages inside great halls, barns, or in the open courtyards of galleried inns. It was from these that Elizabethan timber-framed open-air theatres took their form, such as the Globe in London. They were multi-sided buildings, with a covered platform stage against one side. The audience sat or stood in covered galleries around the other sides or in the open courtyard. All the performances took place in daylight.

Shakespeare's Globe, London


Next – Seventeenth-century theatre

Protecting theatres for everyone

The National Advisory Public Body for Theatres