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ACTORS SUCCEED IN SAVING THEATER OF SHAKESPEARE

Dustin Hoffman joining forces with Lord Olivier and Dame Peggy Ashcroft and other leading British actors, appears to have succeeded in saving the ruins of an Elizabethan theater where William Shakespeare is believed to have performed.

Property Developers Imry Merchant said the remains of the Rose Theater at a site on the south bank of the Thames River would be preserved under a new office block they are building.Archaeologists had been trying since December to excavate as much as possible before bulldozers move in to make way for the new construction.

Among options being considered for the site is an underground Shakespeare museum.

Hoffman, who won this year's Oscar for Best Actor, toured the site before Imry's decision was announced, saying: "You're killing yourself, destroying your own heritage."

The American star is in London to play Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," his first Shakespearean role.

The Rose, built in 1587, is the first theater of its kind to be excavated by archaeologists. Plays were last performed there in 1603 and the polygonal building was demolished soon afterward.

Archaeologists have uncovered the stage, the mortar foundation of the open yard where theatergoers stood and the base of inner and outer walls that would have supported three galleries.

In a letter to The Times of London Friday, such major British performers as Lord Olivier, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Maggie Smith and Derek Jacobi said developers' plans to cover the ruins with sand and gravel would obliterate the excavated surface.

"The Rose is a timber building on chalk foundations, so this crucial layer contains most of what is left," the letter said.

The actors also protested against plans for concrete piles to be driven through a stage where Shakespeare trod as an actor.

"If we can put Shakespeare on our money, how can we bury one of his chief workplaces under the earth?" Ashroft asked after visiting the site.

Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley said he would consider the actors' plea but gave no date for a decision.

Two of the bard's plays, "Henry VI" and "Titus Andronicus," are known to have been performed at The Rose.

The first traces of The Rose were discovered three months ago after an office building was demolished on the site to make room for a new one.