Georgian Theatre Royal
From the outside, this tall almost windowless building, which measures only 7.9m (26ft) by 18.6m (61ft) in plan, looks like any stone barn of the Yorkshire dales. All exterior indications that it is a theatre (e.g. the discreetly detailed present entrance) date from the restorations of the 1960s or 2003, but inside almost everything from paybox to proscenium doors is authentically Georgian. Nowhere else in England is the earthy immediacy of the eighteenth century playhouse evoked so strongly. The proscenium is tiny but well proportioned. This sense of scale within so small a building allows at once for big acting as well as a remarkably intimate actor-audience relationship.
The auditorium itself is on three levels; square benched pit reached by pit passages running underneath the side boxes; an enfolding level of eleven boxes, four on each side and three facing the stage with a playwright's name over each box (the lettering over the centre box, SHAKESPEARE, is original as is the Richmond Borough coat of arms on the front of the stage box on the actors' left); and, above, the rectangular gallery supported by eleven Tuscan columns which are not taken up to the ceiling. The auditorium was redecorated in 1963 in a range of recreated Georgian greens relieved by red trompe l'oiel swagged curtains on canvas at the back of the boxes. The attempt to create a period lighting effect was only half successful - the miniature bulbs on the simulated candle candelabra providing too steady a light, while there was no attempt to provide the oil 'rings' over the stage.
Late nineteenth century gilt ballroom chairs are often substituted for the correct backless benches in the boxes but elsewhere the seating is original or a faithful copy of the 'knife edge' benches, not quite so closely spaced as they once were. The capacity is now 220 while records show that the theatre held approximately 450 during its first life from 1788 to 1841. Then it closed and became first an auction room and later a wine store.
Moves to restore the theatre started in 1943 and were not completed until 1963, under the supervision of Dr Richard Southern and Richard Leacroft. The chief problem was that at some time in the late nineteenth century brick-built vaults had been inserted into the length of the building immediately below stage level. Thus the dressing rooms and trap room under the stage, like the pit and orchestra pit are reconstructions. It is now thought that the level of the pit was reconstructed at a later, elevated level, not that of the 1788 original.
On the stage itself, which is 8.5m (28ft) wide and 7.3m (24ft) deep, no trace of the original grooves or any nineteenth century suspension system has survived. The stage joists show evidence of three trap doors, two corner traps and a grave trap. The substage cellar floor was reconstructed in 1963 and the level is conjectural. The float mechanism installed then is based on a drawing in the Eyre manuscript.
The theatre's museum was created in 1963 and expanded in 1996. It is situated on the ground floor, immediately behind the stage, with public access from Friars Wynd. The early nineteenth century woodland scene in the museum did not originate from this theatre but it is an important and, possibly, the earliest known surviving complete example of theatre scenery in Britain (see R Southern, Changeable Scenery, 1952).
In 2002 the theatre closed for eighteen months for a major refurbishment. The £1.5m restoration programme was funded by the National Lottery and other sponsors. The 1960s bar and toilets were removed and replaced by facilities in a modern block to the left of the theatre's façade. The auditorium has been redecorated with a more authentic decorative colour scheme (although the original 'SHAKESPEARE' and Richmond Borough coat of arms are still retained), and the lighting 'updated' to provide a more natural candle-lit effect.
- 1788 - 1830: as full time theatre; intermittent until 1848.
- 1963 : continuing
- 1788 Design/Construction: for Samuel Butler (architect unknown).
- 1788 - 1830 Use: as full time theatre; intermittent until 1848.
- 1963 Alteration: restoredRichard Southern & Richard Leacroft- Architect
- 1963 Use: continuing
- 2003 Alteration: major restoration programme, and new extension for front of house facilities.
- CapacityOriginalDescriptionapprox 450
- CapacityLaterDescription1982: 238