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Royal

475

One of the smallest of Phipps’s theatres, comparable in scale internally with the Royal Hippodrome in Eastbourne. The original neo-classical entrance front, in painted Ancaster stone, is of extremely modest proportions, just wide enough for three closely spaced bays defined by pilasters, with three arched doorways on the ground floor and three plain rectangular first floor windows. Pedimented attic with lunette above central bay, linked to ball finials above the end pilasters. The legend ‘Royal Theatre and Opera House’ appears in the frieze above the entrance canopy. In 2006 a new foyer and entrance was constructed, shared with the adjacent Derngate Theatre, a multi-purpose concert hall/theatre built to the rear of the Royal in 1983. The extension houses a new box office and cafe for both theatres and provides workshop, education and rehearsal space. The Royal’s auditorium is delightfully intimate. Two horse-shoe shaped balconies are supported on six columns, with rich and delicate plasterwork on their fronts. Single boxes on each side at first balcony level, between pairs of Corinthian columns. The entablature above the columns supports a deep elliptical arch in front of the enriched frame of the narrow but high proscenium. Phipps was not afraid of repeating himself and the theme of deep panelled coves above the gallery slips, rising to a circular ceiling, may be seen in many of his theatres (Eastbourne, Wolverhampton, Glasgow Theatre Royal, Edinburgh Lyceum etc.) At Northampton the plain surface surrounding the Rococo plasterwork in the centre of the ceiling was repainted in the form of stylized clouds in 1960 by Osborne Robinson who added other murals elsewhere at the same time. The 2006 restoration saw the ceiling murals recorded and painted over to return the auditorium to its original design, although the Harlequin mural at the rear of the dress circle remains. The theatre possesses a rare painted act-drop of c.1897 by Ernest Howard with an oval Venetian scene surrounded by elaborate draperies. This is now in storage due to its fragile condition. There is also another, smaller act drop, painted for an earlier theatre. Very few other old painted act-drops survive in use (cf the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, the Adelina Patti Theatre, Abercrave and the Normansfield Theatre, London). Other alterations to the auditorium in 2006 included the stage being returned to its original level to reinstate the intimate relationship between the stalls seats and the stage. There were also alterations to the tiering at gallery level to improve comfort and sight lines. The seating, which at the time consisted of 1950s cinema seats, was replaced, involving the installation of bench-type seats at gallery level. An unusual feature of the theatre is that, due to the constricted site, the scenery store and paint frame etc. were located on the other side of a narrow street to the rear, linked to the stage, which is below street level, by an underground passage. The theatre has been used as a repertory playhouse since 1927 and was purchased by the local authority in 1960. In October 1999 Royal & Derngate Theatres was formed to run the Royal with the adjacent Derngate Theatre. The two theatres had previously been run by separate charitable trusts.

Built / Converted
1884
Dates of use
  • 1884 : Theatre, continuing
Current state
Extant
Current use
Theatre
Address
Guildhall Road, Northampton, Northamptonshire, NN1 1DP, England
Further details
Other names
Repertory Theatre , Royal & Derngate
Events
  • 1884 Owner/Management: John Franklin, owner
  • 1884 Design/Construction:
    C J Phipps
    - Architect
  • 1884 Design/Construction:
    George Jackson
    - Consultant
    plasterwork
    Edward Bell
    - Consultant
    decorations
  • 1884 Use: Theatre, continuing
  • 1887 Design/Construction:
    Clark & Sons
    - Consultant
    plasterwork
    Edward Bell
    - Consultant
    decorations
  • 1887 Alteration: restored after fire
    C J Phipps
    - Architect
  • 1888 - 1889 Owner/Management: Phipps Dorman, proprietor
  • 1889 Alteration: proscenium widened, new system of floats
    Unknown
    - Architect
  • 1899 - 1903 Owner/Management: Dangerfield, Lockwood
  • 1903 - 1918 Owner/Management: Edward Compton, Milton Bode
  • 1925 Owner/Management: Northampton Theatre Syndicate
  • 1927 Owner/Management: Captain A Hofman, manager
  • 1933 - 1937 Owner/Management: Richard Summers, manager
  • 1937 - 1942 Owner/Management: J E Stephenson, manager
  • 1937 - 1946 Owner/Management: Northampton Repertory Players
  • 1960 Owner/Management: Purchased by Local Authority
  • 1960 Alteration: restored and redecorated
    Osborne Robinson
    - Architect
  • 1983 - 1987 Alteration: Array extensive backstage improvements
    RHWL
    - Architect
  • 1999 Owner/Management: Royal & Derngate
  • 2006 Alteration: Restoration and new foyer constructed linking to Derngate
    Arts Team @ RHWL
    - Architect
Capacities
  • Capacity
    Original
    Description
    1700
  • Capacity
    Later
    Description
    1946: 833
    1971: 603
  • Capacity
    Current
    Description
    583
    Comment
    practically 450
Listings
  • Listing
    II
Stage type
Raked. 1972: 26ft revolve
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 11.5m (34ft 6in) Width SL: 4.885m SR: 4.885m
Proscenium width: 6.4m (21ft)
Height to grid: 15.2m (49ft 2in)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: Original 14 places