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Theatre Royal


Nottingham was Phipps’s second theatre commission and his splendid colonnade of giant Corinthian columns survives to terminate the vista up the steep gradient of Market Street. In 1897 Frank Matcham removed the three balconies and the boxes of Phipps’s auditorium and replaced them with three new cantilevered balconies with improved sightlines and a new stack of boxes flanking the proscenium; the whole richly decorated with lively Rococo plasterwork. The result was an auditorium of remarkable intimacy and vibrantly theatrical atmosphere. It now seems certain that the proscenium as it existed prior to the reconstruction of 1978, was the result of re-design by Phipps in 1884 and left intact by Matcham. It was certainly not Phipps’s 1865 proscenium and was quite untypical of Matcham. It did, however, have much in common with prosceniums designed by Phipps later in his career. Further evidence of a return visit by him were the small bulbous-based columns re-used by Matcham at the sides of the auditorium, again characteristically ‘late Phipps’ and to be seen at his Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh of 1883. It is a pity that the old proscenium was demolished in 1977 and replaced by the present arrangement of giant Corinthian columns awkwardly surmounted by the curiously shaped arch springing directly off the capitals. Matcham’s distinctive second balcony level boxes and their plasterwork canopies were also at that time removed in favour of the present upper boxes, which are poorly-related to the new proscenium and expose areas of blank wall.

These are the less favourable points in what was otherwise a magnificent revitalisation of the old theatre. In the auditorium the part-pastiche colonnade encircling the stalls seating, the arcaded boxes at the rear of the dress circle (inspired by the arcade at the rear of the dress circle of the Phipps’s Edinburgh Royal Lyceum), the reseating of the old gallery and the green and gold colour scheme are all a success. Equally welcome are the spacious new foyers and bars replacing the cramped wedge between the facade and the curved wall of the auditorium. Backstage everything has been transformed, with a heightened grid, side stage, scene dock, new dressing rooms, offices etc. Phipps’s façade was improved by new return-bays, setting it off from the receding curves of the new building on each side, and by the restoration of balustrades and urns.

The project was courageously financed by Nottingham Corporation at a time of economic austerity. A new 2500 seat concert hall was built in 1980 to the rear of the Royal and connected to it both backstage and through the stalls bar to the right of the auditorium. This involved the loss of the adjoining Empire Theatre.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1865 : continuing
Current state
Current use
Theatre Square, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England
Further details
Other names
  • 1865 Use: continuing
  • 1865 Design/Construction:
    C J Phipps
    - Architect
  • 1865 Design/Construction:
  • 1865 Owner/Management: John & William Lambert
  • 1884 Alteration: & altered to increase accommodation
    C J Phipps
    - Architect
  • 1887 Design/Construction:
  • 1890 Design/Construction:
  • 1892 Owner/Management: Nottingham Theatre Co
  • 1897 Alteration: auditorium reconstructed
    Frank Matcham
    - Architect
  • 1908 Owner/Management: Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd
  • 1924 Owner/Management: Moss Empires Ltd
  • 1972 Owner/Management: Nottingham Corporation
  • 1977 Design/Construction:
    Eric Jordan
    - Consultant
    associated architect auditorium plasterwork
  • 1978 Alteration: new front of house and stage; altered internally
    - Architect
  • 1978 Design/Construction:
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    1912: 3000
    1946: 1680
    1977: 1456
  • Capacity
  • Listing
Stage type
Rake 1:25
Building dimensions: 1865: 132ft x 90ft
Stage dimensions: 1865 Depth: 50ft Width SL: 32ft SR: 32ft 1912 Depth: 60ft Width SL: 30ft SR: 30ft 1946 Depth: 38ft n.d. Depth: 45ft 1978 Width SL: 7.25m SR: 6.25m
Proscenium width: 1946: 31ft 6in x 30ft 1962: 32ft
Height to grid: 1912/46/78: 60ft (18.9m)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: 1946: 16 1992: 25-65 Flexible