Bicentenary year for the Theatre Royal Brighton, 2007

Photo:Theatre Royal Brighton

Theatre Royal Brighton

200 years of the Theatre Royal, Part 1 of 7


A microcosm of British theatre

Brighton has always been a theatrical town and Theatre Royal has taken the leading role over the past 200 years. The history of the Theatre Royal represents a microcosm of British theatre and most leading actors and actresses have performed there. One of the oldest and most distinguished theatres in the country, it has presented high quality, professional productions continuously since 1807.

Colourful history

Its colourful history dates back to the early years of the Royal Pavilion, when it was granted its Royal Charter by the Prince Regent, an enthusiastic theatre goer. It opened with Charles Kemble, the most famous actor of his day, in the role of Hamlet. Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean and William Macready appeared there in the early years.

An intimate space

It is an intimate space to which great performers have chosen to return time and again. Over the last two centuries, outstanding managers and actors have made Theatre Royal Brighton what it is today; and the building itself, one of the few remaining fully working hemp houses (a manual system for changing scenery), retains much of its early character.

Henry Nye Chart

For the first 50 years of its life the Theatre suffered very mixed fortunes with no one manager lasting more than 18 months and the risk of financial ruin never very far away. Henry Nye Chart transformed it into a respected local institution; he was a forerunner of the great actor-managers of the late 19th century.

Ellen Elizabeth Nye Chart

His widow, Ellen Elizabeth Nye Chart, created a theatre of national standing, inviting leading actors including Henry Irving and Ellen Terry to perform here. She instituted highly successful 'flying matinees', where full London productions - complete with star cast, scenery, props and costumes - would come to Brighton by train for a 2pm performance, and then return to London for the evening show.

John Baxter Somerville

The Theatre survived the Depression and two World Wars with continuous performances and, in the 1950s and 60s, was transformed into a Who's Who of the theatre world by John Baxter Somerville.

Other owners and managers

Brighton premieres attained the kudos of West End first nights and the Theatre Royal was established as one of the most important theatres in the country. It continued to be a famous and popular venue under well known owners and managers including Melville Gillam, Louis I Michaels and the theatrical impresario David Land. Until 1999, the Theatre Royal had always been privately owned.

Now in its third century

The Theatre now [2007] enters its third century under the ownership and management of Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). They have revitalised its artistic programming and financial status and have once again established the Theatre as a leading presenting house, with the highest calibre productions and star-led casts.

Whilst still catering for the Theatre's longstanding, loyal audiences, ATG have also extended the range of productions for an enthusiastic, younger clientele.

Glimpse into the past

The Theatre Royal's extensive archives and memorabilia are in the care of the East Sussex Record Office. Using examples of this material, lectures and demonstrations were held in the Theatre during March 2006 to study its colourful history and to show how treasures from the past are preserved to survive in the modern day. Laser facsimiles, limited edition collections and copies of the Theatre's posters dating back to 1832 were produced for the Bicentenary and were on exhibition and for sale in the Royal Circle Bar.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 184, Jan/Feb 2007]

See Parts 2-7 for more detailed information about the above mentioned owners and managers.

This page was added on 20/02/2008.

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