The Theatre Royal Brighton's first actor/manager

Photo:Theatre Royal Brighton

Theatre Royal Brighton

200 years of the Theatre Royal, Part 2 of 7

HERE IS SOME MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE HISTORY OF OUR MUCH LOVE THEATRE ROYAL IN NEW ROAD. WHO BETTER TO START WITH THAN HENRY NYE CHART, WHO LIVED FROM 1821-76 AND TRANSFORMED THE THEATRE INTO A RESPECTED LOCAL INSTITUTION. HE MANAGED THE THEATRE ROYAL FOR 22 YEARS, FROM 1854 UNTIL HE DIED.

Henry Nye Chart was granted a lease

Henry Nye Chart  first performed in Brighton in 1850 and returned to play prominent roles in 1852 and 1853, although he was not considered to be an actor of the first rank. When the Theatre Royal came up for let in 1854, Nye Chart was granted a three-year lease, which was subsequently renewed in 1857, 1860 and 1863.

Theatrical profession considered disreputable

The first season at the Theatre under his management opened on 29 July 1854.  When Nye Chart took over the Theatre Royal the theatrical profession was considered to be rather disreputable! In fact the colonnade outside the Theatre was usually frequented by prostitutes and there are also mentions of a local gin palace nearby... But Nye Chart was recognised as a man of principle - at that time quite rare in the theatre world.

A man of ability

Nye Chart was also a man of ability and great zeal and he formed a highly successful 'stock company' (resident repertory company) for the Theatre Royal. For the next 12 years his company presented a mixed programme of contemporary and classical plays, interspersed with visits by London stars such as Charles Kean, Charles James Matthews, Madame Celeste and Madame Adelaide Ristori, as well as frequent performances by amateurs and occasional visits by opera companies.

He bought and rebuilt the theatre

Then In 1866 Nye Chart purchased the Theatre Royal outright for £7,500, raising the money (which was only paid back by his widow 8 years later) with the help of a syndicate. He then immediately embarked upon rebuilding and expanding the theatre, choosing Charles James Phipps as his architect. As Nye Chart lost his home in the rebuilding, he decided to rent no. 9 New Road, next door to the Theatre, which was subsequently bought by his widow seven years after his death and also became part of the theatre. Fully refurbished after a period of four months, the Theatre reopened on 15 October 1866.

He married Ellen

In July 1867 Henry Nye Chart married Ellen Elizabeth Rollason, who had been a member of his company for about two years. Although she did continue to act after her marriage, she also took on a managerial role.  For the next ten years Nye Chart ran the theatre successfully until he died on 17 June 1876 aged 55. He left everything to his wife but, due to the outstanding mortgage on the Theatre, his estate was valued at under £1,500.

His great achievement

Nye Chart's great achievement was to transform the Theatre Royal from a playhouse of little repute into a highly respected one. His work anticipated the great actor-managers of the late 19th Century.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 185, March/April 2007]

This page was added on 20/02/2008.

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