Ellen was a very shrewd manager

Photo:Mrs Nellie Nye Chart, 1876

Mrs Nellie Nye Chart, 1876

200 years of the Theatre Royal, Part 3 of 7

IN PART 2 OF THIS SERIES YOU WILL HAVE READ ABOUT HENRY NYE CHART, WHO LIVED FROM 1821-76 AND TRANSFORMED THE THEATRE ROYAL BRIGHTON INTO A RESPECTED LOCAL INSTITUTION. HIS WIFE, MRS ELLEN ELIZABETH NYE CHART, ALSO HELPED TO PUT BRIGHTON ON THE THEATRICAL MAP AND WAS HERSELF ITS MANAGER/OWNER FROM 1876-92.

Ellen Nye Chart

In 1854 Henry Nye Chart had taken control of the Theatre Royal and in 1865 Ellen Elizabeth Rollason, who was an established actress, came to play lead roles, which she did for the next two years. She married Henry Nye Chart in 1867 and their only child, John Nye Chart II, was born in April 1868.

A managerial role

After marriage, Ellen Nye Chart took on a managerial role, although she also continued to act. She first appeared on stage in Brighton with her husband in August 1867 in 'A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush', and for the last time in April 1876 in 'The Ladies' Battle'.

Only 55 when he died

Mr Nye Chart died on 18th June 1876 at the early age of 55 and, as directed in his will, Ellen Nye Chart then assumed sole management of the Theatre Royal. Her first season opened on 31st July 1876.

Special performances

On 18th, 19th and 20th December 1876, three special performances were organised by trustees of the Theatre as 'complimentary benefits' to Mrs Nye Chart. These were in memory of Henry John Nye Chart, and also a tribute to the outstanding way in which his widow had assumed his mantle and was already managing the Theatre so efficiently. Mrs Nye Chart and her 8-year old son appeared on stage at the end of every performance to acknowledge the applause of the house and as a result of these performances the trustees were able to hand her a cheque for £397 9s. 7d.

Open all year

One of her first decisions was to extend the season to cover the whole year. She invited touring companies (including the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and the Frank Benson Shakespeare Company) to perform at the Theatre Royal, as well as the previous arrangement of occasionally presenting London stars to perform with the resident stock company, which she faded out.

Mrs Nye Chart introduced romantic comedies and social dramas with a high calibre of actor, including the great Henry Irving, Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Lily Langtry.

She herself made her last appearances on stage on 7th, 8th and 9th April 1879. Two nights had originally been announced for her benefit, but such was the competition for seats that a third night had to be added.

Flying matinees

In 1883 Mrs Nye Chart introduced matinee performances. Before long she had initiated the highly successful 'flying matinee', often with a star cast. An entire company would come down from London by train, with costumes, props and scenery, set up in Brighton, perform at 2pm, and then return to London for the 8pm evening performance!

Annual pantomime

Mrs Nye Chart also introduced an annual Christmas pantomime extravaganza, inspired by the productions at Drury Lane. Her pantomimes proved to be extremely profitable and ran from Boxing Day until the beginning of February each year.

Every year she invited all the inmates and staff of the Brighton Workhouse (over 1000 people) to a free performance of the pantomime. It was unusual kindness such as this that accounts for her great popularity.

A shrewd businesswoman

But Ellen Nye Chart was also a shrewd businesswoman. By the 1880s she had made the Theatre Royal highly profitable. She paid off the £6,000 mortgage that her husband had left on the Theatre and also the mortgage on the house that she owned next door.

She set up a company

Ellen Nye Chart was instrumental in setting up Brighton Theatre Royal Limited, which was created with capital of over £30,000. Through this and selling shares in the company on the stock exchange, the Theatre was sold for £43,000, and she was asked to stay on to run it at an annual salary of £416. Mrs Nye Chart earned a large amount of income for the Theatre, which paid for improvements and refurbishment, and dividends were always paid on time to the shareholders.

It raised the profile

This all helped to raise the profile of Brighton's Theatre Royal and, as Mrs Nye Chart said herself in 1891, 'there is scarcely a London novelty running that would not come to Brighton during the present year'.

She died in 1892

Her foresight in creating Brighton Theatre Royal Limited was realised earlier than anticipated, as Mrs Nye Chart fell seriously ill in early 1891. She was told to rest and seemed to have recovered, but died on 23rd February 1892. In her will Mrs Nye Chart left her house, No 9 New Road, to Theatre Royal Brighton. It was incorporated into an enlarged Theatre building in 1894.

A grand funeral

Her funeral was one of the grandest ever held in Brighton and members of the theatrical world travelled from far and wide to pay their respects.

She put Brighton on the map

When her estate was valued, Ellen Nye Chart had left a profit of very nearly £40,000 for the Theatre. She had also put Brighton on the map - it was now renowned for hosting the highest quality touring companies, not just for occasional star visits. She made Theatre Royal Brighton one of the best-known provincial theatres in England, and gave it a national, as well as a local status. Hers was without doubt the most important name in the first 100 years of our Theatre Royal's history.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 186, May/June 2007]

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