Stage history highlights

Photo:Interior of the Theatre Royal Brighton

Interior of the Theatre Royal Brighton

200 years of the Theatre Royal, Part 5 of 7

CONTINUING THIS SERIES OF PAGES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE THEATRE ROYAL BRIGHTON, IN CELEBRATION OF ITS 200TH ANNIVERSARY DURING 2007, THIS PAGE TAKES A BRIEF LOOK AT THE MANY FAMOUS ACTORS WHO PERFORMED THERE UP TO 1930 AND THE ROLES THEY PLAYED.

·    The Theatre Royal Brighton opened on 27 June 1807 with Charles Kemble in the title role of Hamlet.

·    Mrs Siddons first appeared there two years later, in parts including Lady Macbeth.

·    Charles Matthews, the singer Madame Catalani and the clown Joseph Grimaldi were also early performers.

·    Other distinguished actors from London included Edmund Kean who, from 1814, played many of his principal roles here, including Othello, Macbeth, Richard III and Shylock.

·    In the 1830s Charles Kean, Madame Vestris, Dion Boucicault and William Macready all performed at the Theatre Royal.

·    In addition to plays, opera companies visited, and the dancer Marie Taglioni appeared in 1845.

·    A brilliant winter season of 1848-49 included European stars such as the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, attracted to fashionable Brighton during a period of continental revolution.

·    Under Henry Nye Chart's management (1854 - 1876), audiences enjoyed a mixed programme of contemporary and classical plays. Visits from London stars and opera companies complemented his stock (repertory) company.

·    When Ellen Elizabeth Nye Chart took over in 1876, she invited touring companies such as the Frank Benson Shakespeare Company and the D'Oyly Carte and Carl Rosa opera companies.

·    She introduced romantic comedies, social dramas and actors such as Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Charles Wyndham and Lily Langtry; as well as Julia Neilsen and Fred Terry, who during their long careers appeared at Theatre Royal Brighton in all their great successes.

·    Ellen Nye Chart's annual Christmas pantomime extravaganza, inspired by the productions at Drury Lane, proved highly popular. Her 'flying matinees', often with a star cast, featured major plays such as the first British production of Ibsen's The Doll's House. By 1891 'there was scarcely a London novelty then running that would not come to Brighton in the present year'.

·    After her death, the great names of Mrs Nye Chart's era continued to perform regularly at the Theatre Royal Brighton and, alongside the likes of Shakespeare and Shaw, romantic comedies were very popular.

·    HENRY JOHN INFIELD brought the original productions of Oscar Wilde's first four plays to Brighton, with Lewis Waller, Charles Hawtrey and Irene Vanburgh.

·    Both Mrs Patrick Campbell and Sarah Bernhardt made several appearances in their major roles during the 1890s.

·    John Martin Harvey played for the first time at Theatre Royal Brighton in The Only Way in about 1900 and he appeared here regularly until 1939.

·    1911 saw the Russian dancers of the Maryinski Theatre (whom Diaghilev had introduced to London that season) perform at Theatre Royal Brighton but, in the main, theatrical tastes in the years preceding World War I were mostly for light comedies and operettas. This continued until after the War, when the prevailing taste was for drawing room comedy, although the stalwarts of past years continued to perform here.

·    In 1924 The Way of the World was the first restoration comedy to play at Theatre Royal Brighton. Typical 1920s fare included The Co-Optimists and No! No! Nanette.

·    In 1929 Gracie Fields appeared in The Show's the Thing and George Robey in In Other Words.

·    R.C Sheriff'sJourney's End was performed here and the Birmingham Repertory Company brought Shaw's newest play The Apple Cart.

The Depression was a very testing time for theatres but the Theatre Royal Brighton managed to survive...

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 188, Sept/Oct 2007]

This page was added on 20/02/2008.

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