More stage history highlights

Photo:Theatre Royal Brighton

Theatre Royal Brighton

200 years of the Theatre Royal, Part 6 of 7

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

·    As described in earlier pages, John Baxter Somerville (JB) established Theatre Royal Brighton as one of the most important theatres in Britain. In the 1930s, he ran a repertory company and presented touring companies and London productions, includingCyrano de Bergerac with Donald Wolfit; and Noel Coward's Design for Living with Diana Wynyard, Rex Harrison and Anton Walbrook.

·    The Theatre was dark for only one week during World War II, after which JB introduced legendary productions such as The Importance of Being Earnest (with Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Margaret Rutherford and Gwen Ffrangcon Davies) and hosted Glyndebourne Opera's first touring production, as well as the Vic-Wells Ballet with Margot Fonteyn.

·    After the War almost every British actor of note appeared at Theatre Royal Brighton and many of the productions were outstanding. These included, to mention but a few; The White Devil with Robert Helpmann and Margaret Rawlings (1947); Peter Ustinov in Bergman's Frenzy; the British première of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie; and Flora Robson in Captain Brassbound's Conversion (all 1948).

·    1949 was also an outstanding year, with Paul Scofield starring in the first production of Terence Rattigan's Adventure Story; Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft  in The Heiress; The Lady's not for Burning with John Gielgud and Claire Bloom; The Seagull with Mai Zetterling, Paul Scofield and Isobel Jeans; and the original production of T S Eliot's The Cocktail Party, with Alec Guinness and Robert Flemyng.

·    In the early 1950s there were Shakespeare seasons with a star-studded Old Vic Company.

·    In 1952 over 40 plays presented were prior to London productions. Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea was performed with Peggy Ashcroft and Kenneth More; The Millionairess was presented with Katherine Hepburn and Robert Helpmann; and Dirk Bogarde and Isobel Jeans appeared in The Vortex.

·    In 1953 John Gielgud brought his company with The Way of the World and Venice Preserved, and Noel Coward played King Magnus in The Apple Cart by Bernard Shaw.

·    Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne performed in Quadrille, which Noel Coward had written for them; and Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier appeared in Terence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince.

·    Highlights of 1954 included Christopher Fry's The Dark is Light Enough with Edith Evans; and Peggy Ashcroft in Hedda Gabler.

·    Other actors in the mid 50s included Dorothy Tutin in Jean Anouilh's The Lark, and Michael Hordern in The Doctor's Dilemma.

·    In 1956 Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft appeared in Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden; and Gigi was presented with Leslie Caron and Tony Britton.

·    1958 saw A Touch of the Sun featuring Michael and Vanessa Redgrave; and John Mortimer's first plays The Dock Brief and Shall We Tell Caroline? starred Michael Hordern and Brenda Bruce.

·    In the same year Peter Sellers appeared in Brouhaha by George Tabori; T S Eliot's The Elder Statesman starred Paul Rogers and Anna Massey; and Eighty in the Shade, specially written for and starring Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike, came to Brighton.

·    In 1959 Robert Bolt's first play, The Flowering Cherry, starred Ralph Richardson. Donald Wolfit and Flora Robson appeared in Ghosts; and Anna Neagle appeared in The More the Merrier.

·    In 1960 A Man for All Seasons starred Paul Scofield and Leo McKern.

·    1961 saw Jeremy Brett in Hamlet; as well as Michael Dennison and Dulcie Gray in Heartbreak House.
·    In 1963 MELVILLE GILLAM succeeded JB as Managing Director of the Theatre. He maintained the high artistic standards and leading actors continued to perform here, including Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Ian McKellan, Marcel Marceau, Deborah Kerr, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Suzman, and Glenda Jackson - to name but a few! There were also visits from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company and both new plays and old favourites were performed.

·    Theatre Royal Brighton had been bought by LOUIS I MICHAELS in 1971. In 1984 it was purchased by DEELAND INVESTMENTS. It continued to be a popular touring venue, and international ballet, new dance and opera were staged during the annual Brighton Festival.

·    In 1999 a new chapter began for Theatre Royal Brighton when it was purchased by Ambassador Theatre Group. They have welcomed the Theatre's established audiences but have also developed a younger generation of theatre goers.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 189, Nov/Dec 2007]

This page was added on 20/02/2008.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.