|Theatre Royal Haymarket|
Before I wrote this, I knew very little about the Theatre Royal Haymarket, but I have always appreciated its luxurious interior, and it has provided me with some of the most memorable nights of theatre in my life (for instance, Waiting for Godot and Flare Path). Despite this, I had never really thought about its history.
The research that I have done for this piece however has completely changed my perspective. So much so in fact, that I am so keen for everyone to actually read this profile that I have decided to break with our normal pattern and put ‘Our Opinion’ at the top. The Theatre Royal Haymarket has, quite simply, the richest and most extraordinary history of any theatre I have come across. The building has a long and wonderfully entertaining story, and the list of productions and performers that it has hosted is simply incredible. Although it became a ‘Theatre Royal’ due to an accident, it certainly deserves this accolade, for it is certainly one of the world’s most culturally-rich theatres.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
The original theatre was built in 1720 by John Potter and named ‘The Little Theatre in the Hay’. One of the early plays to be staged there (Henry Fielding’s The Historical Register in 1734) led to the introduction of the Licensing Act by George II in 1737 due to a controversial parody of the Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Following the introduction of the act, the theatre was forced to close, but leaseholder Samuel Foote continued to produce plays using subterfuge (such as staging ‘plays in rehearsal form’). In 1766, Samuel Foote lost his leg in a hunting accident with the Duke of York. To make it up to him, the Duke gained the theatre a Royal Patent from his brother George III, making the theatre the third in London to be called ‘Theatre Royal’. Foote sold the theatre and the patent to George Colman Snr in 1777, who then passed the theatre onto his son George Colman Jnr. Due to his extravagant productions the theatre was run into bankruptcy by the turn of the century.
The theatre assumed its current site and form in 1820, with the now famous six column portico as the façade. Designed by Regency architect John Nash and owned by the Crown Estate, the theatre was granted a 99-year lease, and it reopened on 4th July 1821 with a production of The Rivals. In 1853 John Baldwin Buckstone became the new manager, establishing it as a London’s greatest comedy house and hosting most of the great actors of the day. It is said that Buckstone still haunts the theatre today, with Patrick Stewart claiming that he saw him in 2009 in the wings during a performance of Waiting for Godot.
In 1879, the theatre was taken over by the Bancrofts and the auditorium was remodelled to become the first ever indoor proscenium arch theatre. In 1904 the theatre was closed for five months and the interior was grandly redesigned by Sir Stanley Peach. In 1971 the lessee became Louis I. Michaels, and following his death in 1981 the lease was passed to a Trust with Enid Chanelle and Arnold M. Crook becoming President and Chairman for the first time (positions which they still hold today). The theatre closed for a £1.3 million refurbishment in 1994, during which time it was restored to Peach’s original glory using 1200 books of 24-carat gold leaf. The management took its current form in 2007 with the launch of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company.
PLAYS AND PEOPLE
On 29th December 1720, La Fille a la Mode, presented by the Duke of Montagu, became the first production in the theatre’s history. As a small and mostly unlicensed theatre until the mid-19th Century, not much is known about its early production. Since then however, the theatre has hosted hundreds of the world’s best known plays and musicals, and has seen the premieres of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband, and Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. In fact, so many different plays have been staged there that I cannot choose which ones to mention… I suggest you consult Wikipedia to get the full picture!
Finally, it has been graced by nearly all of the world’s most respected stage actors and directors. I hate to list them, but it is so impressive that I feel I must name just a few: Ellen Terry, John Gielgud, Alex Guinness, Ingrid Bergman (in her last stage performance), Prunella Scales, Peneleope Keith, Omar Sharriff, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Reeve, Peter O’Toole, Derek Jacobi, Hugh Laurie, Robert Lindsay, Peter Ustinov, Sir Peter Hall, Sir Trevor Nunn, Sir Richard Eyre, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellan, Sir Patrick Stewart, Ralph Fiennes, David Suchet, Sienna Millar…. the list really is extraordinary and never ending.
Ordinarily this is where I would sum up with ‘Our Opinion’. However, as you will know, I decided to move it to the top! Cunningly however, if you read it again now it will come across as a conclusion as well.
To find out more about the Theatre Royal Haymarket go to http://www.trh.co.uk/.