Theatres and Halls in Jersey
The Opera House, Newgate Street, St Helier, Jersey
Formerly - The Royal Amphitheatre / The Theatre Royal
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Jersey Opera House today - Click to Interact
The Jersey Opera House opened on Monday the 9th of July 1900 with a production of Sydney Grundys 'The Degenerates', with the Jersey born Actress Lilly Langtree heading the cast. The Theatre was built for Sidney Cooper and designed in the Italian Renaissance Style by the Civil Engineer Adolfus Curry. Only the exterior facade of the 1900 Opera House survives today as the interior was rebuilt in 1921 after a fire, and there have been many other alterations and improvements to the building over the years.
The Opera House was constructed on the site of the former Royal Amphitheatre and Circus / Theatre Royal of 1865, which was destroyed by fire, in 1899. There is more information on the Opera House below but there now follows some information on the earlier Theatre on the site.
The original building on this site was the Royal Amphitheatre and Circus, built in 1865 for Henry Cornwall. This was used for circus, arena, and stage performances, and was managed by William Wybert Rousby from its opening. Rousby later bought the building from Henry Cornwall in 1868 and renamed it the Theatre Royal, and he would go on to run the Theatre for the next 30 years.
Right - A Poster for Arthur Lloyd's 'Little Jack And The Big Beanstalk' and a Complimentary Benefit for Mr. W. Morton at the Theatre Royal, Jersey on the 20th of April 1888 - Click to Enlarge. Arthur Lloyd's wife Katty King also performed in this production. A Review for this production can be read below.
A Review of 'Little Jack and the Big Bean Stalk' at the Theatre Royal, Jersey - From The Jersey Express, April 1888.
There can scarcely be two opinions as to the Pantomime produced last evening at the Theatre Royal. It was an indisputable success. The public has been well inoculated with the idea of this happy consumption by the various reports which had preceded the Pantomime, but it is greatly open to question whether the moat enthusiastic reader of the said reports was, after all, thoroughly prepared for the gorgeous display which was presented. It is in the highest degree creditable that in a small island like this there should be produced a spectacular treat such as that under notice.
"Little Jack and the Big Been Stalk" is the work of Mr. Arthur Lloyd, whose ideas have been suitably assisted by the exceptional ability of the scenic artists, but particularly of Mr. W. R. Martin. When the Pantomime was produced at the Greenwich Theatre, the local and London daily papers commended it as one possessing special merit, and when, therefore, the affable and business like proprietor of the Theatre Royal intimated that he had entered into an engagement to produce the same pantomime here, we were, in the first place astounded, and in the second place, filled with pleasure that our local audiences would, after all have their Pantomime as well as their friends in England, and would, moreover, have a "show" of such dimension as had not previously been witnessed in the island.
Its career at our Theatre could not have been commenced under more auspicious circumstances. What and audience assembled to bid it welcome! We are accustomed to see large audiences on Bank Holidays, but we doubt very much whether the local Theatre has ever been thronged with such a densely-packed and such an attentive audience as that which was present last evening. The house presented the appearance of a perfect sea of heads, and even the dress circle, usually empty on popular nights, was well attended.
The story illustrated in the Pantomime is well connected. There is generally but little connection between the incidents in this kind of production, but in this instance it is possible, although unnecessary, to give a resume of the entire plot. Now we come to the most important feature of all, vix, the scenery. We are saved from any danger of exaggeration in commenting upon this, as we believe it would be impossible to improve upon several of the scenes, and therefore where there is perfection there is no danger of its being overrated.
The first striking picture is the Rustic Village, with the water mill in motion, and a pretty background. This started the applause, and from this point, we may say, it was continuous. Each successive scene aroused the enthusiasm of the audience, who shewed their appreciation in an unmistakable manner. In the second scene a pretty choral, written by Mr. Lloyd, was sung by members of the Company and a number of little children, who looked very attractive. The Statue Avenue is one of the most effective, and it is certainly the most picturesque scene in the whole Pantomime. All 'around the stage are pedestals, on which are statues in various positions, and at a given signal the pedestals part in two and form steps, down which the statues, now animated, but moving with dignity and becoming grace, descend, engage in a stately dance, and present a series of tableaux vivants, which could not but win loud applause. The scene is altogether a marvel of artistic conception and workmanship.
The next important spectacle is the interior of King Mooney's Palace. Here the appearance is rich and brilliant, and the costumes are in keeping with the surroundings. A number of ladies appear in splendid military uniforms, and with excellent effect go through the Drum Polka, each performer being provided with a small drum. Various amusements are gone through in this scene in honour of the return, after slaying the giant, of the hero, Jack. The most remarkable and inexplicable performance, however, was that of the Haytor trio. They seemed to be perfectly boneless and went through such astounding feats as one would consider naturally impossible.
Then came the grandest scene of all, the Transformation scene, entitled "Cupid's Bower," a scene which is said to have never been surpassed during the twenty-three years that Mr. Rousby has leased the Theatre. It was dazzling in its splendour, and it will be easily understood how impossible it would be to describe anything which merits such praise as that. The audience gazed enraptured as each successive change brought still more striking beauties, until the whole arrangement presented such a picture as is not likely to be surpassed on our local stage.
Throughout the whole evening and even during the after-noon performance, everything worked smoothly. The scenery played none of those freaks which are associated with first nights, but all worked harmoniously and well, so that none of the interest was destroyed. This is satisfactory, and reflects the highest credit on Mr. W. Morton, under whose supervision the Pantomime has been produced. Only those possessing some practical knowledge of stagecraft will understand how deserving is this result of every possible praise.
The company, as may readily be supposed, is one of all round ability. The here, Jack, is played by Miss Katty King, who possesses such grace and attraction in all she does as to ensure her being a favourite. Mr. Mark Leonard has an excellent part as the Hibernian widow,"to let," and who eventually becomes the better - very much better - half of King Mooney, in Cloudland. His dancing is very good, and his impersonation was altogether a successful one. Mr. Arthur Lloyd, as King Mooney a cockney monarch, was capital. His style itself was amusing, and he had several very taking songs, which will undoubtedly become popular. His topical song is "Get away-never" and this was encored last evening.
Mr. French Haytor made an original Buttons, his matchlike proportions enabling him to display such agility as made the part extremely successful. Others of the company, who deserve special mention, but whose particular merits space will not allow us to enlarge upon, are Misses Edith Clifton, Lizzie Aubrey, Maud Stoneham and Gracie Sprague, whilst Tiny Alice Shephard must be commended for her singing of a pretty song.
On the whole, nothing could be more successful than this pantomime, and every one who has had anything to do with obtaining this result must be accorded the warmest congratulations. To Mr. Morton's spiritedness we are especially indebted. It is no small responsibility to produce a Pantomime as his, and that he has been so successful is an indubitable proof of his ability. We hope sincerely that the support accorded during the brief season of this Pantomime will be so unstinted as to induce Mr. Morton and Mr. Rousby to carry out an idea they have in their mind of making this visit an annual one, and so permitting Jersey audiences to witness Pantomimes of remarkable merit. The songs, the dances, the dialogue, the costumes, the scenery, in fact everything is of an attractive character, and the patronage should be commensurate with the merits of the production.
The above text was first published in the Jersey Express, April 1888 and is courtesy the Jersey Library.
William Rousby eventually sold the building to Sidney Cooper, for nearly £9000, and Cooper then refurbished the Theatre and reopened it on Easter Monday 1898. The refurbishment took place between March and April and included removing, lowering, and then re-flooring the Pit and Stalls on a gentle slope, reupholstering the seating, adding new carpets and tip up seats to the Dress Circle, enlarging the Pit to hold 150 people, adding several rows to the Stalls by removing the projecting forestage, replacing the stage itself, and removing the 'old fashioned grooves' from the flies thus allowing a greater depth of scenery to be flown. The dressing room accommodation was also repainted and re-papered at the same time, and the Theatre itself was redecorated by S. Herberte-Basing, of Staford. Furthur enhancements were a new entrance to the Pit and enhancement of the refreshment and cloak rooms. Sadly all these improvements were short lived however, as the Theatre would be destroyed by fire the following year on the morning of Wednesday the 29th of March 1899.
The ERA reported on the destruction of the Jersey Theatre Royal in their 1st of April 1899 edition saying:- 'The rehearsals for Mr Sidney Cooper's pantomime Little Red Riding Hood, at the Jersey Theatre Royal, which was to have been produced on Easter Monday, were in full swing, the last one having concluded at 10.20 on the evening of Tuesday last.
The caretaker, Mr J. Le Cras, made the usual round of the theatre at 11.15 to see that all was safe, noticing nothing unusual. At about 2.30 a.m. Mr Le Cras - who resides in a cottage which adjoins the dressing-rooms of the theatre - was aroused by the glow of the flames and crackling of wood, and immediately summoned the honorary police and fire brigade. As, however, the water pressure is turned off each evening by the waterworks company, some three miles out of the town, it would have been impossible, even with the latest appliances, instead of an old-fashioned manual engine, to check the flames in the building itself; and the police and their voluntary assistants may be heartily congratulated on the zeal and skill with which they prevented the adjacent houses being burnt with the theatre, and the two cottages attached to it.
Several of the ladies of the chorus, who were lodging in one of these cottages, managed to escape at the first outbreak of the fire, and were happily able to save most of their personal belongings. Mr Sidney Cooper, who, it will be remembered by our readers, only purchased the theatre about twelve months ago from Mr Wybert Rousby, was on the scene soon after 3.0 a.m , to behold the total destruction of his valuable property, for in less than three-quarters of an hour from the first alarm the roof fell in with a crash; and by daybreak nothing remained of the theatre but the bare outside walls surrounding a heap of charred ruins.
The entire scenery of the theatre, together with the wardrobe and scenery of the pantomime production, was entirely destroyed, and the chorus ladies who had been engaged for the run of the piece, left the island on Thursday morning last. Mr Fred J. Little and his partner, Mr Eglington, were to have produced the pantomime and opened their tour of One of the Family there in May. Mr Little and Mr Eglington, who have rented a house in St. Aubyns, had ridden into the town on their bicycles. Mr Little had stored his machine at a neighbouring establishment, as they returned home by train; but Mr Eglington was unlucky enough to have left his cycle in the vestibule of the theatre, and it was, consequently, destroyed.
We extend our sincere sympathy to Mr Sidney Cooper, whose loss will naturally be very heavy in spite of the fact that the building is insured We must also condole with Messrs Eglington and Little in the disaster which has overtaken them at the commencement of their tour. They have paid the fares of the chorus and ballet ladies engaged for the pantomime to their respective homes.
Four officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Jersey Artillery were remanded, before the Mayor, at St. Heliers, Jersey, on Thursday, charged with wilfully damaging property during the fire. It was alleged that defendants entered the houses near the burning building and threw crockery-ware and furniture from the windows of the upper storeys into the street. Thirty witnesses were heard.'
The Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire, on Wednesday the 29th of March 1899, but by June the following year the ERA was reporting on the Theatre's replacement, then under construction, in their 9th of June 1900 edition saying:- 'The Jersey New Opera House, which is being erected on the site of the defunct Theatre Royal, will be opened on July 9th. The most conspicuous characteristic of the new edifice is its extraordinary massiveness. A visitor who was being shown over the building a short while ago remarked that in the event of St. Helier being bombarded by the French, the theatre would prove a far safer haven of refuge than the fort. The dress circle, which is to accommodate 120 people, is built to support a weight of 125 tons. The proscenium is 24ft. by 28ft., and is protected by an iron and asbestos curtain. The stage is 70ft. wide and 40ft. deep, and full-sized cloths can fly without a bight, as at Drury-lane.' - The ERA, 9th of June 1900.
The ERA also reported on the opening of the new Jersey Opera House in their 14th of July, 1900 edition, saying:- 'On Monday evening Mrs Langtry was most appropriately the first to tread the boards of the New Opera House, built on the site of the old Theatre Royal, which was burnt down over fourteen months ago.
The new house is delightfully decorated in the Renaissance style, and possesses every modern convenience, including a spacious crush-room, perfectly appointed saloon bars, tip-up chairs in the dress-circle and stalls, and upholstered seats in the pit. The theatre will bear comparison with any similar place of entertainment in Great Britain.
There are no pillars in any part of the house, a full view of the stage being thus obtained from every seat in the building, owing to the cantilever system having been adopted in the erection of the circle and galleries. Emergency exits into a side street are provided from every part of the house, while cloak-rooms, lavatories, and refreshment-rooms are among the conveniences provided.
The interior decorations are quite in keeping with the remainder of the house. The scheme is in the Italian Renaissance style. The general groundwork is an ivory white, relieved with rich gold and coloured ornamentation. Over the private boxes on either side of the stage are figures of Comedy and Tragedy. The stage is some 65ft. wide, 40ft. deep, and 60ft. to the grid, which will thus enable the heaviest London productions to be produced. The dressing-rooms, separated from the main building, are ten in number, and are most comfortable and convenient. Both here and in every part of the theatre gas is used for lighting, while the auditorium is illuminated with a large sun burner.
The Bailiff of the Island, who occupied a box surmounted by the Jersey coat-of-arms, expressed his unqualified approval of the manner in which everything had been done for the comfort and safety of the audience. Considering the many difficulties with which Mr Sidney Cooper, the managing-director, has had to contend, it was little wonder that he received a large number of congratulatory telegrams from, amongst others, Mr Wybert Rousby, from whom Mr Cooper purchased the old theatre; the united Press of Newcastle-on-Tyne, the members of the Crichton Club, Miss Cissie Grahame, Messrs Beerbohm Tree, J. B. Mulholland, Ben Greet, and Edward Terry.
The interest taken in The Degenerates by the Jersey public is proved by the fact that many people have booked seats for more than one performance, and that every available seat in the house was taken for the first night within an hour of the plan being opened, and that the remaining nights were soon fully booked up. Mrs Langtry's performance in The Degenerates has been often noticed in these columns, and we need only say that the company supporting her was excellent. Miss Ina Goldsmith admirably sustained the difficult rule of Lady Samaurez. Mrs Langtry was the recipient of numerous floral tributes, and her speech proved to be a model of good taste and tact. After thanking the directors for the honour done her and congratulating Mr Cooper on the new house. Mrs Langtry went on to say that she would have felt jealous had she not been invited to perform the function, for "We Jersey folk cling together," and she claimed to be "Jersey's representative actress." She further advised first-class companies to visit the island, as nowhere would they find a temple worthier of their artistic efforts and their commercial longings. Mrs Langtry, in conclusion, evoked much enthusiasm by quoting in the local patois, or "Jersey French," a verse written by one of the local poets.
In connection with the opening of this new house every credit must be paid to Mr E. J. Malyon, Mrs Langtry 's stage-manager, who, in conjunction with Mr Cooper's stage-carpenter, Mr Le Cra, did wonders with what on the Sunday preceding the opening on Monday looked like hopeless chaos. Nevertheless, the performance was over by 10 30, and the mise-en-scene was far above the average of even a travelling company in full working organisation.'
The Jersey Opera House opened with a production of 'The Degenerates' on Monday the 9th of July 1900. The Theatre was built for Sidney Cooper who had previously been running the former Theatre Royal on the same site before it was destroyed by fire on the 29th of March 1899.
Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Jersey Opera House today - Click to Interact.
In 1911 the Theatre was taken over by the Jersey and Guernsey Amusement Company, run by the Albany Ward Company, who were involved with the Gaumont cinema chain. Sadly the Theatre's auditorium was gutted by fire in 1921, but it was then rebuilt internally by the architects Jesty & Baker, and reopened in August 1922 primarily as a Cinema for showing silent films. During Jersey's occupation by Germany during the war the Theatre was used for live theatre on alternate weeks, with films showing on the other week, but after the war the building reverted to full time Cinema use again, with only two live shows being staged a year.
In 1958 the Opera House was bought by Tommy Swanson, from its then owners, the Rank Organisation, and he converted the building back to live theatre use, refurbishing the auditorium, and adding 16 new boxes. The Theatre reopened with a production of 'Sailor Beware'. In 1978 Swanson enlarged the proscenium and improved the backstage facilities, but he eventually sold the Theatre in 1989 to Dick Ray who had been running it for him since the mid 1970s.
In 1993 Dick Ray restored the Facade of the Theatre and carried out some improvements to the front of house areas but soon realised that restoring the Theatre to its former glory would be too big a task for him alone, consequently he sold the Theatre to the States of Jersey for £1.3 million.
The Theatre was closed in 1997 for major refurbishment carried out by MEBP, and costing, in the end, some £7.2million. The works included refurbishing the interior, adding a new upper circle and boxes, and completely rebuilding the Theatre's Stage House and dressing rooms. A new entrance canopy and a restaurant were also added at the same time. The Theatre finally reopened on the 9th July 2000, one hundred years to the day since it had first opened in 1900.
The Opera House currently has a capacity of 650, you may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
Some of the archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.
The posters on this page are from a large collection of original Lloyd Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family and found recently after being lost for 50 years. To see all these posters click the Poster Index here.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: