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Theatres in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

The Empire Theatre - The Theatre Royal

The Theatre Royal & Opera House, Park Place, Penydarren Road, Merthyr Tydfil

Later - The Theatre Royal and Empire

A Google StreetView Image of the Theatre Royal, Merthyr Tydfil in 2007 - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Theatre Royal, Merthyr Tydfil in 2007 - Click to Interact.

The Theatre Royal is situated in Park Place, Penydarren Road, Merthyr Tydfil, and was originally designed by local architect T. C. Wakeling in the Neo-Classical style. The Theatre's exterior had an imposing brick facade featuring seven arched entrance doors at street level. These were arranged in 2+3+2 arches. The central doorway having a segmented pediment above. At first floor level there were five windows, the outer ones each side arched with a central oval window and a tall oblong window either side of the central window, which was also crowned with a segmented pediment above. High up above was a proud sign stating 'Theatre Royal'. Above at roof height the building was crowned with a tall central pediment. To the right was Thespian House, built with a crenellated parapet.

The New Theatre Royal and Opera House's sole lessee and Manager on its opening was Mr Will Smithson. The magnificent modern Theatre with all modern improvements with seating for 1,800 was erected at a cost of £8,000 and supplied a long-felt want in the town, being able to stage large productions, having a stage large enough to take any production. It opened early in 1894. Will Smithson also ran the 'Royal Clarence' in Pontypridd. The Theatre's original Proscenium was 28 feet wide and the stage depth was 22 feet, and the Theatre also had six dressing rooms.

An early Postcard showing the Theatre Royal, Merthyr Tydfil.

Above - An early Postcard showing the Theatre Royal, Merthyr Tydfil.

The Era Newspaper reported on Monday the 9th April 1894 that:- '"Cissy" opened here successfully on Monday. Mr Lawrence Daly as Titus Thomas, B. A., is exceedingly amusing, and Miss Grace Wilson scores heavily in her triple impersonation of Cissie, Florine, and Mike. Mr Fred J. Kirke. Mr John H. Brownson, Mr Quinton Pearson, Miss Amy B. Ellis, and Miss Edith Claris are excellent in their respective roles.'

Forthcoming Production bookings included:- Louis Calvert, Esq (two engagements), ''Middleman'' ''Passion's Power.'' all Hardie and Von Leer's Pieces. ''Diver's Luck,'' - Isabel Bateman, Hermann Vezin, Esq. ''Charley's Aunt.'' - ''Lost in London,'' - Harrington's ''Uncle Tom,'' and ''Grip of Iron.''

The Era Newspaper dated 9th June 1894 stated:- 'The Line of Fate,' played by Miss Violet E, Greg's company, occupies the boards here. Mr Edward Lloyd is successful in the dual part of Wilfred Brooks and Kimberley Jim; Mr James Carroll makes an excellent Lawrence Delmar; and Mr John Cullen in the character part of Mother Croodle is effective. Major Tit-Bits is exceedingly amusing as Trig, and so likewise is John Brittain as Nicodemus Brisket. Miss Madge Christy pleases as Edith Delmar, Miss Kate Kilpack amuses as Jenny, and Miss Ella Vane proves a satisfactory Liz. The drama is exceedingly well staged.'

Early productions were 'The Fast Mail', 'East Lynne', 'The Two Hussars', and 'Between the Lights'. 'Dorothy' (a famous early musical) played the Theatre at Easter 1894. There were also visits from 'The Slave Girl', 'Secrets of the Harem', and 'The Belle of New York.'

In April 1896 Will Smithson had a serious accident, being thrown from his horse whilst on a trip to Aberdare, regarding arrangements to present the play 'Trilby' at Aberdare Temperance Hall. He was found unconscious by a passer by and taken to Aberdare Hospital where he was diagnosed will a badly bruised skull.

Early Pantomimes were very popular, 'Aladdin' in 1897 starred Harry Rousby as Widow Twankey, Edie Macklin as Aladdin, with Nellie Bruce as the Princess. Christmas 1899 saw a production of 'Cinderella.'

In May 1899 J. W.Turner's Opera Company paid a visit, presenting 'Maritana', 'The Bohemian Girl', 'Faust', 'Lily of Killarney', and 'Il Travatore'.

In October 1900 'Two Little Drummer Boys' broke the box office record.

Screening films, as part of the programme, took place from the early 1900's.

The management of the Theatre changed hands to Albert Jackson Withers. A Bargoed business man who later formed the largest Cinema circuit in South Wales.

In 1907 the Theatre changed it's name to Theatre Royal and Empire.

In 1908 the Watch Committee refused to issue a drinks licence and Mr Jackson Withers challenged this, resulting in the Lord Chief Justice calling on the Watch Committee to show cause. The result was that the licence was granted.

Throughout the 1914/18 War the Theatre presented theatrical productions with occasional film showings. But after the War Musicals, Pantomimes and touring Plays were presented together with Variety Shows.

The Theatre was taken over in 1932 by the Associated British Cinemas chain (ABC) and in May 1933 until 1935 leased to the Regent Theatres chain (a subsidiary of ABC), when it returned back to ABC management.

In 1932 the auditorium was completely remodelled in the Art Deco style. A wide large balcony was inserted with Art Deco decoration featured in the borders and general decoration. The ceiling contained a sunburst rose and the Proscenium had a ramped and stepped surround with organ pipes visible in niches. Centrally above the Proscenium was the Royal Arms with splayed crestings. The auditorium walls had linked low-relief panels also containing stepped detailing. The light fittings were polygonal pendant lights.

In 1939 the Theatre was taken over by an independent operator. The Pantomime at Christmas 1939 was 'Red Riding Hood', and in 1940 'Mother Goose' starring Jack Haig (of later 'Allo Allo' fame) played Idle Jack, which did excellent business.

In 1955 CinemaScope was fitted and a new 38 feet wide proscenium was installed.

The Theatre Royal closed as a live Theatre in the late 1960's and was converted into a Bingo Club, which operated until 2006, since then however, the Theatre has laid closed and derelict. The Theatre Royal is a Grade II Listed building, but sadly now it is 'A Sleeping Beauty' hopefully awaiting a re-awakening.

The above article was kindly written for this site by David Garratt in June 2018.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Empire Theatre, Market Place, Merthyr Tydfil

Formerly - Circus / Grand Circus / Palace of Varieties / Levino's Circus & Theatre / Park Theatre

In about 1882/3 a new place of entertainment opened in the Market Place in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. It was probably a wooden building, presenting indoor Circus. There is a report in the Era Newspaper dated 12th December 1885 as follows:- 'Merthyr Tydfil. At Fossett's Circus we have still an attractive programme presented to exceedingly good houses. The notables are the De Oras, in their great aerial sensation; Mr H. Fossett, in a series of characters on horseback, illustrating scenes from Dickens's ''Pickwick Papers;'' Funny Douglas is immensely good with his performing pig; Funny Harry's funniosities are most mirth provoking; Zenora and Young Foden take exceedingly well; but the equestrian acts of Mr Robert Fossett and family are exceedingly meritorious, and thoroughly deserve the applause received.'

By 1886 the building was being advertised in the Era Newspaper of 18th December as 'The Grand Circus.' The Lessee and Manager being Mr Harry Hawkins. Listed are the artists appearing as; 'In addition to a capable all-round company, the programme is still further augmented this week by the engagement of the 'Wartenberg-Montaine troupe' (seven in number), who are nightly received with approbation for a daring and skilful acrobatic performance.'

By 1887 the Lessee and ownership had passed to Mr Henry Levino, and was now presenting a season of plays. The Era Newspaper dated 5th February 1887 carried the following advert:- 'Miss Kate Berisford and Mr Charles Morgan's company are in possession here this week, giving ''Hazel Kirke'' to splendid audiences.' This same theatrical company was still in residence on the 19th March 1887 when the Lessee and Manager of the Theatre is listed as in the hands of Mr Dolph Levino.

The Levino brothers, Henri and Dolph were American and had come to Britain presenting their own touring Circus shows for short seasons. It would seem that they had settled at Merthyr Tydfil and were now running the building as a Theatre / Circus.

The Era Newspaper of the 9th April 1887 advertised:- 'Miss Clarice Trevor's company appeared here on Monday and Tuesday in 'The Unknown'. Mr M.Hillard as Harold, Mr A. Graysdell as Jack Salt, and Miss Bretton as Bessie, were most successful, and the other parts were well sustained. 'Moths' was selected for Wednesday and Thursday.'

However, 'Levino's Circus' were advertising a 'Variety' programme in the Era Newspaper for 30th April 1887:- 'A clever variety company is again in possession this week. Dusoni's dogs and monkeys and little Annie Dusoni remain from last week. The new arrivals include Miss Ethel Mortimer, serio comic; Miss Minnie Russell, balladist; Jap of Japs, juggler; Mr C Dant, American song and dance artist; and Felix's great boar hounds.'

The Era of 19th November 1887 reported 'Testo and Onri's company concluded a very successful six nights engagement last Saturday, and on Monday appeared Mr H.D.Burton who introduced 'A Fool's Fidelity'. In Daft Dick Mr Burton has a part which suits him well, and which he plays admirably. Little Nelly Moore made a charming Eva. Miss B.O'Brien impersonates Amy Forrest with great tenderness and skill, and Miss Kate Kilpack makes a very satisfactory Martha 'Bears not Beasts', with good ballets, completed a capital entertainment.'

The Christmas entertainment of 1887, playing for a fortnights engagement commencing on Boxing Day, was 'Driven from Home' played by Messrs Murray and Reed's company.

The ERA of 7th January 1888 informed that:- 'Messrs J. K. Murray and Wilton Reed's company proved so successful last week that they retain possession this, and have nightly appeared with undiminished success in 'Not Guilty.' Miss Emilie Dawson as Nellie Chaddox was seen at her best; Mr J.K. Murray as Henry Grafton played with feeling and power; Mr J. Brooks acted with skill the part of Jacob Grafton; Mr F. Leicester made a capital Smiler; and Mr Wilton Reed gave a fine representation of Nick Chaddox; Mr Weldon Atherstone made a capital Ernest Saville; Mr Frank Lester as Timothy Sprouts, and Miss Monica Kelly caused no end of amusement; and Miss Fanny Clarke as Annie Calvering was especially good.'

By January 21st 1888 the Circus seemed to have had a name change to now be known as 'The Park Theatre', the Lessee and Manager being Mr George Dallas. The play 'The Duke's Motto' playing the Theatre, presented by Messrs Reed and Murray's company concluding their successful months engagement.

On the 24th January 1888 the Weston Mail, Cardiff reported that there had been 'A Row in a Circus at Merthyr' as follows:- 'At Merthyr Police Court on Monday John Hunt was summoned for assaulting George West. Mr J. Vaughan appeared for the complainant. West said that he was employed as a checktaker at the Merthyr Circus, and that it was part of his duty to keep order in this portion of the building in which he was stationed. On the night of the 17th inst. He had occasion to complain to the manager, Mr Dallas, of the defendant and several companions having come up the stairs to the promenade in a very noisy manner, and after leaving the circus at the close of the performance the defendant struck him in the left eye, and discoloured it. In self-de-fence he hit the defendant with a stick, and, fearing further ill-treatment, he then ran away. Hunt, who took out a cross-summons, asseverated that he entered the circus quietly, and that he was first struck by West with a stick. The Bench, after hearing several witnesses on both sides, dismissed the cross-summons, and fined Hunt 5s (5 shillings - 25 pence in today's money) and costs.'

The ERA of the 18th of February 1888 lists for the week commencing 13th February 1888:- 'A Mal Practice' written by Mr E.J.Lampard being presented by 'an excellent company under the direction of Miss Wardhaugh.'

February 25th 1888 - The production playing the Theatre during the week commencing 20th February 1888 was Mr Tom Cannam's 'Queen of Fashion.' Miss Sophie Fane played Coralie. Mt Tom Cannam played Jacques Villefort. Mr Norman V. Norman played Jules Le Vernay. Mr Percy Meynall was Dr Volange. Miss May Bowerman played Rosa Fairleigh and Miss E Stuart as Madam Daunay.

March 3rd for 6 nights was Albert James and Ben Wilinson's London Musical Comedy Company in 'Fun on the Bristol.' featuring Mr Albert James as Troy, and the Count Menaggio. Miss Maude Dickeson as Tina and Bella. Mr Richard Hicks as Widow O'Brien. Also in the cast were Marie Strachane. Mr Leonard Robson. Miss Annetta May. Mr Bernard Carew. Mr George Surtees and Mr Harry Dickeson. Business Manager Mr Ben Wilkinson.

Week commencing March 5th 1888 was Mr J.W.King's Company presenting the drama 'Missed.'

The ERA newspaper dated 5th May 1888 announced that:- 'The Park Theatre Merthyr Tydfil, had passed into the hands of Messrs Lowe, Sutherland, and Davies, and will be reopened on Whit Monday (which was 21st May 1888) after being entirely redecorated and renovated.'

The ERA also carried a postscript:- 'Population 70,000. Staff, Artist, and Band. House holds £35 at popular prices. Now booking for Summer and Autumn.'

The ERA of January the 18th 1890 made the following Announcement:- 'Merthyr Tydfil - Empire. (late Park) Theatre - Lessee, John Lawson - Having taken a short Lease (until the Erection of the New Theatre), will entirely Renovate the Building. It will be Heated, Lighted, Re-seated, with Inner Roof, Restocked with Scenery, and run as a First-class Variety Theatre. First-class Spectacular Dramatic Companies can communicate vacant dates. Variety Stars and Novelties write. All letters, Chas Herberte, ''Humanity'' Company, Empire Theatre, Methyr.

The Empire Theatre (formaly known as 'The Park Theatre'), opened on Monday January 20th 1890, the Variety Company consisted of Arthur Lloyd, the Herberte combination, Brothers Hadley, Joseph Darby, Sisters Laffar, Tom Hobin, and John Lawson.

The ERA stated:- 'Merthyr Tydfil Empire. (late Park) Theatre - Lessee, Mr John Lawson - Grand success of the Reopening. New Inner Roof, Massive Reflectors, Fifty New Gas Brackets with Tinted Globes. Pit Seats upholstered. The Building thoroughly warmed. A Perfect Transformation. Professional Band. Magnificent reception of Arthur Lloyd, Joseph Darby, Champion Jumper of the World; Tom Hobin, the Herberte Combination; Vox, Ventriloquist; Sisters Leffar, and John Lawson.'

It would seem that the Empire Theatre name in this building did not last too long, as the New Theatre Royal and Opera House Merthyr Tydfil, was built and opened in April 1894, and by 1907 had incorporated the Empire name.

The above article was kindly written for this site by David Garratt in May 2018.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in by B.F.

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