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The Theatre Royal, 100 Grey Street, Newcastle

And - The earlier Theatre Royal, Drury Lane off Mosley Street, Newcastle

Introduction and History - The Newcastle Theatre Royal by Graeme Smith - The Theatre Royal, Newcastle From a Magazine Programme

Also see: Newcastle Theatre - A personal reminiscence by Donald Auty - Pantomimes in Newcastle 50 Years Ago by Donald Auty - Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties by Donald Auty

Newcastle Index

The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 2002 - Courtesy Gareth Price

Above - The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 2002 - Courtesy Gareth Price

The Grade I Listed Theatre Royal which stands in Grey Street, Newcastle today was originally built in 1837 and designed by John and Benjamin Green. However, the Theatre has been the subject of many changes since then, and although the exterior is much as it was when it first opened, the auditorium today is that of the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham who reconstructed the building in 1901 after a major fire destroyed most of it in 1899. The auditorium of the present Theatre consists of stalls, dress circle, upper circle and amphitheatre/gallery, with boxes, and can accommodate nearly 1,300 people.

A sketch of the 1788 Theatre Royal, Mosley Street, Newcastle.The Newcastle Theatre Royal has a long and involved history. A Theatre with this name first opened in Drury Lane, off Mosley Street, Newcastle in 1788 having been granted a Royal Licence by King George III. This Theatre was quick to establish itself as one of the Country's major Theatres.

Left - A sketch of the 1788 Theatre Royal, Mosley Street, Newcastle.

A serious incident occurred at this Theatre on February the 19th 1823 when a small fire which broke out during the first half of a production of 'Tom and Jerry' and was easily dealt with, resulted in the death of eight people when they were trampled underfoot by the audience trying to escape. The Morning Post printed a letter from one of their readers reporting on the tragedy in their 24th of February edition which said: 'It is with much pain that I acquaint you with the follow calamitous accident which took place at our Theatre here yesterday evening. Shortly after the commencement of the second Act or "Tom and Jerry," one of the Gas-lights in the third box from the Stage, on the right side of the house, by some mischance had set fire to the wood-work that enclosed the pipe. The consequence was an immediate and very unmeasured alarm of "Fire !" pervaded the house, particularly the gallery, which, unfortunately, was very much crowded.

Notwithstanding it was soon apparent to the company in the boxes and the pit (both of which places were but thinly filled), that there was little or no danger to be apprehended, the people in the gallery were not to be tranquillized. Considerable efforts were made from the Stage, too, to persuade them, that if they would but patiently wait a very short time, they would see every thing restored to order. All in vain: a deaf ear was turned to the judicious advice given to them, and with a tremendous rush they struggled for egress. Woefully distressing was the result: - Eight individuals were literally trodden to death! These are two young women of the names of Green and Johnson, a Mrs. Riddell Robson (the wife of a respectable builder, who himself escaped with some very terrible bruises), a fine youth, aged about 14, son to Mr. Wilkinson, the veterinary surgeon; a young man of the name of Handasyde, aged about 18, son to Mr. H. the bookbinder; an elderly person of the name of Edwards, a cellarman to Messrs. Laidler and Co., spirit-dealers; a person of the name of Heaton, belonging to Gateshead; and a stranger, a stout man, apparently between 40 and 50 years of age. Of course several are wounded. - I have not learnt the exact number; but I would fain persuade myself from what I have heard, that the casualties that way are fewer than might have been expected, where so many lives have been lost.

Altogether, it is a most melancholly affair; and the sombre impression it has made generally on the inhabitants, evinces the deep feeling and sympathy of the town on the distressing occasion. The Manager, Mr. Decamp, is labouring under a most agonizing state of mud, in consequence of what has happened. It is inferred, that although the season is scarcely half over, the Theatre will not be opened again till out Winter.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Morning Post, 24th February 1823.

The building which now stands on the site of the 1788 Theatre Royal, Mosley Street, Newcastle, which incorporates some of the original stones from the early Theatre in its bottom layers - Courtesy Gareth Price. 2003.In the 1830s it was decided that a new Theatre should be built to replace the 1788 one and a site was found in Grey Street, Newcastle for its construction. The last production at the old Mosley Street Theatre was 'Sweethearts and Wives' and the comedy 'Picturesque' on the 26th of June 1836, and by November that year the Theatre was being demolished.

The new Theatre on Grey Street was designed by Benjamin Green and opened under the management of Montague Penley on Monday the 20th of February 1837, and the first production at the new Theatre was Shakespear's 'The Merchant of Venice' preceded by the Company singing 'God Save the King'.

Right - The building which now stands on the site of the 1788 Theatre Royal, Mosley Street, Newcastle, which incorporates some of the original stones from the early Theatre in its bottom layers - Courtesy Gareth Price.

The Newcastle Courant reported on the opening of the Theatre in their 24th of February 1837 edition saying: 'On Monday last, the New Theatre, in Grey-street, in this town, was opened for the first time under the management or Mr Montague Penley, and was attended by a very crowded audience. The building itself is most splendid. The boxes and gallery are beautifully embellished with richly gilt ornaments, and each panel (eleven in number) of the second circle of boxes, contains a very beautiful group of dancing boys, executed by Mr Penley and Mr John Reed. The ceiling of the auditory is divided into sixteen panels, in which are, alternately, figures of dancing nymphs and groups of musical instruments; the mouldings, &e. forming the divisions of the panels, are richly ornamented and gilt. From the centre hangs a large and brilliant cut-glass chandelier, executed by Mr "Watson. The alcove off-the procenium is richly ornamented with rays executed in gold, and over it are the royal arms, richly-gilt. The boxes are lined with rich crimson paper, and the whole of the seats are covered with crimson moreen, executed by Mr. William Clark of the Royal Arcade.

The new scenes, which have been, executed by Mr Penley and assistants, are bold, striking, and effective, and display great excellence as works of art. The lighting of the Theatre is not so brilliant as might have been expected from the number of lights, but the Proprietors, it is understood, are about to introduce Argand burners into the small chandeliers instead of the imitative candles at present in use, which will obviate the defect. Considering the rapidity with which the building has been erected, the interior, particularly the boxes and pit, are remarkably dry.'

'The play selected for the opening of the theatre, no one who has read Shakspeare can fail to admire; but though Mr Young's acting throughout Shylock was scarcely in any part to be found fault with, it must be confessed that the other performers seemed hardly to have a due conception of their respective parts. Miss Penley played Portia with considerable discrimination; and it is but justice to say, with respect to this actress, that her reading is almost unexceptionably correct.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the Newcastle Courant, February 24th 1837.

Arthur Lloyd's famous father, Horatio Lloyd, performed at the Theatre Royal Newcastle in 1848, the following extract is from his autobiography, "Life of an actor." '...I have to say that I never was in the Newcastle Theatre in my life until the month of May, 1848, when the late Mr Edmund Glover and myself rented it for four weeks from Mr Davies, sen., for the sum of £100. We took with us the whole of the Edinburgh company and orchestra, among the former being the celebrated Mr Mackay, to whom we paid £50 for a week's performance of his famous part of Bailie Nicol Jarvie.' Horatio Lloyd.

The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in an early photograph from the 1860s - Courtesy Jennie Bissett.In 1867 the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps altered the Theatre and restored the interior. The Newcastle Courant printed a report on the changes in their 23rd of August 1867 edition saying: 'After a lapse of seven weeks, during which time the interior of the building has been thoroughly re-decorated and various important alterations have been made, this Theatre was re-opened on Monday evening.

Left - The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in an early photograph from the 1860s - Courtesy Jennie Bissett.

The proprietors had employed Mr C. J. Phipps of London, to design the new decorations, and to superintend the execution of the works generally. The decorations are entirely new from top to bottom. The old plaster ornaments and the mirrors have been removed from the box fronts and replaced by painted decoration. The style adopted is Greek, as affording the greatest purity of outline, with sufficiently brilliant colouring. The principal ceiling is of a light turquoise blue, panelled out and enriched with ornamental borders, and the treatment is carried out with greater richness in the wide front of the proscenium arch. The walls of the boxes on each tier are papered to a height of four feet with a diaper of warm chocolate colour; and above this, divided by a border, is a sage green paper, covered with a severely conventionalized floral pattern in red and gold. These colours are again carried up in lighter tones through the panelling of the gallery sides and cove into the margins of the ceiling. The box fronts are painted with bold honeysuckles and other ornaments, such as were used in the best period of Greek art, in turquoise blue, red and gold colour, on a delicate apricot ground; and are further enriched with stencilled borders, gilt mouldings, crimson resters for the arms, and vandyked valances of rich amber damask.

All parts below the level of the dress circle are coloured a full Indian red, which serves greatly to enhance the brilliancy of the general effect. The lighting of the interior of the Theatre has undergone an important alteration. The chandeliers round the boxes have been removed, as has also that in the centre of the house; for which has been substituted a handsome new chandelier with sunlight combined, manufactured by Messrs. Jones and Co., of Covent Garden. Besides a considerable increase in the illumination of the house, the ventilation is greatly benefitted by the alteration, as well as by other contrivances in several parts of the building. The comfort of the audience has been consulted as regards the seating, which has been greatly improved. The seats have all been enlarged, and in a great measure reconstructed, in order to give increased ease, and this has been further insured by luxurious stuffing and covering in rich crimson damask. The partitions between the seats have also been removed, by which ready ingress and egress are obtained in all parts of the circle. The whole of the decorations and other works (except the lighting) have been executed from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr Phipps, by Messrs. Green and King, of Baker Street, London, the decorators to Her Majesty's Theatre. The " act drop " has been designed and painted by Mr Charles Smithers, a highly talented metropolitan artist, who has been permanently engaged here.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Newcastle Courant, 23rd August 1867.

The Phipps redecoration took just seven weeks to complete and the Theatre reopened on Monday the 19th of August 1867. The Builder reported on the changes to the Theatre in their August 31st 1867 edition saying:- 'This theatre has been re-opened, after entire renovation of the interior, under the direction of Mr. Phipps, architect. The Greek style has been adopted. The principal ceiling is of a light turquoise, enriched with ornamental borders. Bold honeysuckle and other ornaments are painted on the box facings, in colours turquoise, blue, red, and gold, being enriched further with stencilled borders, mouldings of gilt, crimson rasters for the arms, and vandyked valances of rich amber damask. All parts below the level of the dress circle are coloured with a full Indian red. The lighting of the interior of the theatre has undergone an alteration. The chief improvement is the removal of the chandeliers from the boxes, and the substitution of a very handsome and brilliant chandelier, with sunlight combined, which is pendant from the centre of the ceiling. This is from the manufactory of Messrs. Jones & Co., Covent-garden. With the exception of the lighting, the whole of the new work has been done by Messrs. Green & King, of London. The painting-room has a frame 42 ft. by 32 ft., which travels up and down at the painter's pleasure. There are also two painting bridges 26 ft. long, which move up and down, and carry the artist to the height of 30 ft., if required. The depth of the stage from the foot-lights to the back is 58 ft. the width from wall to wall 62 ft., which does not include the large scene dock, which is 40 ft. by 30 ft. The height from stage to gridiron is 60 ft. the depth from the stage to the magazine floor is 10 ft. from the magazine floor to the cellar is 16 ft., which makes 26 ft., from the stage to the cellar. Over the scene dock is the carpenter's shop, and under it is the working property-shop. At the back of the scene dock is a large furniture-room for the storage of furniture. Mr. Day, of the Prince of Wales' Theatre, Liverpool, erected the stage. - The Builder, August 31st 1867.

In 1895 the auditorium and FOH were reconstructed in concrete and iron by Walter Emden and W. Lister Newcombe. Emden's auditorium was created within the shell of Benjamin Green's original but the original rotunda, which resembled that of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was retained. However, this was not a successful reconstruction and the site lines and acoustics were said to have been pretty poor. Perhaps it was fortunate then that the Theatre would be destroyed by fire only a few years later on the morning of the 24th of November 1899.

The ERA reported on the destruction of the Theatre in their 25th of November 1899 edition saying: 'In the early hours of Friday morning it was observed by a passerby that smoke was issuing from the building of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-on-Tyne. An alarm was immediately given at the Central Police-station close by, and the fire brigades were at once called out, and, under the charge of Superintendent Evans and Chief Fireman Swanton, were soon on the scene with a couple of tender's and a small fire escape.

The scenery entrance in Shakeapeare-street was broken open, and it was found that the whole of the stage was a-glare. It was soon seen that it was of very little use trying to save the interior, as the flames spread so rapidly. Before half-past one it was evident that the force of water was quite inadequate to subdue the conflagration; but the plucky firemen for some time concentrated their efforts upon the region of the dressing-rooms, which had become one great sheet of flame. Despite their efforts, the fire soon spread to the roof. The firemen still held gallantly on, but it was soon seen that they must confine their labours to saving the adjoining premises. Unfortunately, by some mischance, no steam fire-engine arrived upon the scene until quite an hour and a-half had elapsed.

The neighbouring streets presented at two O'clock in the morning a curious spectacle. Ladies who had evidently just quitted the ballroom were jostled by dwellers from the poorer parts of the city. Surrounding the theatre there are several dwelling-houses; and as the flames increased the occupants, aroused by the police, appeared in the street in the scantiest of raiment.

By three o'clock the flames extended along the whole of the roof, throwing into vivid and striking relief the fine architectural features of the front. By the persistent and well - directed efforts of the brigade the fire was happily confined to the theatre. The dressing-rooms and rear of the stage were heavily stocked with the usual theatrical properties, and contained many of the themes and scenery of Mr Robert Arthur's forthcoming pantomime of Aladdin, and also Mr F. R. Benson's extensive and valuable wardrobe of Shakespearian and classical costumes and scenery. The personal wardrobe of the artistes engaged in Mr Benson's company has been destroyed.

Among the last to leave the theatre on the previous night was Mr Jalland, who stated that when he left the building at half-past eleven everything appeared to be all right. About an hour later a constable, on his round, noticed nothing amiss. Mr F. T. Lingham, Mr Arthur's resident manager, was early summoned to the scene of disaster, but the flames had then got a thorough hold, and he could do little more than direct the attention of the firemen to the various rooms. The theatre presents an awful scene of devastation. The whole of the portion behind the proscenium is a mass of black and charred remains, nothing remaining except the loose walls; and the auditorium, as seen from what remains of the circle, pesents an almost indescribable picture of wreck. The dome has fallen entirely in; and the great beams and rafters are all charred, whilst the private boxes are entirely demolished, the only portion remaining intact being the extreme back of the auditorium. The damage must amount to many thousands of pounds. Mr Lingham however, with the help of Mr Benson and others managed to secure the safe and the office books.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 25th of November 1899.

A Google StreetView image of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView image of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Click to Interact

Despite the seriousness of the fire and the devastation to the auditorium the exterior walls of the Theatre remained standing and so it wasn't long before plans were drawn up, this time by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, to rebuild the Theatre. Matcham constructed a new auditorium in the French Renaissance style, finished in white and gold and relieved by crimson draperies and rich crimson wall colourings, within the walls of the original Theatre and enlarged the building by the inclusion of land which was purchased either side of the earlier Theatre. The new Theatre Royal opened on New Years Eve, Tuesday the 31st of December 1901 with a production of the pantomime 'The Forty Thieves' preceded by the company singing 'God Save the King'.

The Theatre Royal, Newcastle during the run of Can-Can on the 5th of March 1956 - Courtesy Gerry AtkinsThe Stage Newspaper reported on the opening of the new Theatre Royal in their January the 2nd, 1902 edition saying: 'The rebuilding of the Royal - which, it will be remembered, was burnt down in November, 1899 - is now completed. It was hoped to open the new house on Boxing Night, but this was found impossible, and the occasion had to be delayed until Tuesday evening. An army of workmen have been employed day and night putting the finishing touches on what is undoubtedly one of the largest and handsomest theatres in the kingdom. The proprietors purchased the property on both sides of the old building, including that on the right towards Shakespeare Street, a portion of which is given up to the enlargement of the theatre, with the result of a valuable increase in the width and depth.

Right - The Theatre Royal, Newcastle during the run of Can-Can on the 5th of March 1956 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.

In the plans, prepared by Mr. Frank Matcham, the well-known theatrical architect, the fine classic front of the old Royal has been little interfered with, but a great improvement has been effected by the formation of new lobby entrances, and over these the saloon is extended, so that a very imposing addition is obtained, and, lighted as it is by electricity; the old dismal appearance of the theatre front at night time is gone, and brightness and attractiveness reign. The Shakespeare Street frontage is also improved by extra entrances and exits; which have been introduced for the safety and - comfort of - both patrons and artists, this embracing a block of dressing-rooms.

The greatest transformation, however necessarily occurs in the interior. From Grey Street, in which the main entrances are situated, handsome polished mahogany doors open into a lobby, the walls and floors of which are lined with marble; and further doors open into a grand vestibule, the walls of which are divided into bays bv Pavanazza marble pilasters, with solid gilded caps, and the space between filled with rich polished mahogany framing. Over this a frieze, finished in repousse copper work, is carried, surrounding a heavy moulded and enriched ceiling, divided into panels, the centre one being filled in with a beautiful oil painting, representing Literature, Drama, and Arts, crowned by Glory and Fortune. On the left a mahogany screen divides the upper circle entrance from the vestibule, the large pay office doing duty for this and other parts of the house. An extension on the right contains a wide white marble staircase, having wrought iron scrolled ballustrading on one side and the mahogany wall lining carried up as a dado on the other. Electroliors and dainty wall-brackets and elegant shades are introduced, throwing a warm light over the whole. Marble columns are carried up to the first floor, and through arches the foyer at the back of the dress-circle is approached. A large and daintily-decorated ladies' retiring-room leads through a draped opening off this landing, and is admirably placed, so as to prevent any crush at this point. The staircase is lighted by a large window from Grey Street, the walls being finished in rose-pink and the ceiling artistically decorated. Mahogany doors open into the foyer, which has a richly-decorated domed ceiling. The woodwork here is finished in white and gold, the doors at the end open into each side of the dress-circle promenade, and the middle seats are approached by a centre doorway. Over the ends of the saloon are large panels containing the bows of a Viking ship, the chain-holes in the front sending out rays of light, which will prove very effective. The grand saloon is divided from the foyer by a beautifully-designed screen, and the saloon is extended beyond the limits of the main front wall by an annex having a glass and iron domed ceiling.

The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 2002 - Courtesy Gareth PriceThis part of the building shows very careful planning by the architect, as every available inch of space has been utilised to make the saloon roomy and attractive. A wide staircase from the back of the dress-circle conducts to the stalls through a foyer having a mosaic floor and domed ceiling The upper circle has a separate lobby and staircase, is furnished with retiring-rooms for ladies and gentlemen, and a fine saloon fitted and furnished with every requisite. The pit is approached from Shakespeare Street instead of the other side - Market Street, as formerly - through a wide opening at the rear, and from this a few steps lead to a large saloon under the grand vestibule.

Left - The Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 2002 - Courtesy Gareth Price.

This is lined with Faience tile work, the floor being in mosaic, and the ceiling finished in light tints, and is thoroughly well ventilated. The gallery entrance is also in Shakespeare Street, as of yore, and this part of the house has had special consideration from the architect, the view from every seat being perfect. There is a good smoking saloon, and retiring-rooms are provided, so that the patrons of this part of the house are practically as comfortably placed as in the higher-priced seats.

The seating accommodation may be briefly described. The upper circle contains seven rows of seats: upholstered in velvet, being divided by arms, so that each person has ample room. The sight line here, again, is everything that can be desired, and as the theatre is built on the cantilever principle, without columns, a clear view is obtained from every seat. The dress-circle contains eight rows of lounge tip-up seats, the long sweeping lines of the front adopted by the architect adding grace and beauty to the auditorium. The ground floor is divided into pit, pit-stalls, and orchestra stalls. There are eight large, handsomely-decorated and furnished private boxes, approached from either side of the dress circle by arcading at the back and down the sides of the circle - a novel feature introduced by Mr. Matcham , securing the privacy of those passing to the boxes.

The decorations of this up-to-date theatre are carried out from the designs of Mr. Matcham, and are of an artistic though quiet character. The main ceiling is of an oblong shape, subdivided into panels, the large centre one being outlined with eighty-two small electric lamps. The side panelling is enriched by ornamental work, and a large amount of open ventilating panelling is introduced, so arranged for the special plenum scheme of ventilation and heating, which warms and purifies the whole air without draughts. Handsome electric fittings hang from the main points of the ceiling, while the rib under the main cove is also dotted with electric lamps. The inner border of the proscenium is of solid marble, with an enriched outer border in gold all round, giving the appearance of a huge picture-frame. A very fine modelled bas-relief with figures surmounts this frame, representing Literature, Arts, and Music paying homage to Shakespeare. The fronts of the three tiers are panelled out and decorated, and the handsome electric brackets give a very charming effect. The whole of the decorations, which are in modern French Renaissance, are finished in white and gold, relieved by crimson draperies and rich crimson wall colouring, which give dignity and warmth to the whole interior.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, January 2nd, 1902.

An early postcard of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

Above - An early postcard of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle

A photograph of Robert Arthur - From the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.The new Theatre Royal opened on New Years Eve, Tuesday the 31st of December 1901 with a production of the pantomime 'The Forty Thieves' preceded by the company singing 'God Save the King'. The Theatre was run from its opening by its managing director and largest shareholder Robert Arthur, who had been operating the former Theatre since 1895 until it burnt down.

Right - A photograph of Robert Arthur - From the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.

The 1904 'Arthurian Annual', which was a book presenting details of all Robert Arthur's productions and Theatres for the previous year, carried an article about the Theatre Royal's 1903 productions with accompanying photographs of the Theatre and some artists. This gives a wonderful glimpse of how these Theatres were run in the early 1900s and what sort of productions were produced in them. I have transcribed the text from this article, and included the photographs, below:

"Not in its long history has the Theatre Royal enjoyed a time of sustained popularity to compare with that of the dramatic season of the year 1903, which marks, up to the present time at any rate, the height of Mr Robert Arthur's success as a manager.

Photographs from the Arthurian Annual of 1904 on the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.The unbroken succession of London favourites and new plays seen at the historic house in Grey Street constituted the highest possible tribute to the enterprise, the determination, and the influence of the lessee of the Theatre Royal in the dramatic world to-day.

Right - Photographs from the Arthurian Annual of 1904 on the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.

Looking back over the dramatic season, one can recall that the Spring bookings were opened with a production of the new comedy, THE BISHOP'S MOVE, presented by Mr Arthur Bourchier's company, which was welcomed as an agreeable variant after the long Pantomime season. Mr F. R. Benson's Shakespearean Company fulfilled a week's engagement, playing, in addition to HAMLET, TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Lytton's RICHELIEU, and Sheridan's great comedy, THE RIVALS.

A very successful fortnight followed with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, whose repertoire included works from such diverse schools as those indicated by CARMEN and TANNHAUSER, FAUST, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, PAGLIACCI, and CINQ, MARS. Mr Weedon Grossmith drew laughing audiences when he reappeared in that amusing story of modern high life below stairs, THE NIGHT OF THE PARTY ; and mirth and melody reigned supreme on the occasion of a return to the Theatre Royal, after an absence of some years, of THE BELLE OF NEW YORK.

From the Savoy Theatre came Miss Kitty Loftus in NAUGHTY NANCY, and the popular comedian, Mr Arthur Roberts, in BILL ADAMS. Easter week saw Mr and Mrs Kendal once more at the Theatre Royal, where they presented a new play, in addition to the pretty and sentimental ELDER Miss BLOSSOM. Again A COUNTRY MOUSE caused great merriment. Then came Miss Olga Nethersole in the lavishly staged SAPHO. The return of Mr Wilson Barrett was remarkable for the enormous and enthusiastic audience attracted by THE SILVER KING. Whitsuntide saw a revival of the light Opera, THE DANDY FIFTH, with which the regular booking at the Royal was brought to a close.

The August Bank Holiday saw the re-opening for the season with a powerful company in Mr Henry Arthur-Jones' newest Comedy, the curiously named WHITE-WASHING JULIA. As a change, there was a fortnight of melodrama, the plays presented being SHERLOCK HOLMES and ONE OF THE BEST, the latter being acted by Mr Robert Arthur's company. With no little interest was the visit of Mrs Brown Potter awaited. She brought a new play, CHURCH AND STAGE, written by the Rev. Forbes Phillips, Vicar of Gorlestone, and formerly curate of All Saints', Newcastle. This was one of the first cities in which the piece was staged, and Newcastle showed its appreciation by according Mrs Brown Potter very liberal patronage, and the play a friendly reception. KITTY GREY, always popular here, had a new exponent of the title part, and there was no doubt of the success of Miss Queenie Leighton in the role of the frolicsome Kitty.

Crowded houses, weeping skies day and night notwithstanding, were the rule when the actual Savoy Theatre company made their first appearance at the Theatre Royal. MERRIE ENGLAND was mounted for three nights, and the more recent production, A PRINCESS OF KENSINGTON, for the rest of the week.

Mr Martin Harvey and his London Company followed a week of Mr Hall Caine's ETERNAL CITY. Again Mr Harvey's Sydney Carton in THE ONLY WAY thrilled as of old. During this engagement, which extended over a fortnight, three novelties were staged. One being THE EXILE, a play written around the magnetic figure of Napoleon in captivity at St. Helena ; and the other in an adaptation from a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, entitled In AND LITTLE CHRISTINA.

Photographs from the Arthurian Annual of 1904 on the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.For the opening of the second week of his engagement at the Theatre Royal Mr Martin Harvey appeared for the first time on any stage in a play of the Royalist Wars, with the name of THE BREED OF THE TRESHAMS. This had a splendid first night's performance, and achieved a success that was repeated with emphasis at every representation that followed. In acknowledging the acclamations of the crowded and delighted audience on the final fall of the curtain, Mr Harvey did not forget to pay a graceful and genuine tribute to Mr Lingham, resident manager for Mr Robert Arthur, and to all the staff of the Theatre Royal for their willing and valued assistance in the production of the new play.

Left - Photographs from the Arthurian Annual of 1904 on the Theatre Royal, Newcastle - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.

One of the most attractive engagements of the season, and that perhaps which gave the daintiest and most finished representation of the year, was that of Mr Lewis Waller in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. This was Mr Waller's first appearance at the Theatre Royal after a prolonged absence, and the proof of how welcome the enormous advance booking indicated ; the business at the box-office constituting a record for the house. None who witnessed this brilliant impersonation, the artistic thoroughness of which made ample amends for the slightness and artificiality of the story, will forget it. With undisguised satisfaction the crowded audiences hailed the final triumph of the imperturable "hairdresser," when to the dismay of the snobbish society of Bath he was solemnly introduced in his true status as " Prince Louis-Phillipe de Valois, Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Chartres, Duke of Nemours, Duke of Montpensier, First Prince of the Blood-Royal, First Peer of France, Lieutenant - General of French Infantry, Governor of Dauphine, Knight of the Golden Fleece, Grand Master of the Order of Notre Dame of Mount Carmel, and of St. Lazarus ; and cousin to His Most Christian Majesty, Louis the Fifteenth King of France."

There followed Miss Marie Tempest, sweet singer turned to merriest of comediennes, in THE MARRIAGE OF KITTY, which admirably acted trifle splendidly sustained the flood-tide of fortune at the Theatre Royal. QUALITY STREET, one of Mr J. M. Barrie's new comedies, had a first Newcastle representation in the next week, and the end of October saw Miss Julia Neilson and Mr Fred Terry again drawing crowded houses with Paul Kester's romance of Nell Gwyn and the merry monarch, Charles.

A production of DANTE followed for the first week in November. With a repertoire of old and new plays Mrs Patrick Campbell was the next " star " at the Royal, where ever since her first success in Newcastle as Paula in THE SECOND MRS TANQUERAY she has been a favourite but somewhat infrequent visitor. Another new play to north country audiences was seen when. Mrs Lewis Waller gave her well-known impersonation of Zaza. A return visit of Mr Martin Harvey for one week with THE BREED OF THE TRESHAMS, and with the tuneful and diverting production, A CHINESE HONEYMOON, the dramatic season of 1903 was brought to a close with a succession of crowded houses.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly Donated by Shirley Cowdrill.

Sadly in later years Robert Arthur's Company, Arthur Theatres Co Ltd, would get into major loses and Arthur himself would be bankrupted by 1910. The Company continued however, under new directors chaired by Michael Simons of Glasgow, who from 1912 ran it as an associate company of Howard & Wyndham Ltd which was chaired by Michael Simons. Robert Arthur's major Theatres, including the Theatre Royal Newcastle, were then programmed and eventually directly owned (from the 1930s onwards) by Howard & Wyndham Ltd until the late 1960s. - This information Courtesy Graeme Smith.

During 1987 and 1988 many structural alterations and repairs were carried out at the Theatre. This involved sweeping away the foyers and the many staircases, reconstructing the circles, adding new building services, and installing new production engineering, including a new flying system, and replacing the seating. A completely new rear of house structure and extension was also constructed adding a new rehearsal room and other facilities to the building. The work was carried out by Bovis Construction coordinated by project manager Chris Purves and his (now) wife, Jacqueline Bleach RIBA, who was the projects architect for RHWL Architects. J. Michael Grayson was the Theatre Director at the time.

In 2011 the Theatre Royal was the subject of a major restoration which included the restoration of Matcham's 1901 auditorium by reprinting the original wallpapers, reinstating missing tiles, recreating the original carpet designs, replacing the gold leaf in the auditorium, and using specialist workshops to reproduce the period light fittings, brassware and ornamentation. The seating of the auditorium was reconfigured at the same time to create seating in the style of the 1901 design but with the comfort of modern day requirements. The lighting, air conditioning, ladies toilets, and backstage facilities were also improved. Externally the portico, which dates from the original 1837 building, was repaired and restored, and new architectural lighting was installed to show it off to its best advantage. The restoration took six months and the Theatre reopened in September 2011.

The Theatre Royal's owners today say of its heritage and its current policy: 'The Grade I Listed Theatre today is both neo-classical monument and cultural engine, with an annual audience of 337,000 and over 380 performances each year. The third home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, alongside Stratford-upon-Avon and London, its programme is rich and varied featuring world-class drama, including National Theatre productions, an Opera North Season, and a rich array of contemporary dance, musicals and comedy.'

You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

Archive newspaper articles on this page were collated by myself and B.F.

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

The Newcastle Theatre Royal by Graeme Smith

Britain's Premier Theatre Circuit listing - Howard & Wyndham Ltd, 1954, including the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, as shown on the rear cover of programme - Courtesy Graeme Smith.For over a century the premier Theatres of the Newcastle area worked closely with those of Glasgow and Edinburgh. This artistic and touring triangle was mutually beneficial, whether to the new Limited Companies being formed and quoted on Stock Exchanges, including Howard & Wyndham Ltd, Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd., Moss Empires Ltd or smaller groupings of Theatres and Cinemas but not quoted on stock exchanges. Trade and commerce boomed in the triangle.

Right - Britain's Premier Theatre Circuit listing - Howard & Wyndham Ltd, 1954, including the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, as shown on the rear cover of programme - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

As well as operating the Theatre Royal in Hope Street, Glasgow, William Glover and George Francis extended their business interests to Newcastle and other places on both sides of the border. They became the lessees and managers of the prestigious Theatre Royal with its classical frontage in Grey Street for the years 1871 to 1878, five years before James Howard and Fred Wyndham became managers of it. Its interior had been designed by Charles Phipps in 1867 when Edward D. Davis of Newcastle was leasing it from the committee of shareholders. His tenure from 1845 to 1870 was the longest in the 19th century and he added to his bow the management of Theatres in Sunderland from 1854.

An image of Wiiliam Glover - Courtesy Graeme Smith.In the management of Newcastle's Theatre Royal Glover and Francis held the Royal Charter in their names. They produced their own successful pantomimes and introduced Newcastle's citizens to the works of the aspiring Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert (in that order in the programmes) with D'Oyly Carte as stage manager, and presented Shakespeare's plays with Henry Irving and others. Unfortunately, they spent more on their quality productions than their revenue and were bankrupted in 1878, with Glover returning to Glasgow and concentrating on the Royal there.

Left - An image of Wiiliam Glover - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

An image of Charles Bernard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.They were followed in 1878 in Newcastle by lessee Charles Bernard who owned and profitably operated his Gaiety Theatre in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street where his actress wife became manageress, and her sister funded his expansion in Manchester. Contemporaries in Newcastle write of the five good pantomimes Bernard produced, appearing in two of them 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Dick Whittington'. Pantomimes ran for the same length in Newcastle as in Glasgow, usually around 11 weeks.

Right - An image of Charles Bernard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He brought to the town the early Savoy operas of 'HMS Pinafore', 'Sorcerer', and the 'Pirates of Penzance', and had developed his own Comic Opera Company (which toured as far south as Eastbourne.) At Newcastle, Bernard made a loss to begin with but turned it around financially, assuming a Mr Gray as 50:50 partner and latterly making £1,000 profit a year. He was bankrupted in 1882, in Glasgow, because of his large losses arising at the Glasgow Theatre Royal which he leased in his over-ambitious expansion period.

Mr Howard and Mr Wyndham - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Mr Howard and Mr Wyndham, (shown left) with their new partnership in Edinburgh and Glasgow making its mark, now became the lessees of the Theatre Royal, Newcastle from May 1883, for a period of four years, extended again until 1895, when in Mr Wyndham's words at the Farewell performance there "was a little misunderstanding with the proprietors." (Howard and Wyndham had been planning to run the Royal and Tyne in conjunction, in association with Sir Augustus Harris). The next lease was won by a former employee at Glasgow's Theatre Royal, and its Royalty Theatre in Sauchiehall Street, Robert Arthur who was now in charge of Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee and of Her Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. The new lessee had won the contract during 1894 when the shareholders approved the total rebuilding of the Newcastle Royal's interior, and his offer of £1,500 pa was higher than that of Howard and Wyndham. On its opening, in 1895, even the colour scheme was the same as his Dundee Theatre. An experienced stage manager, Robert Arthur had branched out on his own in the 1880s, and was buying and leasing a number of Theatres in Scotland and England, including four in London. He took over Newcastle with great success. More about Robert Arthur's career can be seen here.

An image of Joseph Cowen MP - Courtesy Graeme Smith.By contrast Howard & Wyndham Ltd, newly constituted under the direction of Michael Simons of Glasgow, took over the less fortunate Tyne Theatre, which had been started by Joseph Cowen junior, who became the radical Liberal MP for Newcastle. Business across the Howard & Wyndham Theatres was good, apart from the loss-making Tyne Theatre in Newcastle which would be disposed of as soon as possible, which would be some two decades later.

Right - An image of Joseph Cowen MP - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

An image of Robert Arthur - Courtesy Graeme Smith.For almost three years from 1909, Arthur's company and Simons' company had an agreement for the joint management of the Newcastle Theatres, and the booking by Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd. of Howard & Wyndham Theatres when touring in Scotland. In May 1909 George T. Minshull was promoted to joint managing director of Simons' company, to share the load carried by Fred Wyndham, and pantomimes at Newcastle and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow for each of the next three winters were Robert Arthur productions.

Left - An image of Robert Arthur - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

With a number of new Theatres, and its large mortgages increasing, Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd. saw its profits shrink by the year 1908 and become losses by 1910. Arthur's shareholders invited Michael Simons and David Heilbron to become directors, with Simons confirmed as chairman in 1912. Robert Arthur resigned and was replaced as managing director by Fred Wyndham. Arthur had remained the largest shareholder in his company but because of his debts he now sold all his shares, mainly taken up by Miss Jane Cowen of Gateshead, daughter of the late Joseph Cowen MP, from whom Arthur had borrowed to stay afloat.

An image of Michael Simons - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Simons changed the Arthur head office from London to the Theatre Royal Newcastle and appointed his secretaries Greig, Carter & Co, of Edinburgh, as secretaries to Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd. In September 1912 Howard & Wyndham Ltd took over the management of all Robert Arthur Theatres in Britain. Some thirty years later Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd, as a legal entity, was wound up – the last of the Newcastle subscription shareholders paid off – and the building now changing its title deeds to Howard & Wyndham Ltd, chaired by A Stewart Cruikshank.

Right - An image of Michael Simons - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A Newcastle Theatre Royal programme cover under the management of Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Newcastle's elegant Theatre Royal, shown in splendid floodlight here was a firmament in Howard & Wyndham's programming for over 60 years in the 20th century, and from the 1960's onwards also became a performing base for Scottish Opera founded in Glasgow by Sir Alexander Gibson and, from the 1970s onwards, for Scottish Ballet, also founded in Glasgow, each having sell-out subscription series twice a year. It was only after a new Scottish Arts Council was formed in the mid 1990s, breaking from the GB Arts Council, that Newcastle was allowed to disappear from shared performances, to the chagrin of its theatre-goers.

Left - A Newcastle Theatre Royal programme cover under the management of Howard & Wyndham Ltd - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Newcastle's City Library holds extensive archives of the Theatre Royal including playbills, diary entries, bill-board posters, programmes, and biographies and many more historical 'treats and treasures' from 1781 to the present time.

The above article on the Theatre Royal, Newcastle was written for this site by Graeme Smith in January 2018.

The Theatre Royal, Newcastle

From a Magazine Programme for the Tivoli Cinema, Strand London

In the early days in Newcastle, the performing of stage plays was a matter of some difficulty, and in order to escape the jurisdiction of the Magistrates, for a long time plays were acted at the Moothall, which, though within Newcastle, is outside the liberties of the town.

In the Weekly Flying post of January 10th, 1656, we read "On the 28th December, a cluster of lewd fellows advertising to act a comedy within the precincts and bounds of this town, daring, as it were, authority and outfacing justice; our vigilant magistrates, hearing of it, resolved to set a boundary to their sinful courses and clip the harvest of their hopes; concluding such enormities the proper nurseries of impiety and therefore they repaired to the place, where having begun.

Alderman Robert Johnson, Mr. Sheriff, and divers godly men step in to see their sport. But their sudden approach changed the scene both of their play and countenances, so that the interlude, proving ominous, boded no less than a tragedy to the actors, turning the play into a tragi-comedy. After they had done they were apprehended and examined before the Mayor and other justices of the Peace, and found guilty of being common players of interludes, according to the statute made in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and according to law adjudged to be whipped which accordingly was performed in the public market place"

For a few years from 1735, the Edinburgh 'Company performed in a booth in the Castle Yard, and in 1747 the Turk's Head Long Room in the Bigg Market was used as a theatre by a Y o r k Company of players under one Baker, and was known as t h e Theatre in the Bigg Market. This was used for forty years.

The subject of the erection of a new theatre was brought before a public meetting in December, 1784, and it was decided to build a new theatre at an estimated cost of £2,000. At a meeting in July following, the site and plans were determined on and it was decided to take steps to obtain a Royal Patent. letters Patent were granted in 1787 which enabled the promoters to call the theatre the Theatre Royal. The new theatre was opened in January, 1788, having cost about £6,000 instead of £2,000 as first estimated.

The first managers were Austin and Whitlock, who had previously been managers of the Turk's Head Theatre. After a year Austin retired and Whitlock took in as a partner Munden, the comedian who was immortalised by Charles Lamb. (See Token below). In 1792, the Theatre Royal was taken over over by Stephen Kemble, of whom it is related that he became so stout that he could play Falstaff without padding. Kemble retired in 1805 and the theatre passed to William Macready.

A Token commemorating the life of Joseph Sheppard Munden - Courtesy Alan Judd. A Token commemorating the life of Joseph Sheppard Munden - Courtesy Alan Judd.


Above - A Token commemorating the life of Joseph Sheppard Munden - Courtesy Alan Judd. Inscription reads: 'Life is all that philosophy can teach the mind - To cheer the sinking heart and create a moral - English Comedian, Exposer of Folly, and Dispellor of Spleen, Aged 40, 1799.

The present Theatre Royal in Grey Street was built in 1837, and the old Theatre Royal in Mosley Street was pulled down. The new Theatre Royal was seriously damaged by fire in November, 1899, and the interior was reconstructed on modern lines.

The above text is from a Magazine Programme for the Tivoli Cinema, Strand London.

You may also be interested in reading the follwoing articles on this site relating to Newcastle Theatres:

Newcastle Theatre - A personal reminiscence by Donald Auty.

Pantomimes in Newcastle 50 Years Ago by Donald Auty.

Moss Empires' Theatres in the Fifties by Donald Auty.

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

Other Pages that may be of Interest