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The Theatre Royal Haymarket Auditorium alterations by C. J. Phipps in 1880

Official description published for circulation

Among the audience on the opening night, Saturday 31 January 1880

About The Theatre Royal Haymarket - About C. J. Phipps

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1880 - Courtesy Robert Whelan.

Above - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, as it was rebuilt by the architect C. J. Phipps in 1880. Phipps removed the pit entirely, replacing it with stalls, and inserted a gilded picture-frame around the proscenium arch. The frame is still there today, although its bottom section was removed soon after installation, probably because it was muffling the sound of the orchestra. This image was first published in 1909 in The Bancrofts 'Recollections of Sixty Years'. Gorel Garlick, the biographer of C. J. Phipps, believes this to be a photograph, made for the Bancrofts' book, of a watercolour (now lost) by Phipps. Phipps was in the habit of providing his clients with watercolours before starting work to enable them to envisage what the finished commission would look like - Image and Caption Courtesy Robert Whelan.

The auditory is arranged in five divisions; all approached from the frontage in the Haymarket, and special attention has been paid to the various means of ingress and egress for the public. The stalls, balcony and private boxes are entered by three doorways under the portico opening into the vestibule, in which are the booking offices. A wide flight of stone steps leads from the left of this vestibule down to the stalls, and there is a corresponding staircase on the right side from the corridor of the balcony. This corridor is three steps above the vestibule, so that the balcony, which occupies the same position as the dress circle in the old theatre, is still kept on the same relative level with the street.

The first circle on [the] first floor is approached through a separate doorway under the portico by a wide flight of stone steps. The second circle is approached from the upper doorway outside the portico by a stone staircase. The gallery is approached by the lower doorway outside the portico, also by a stone staircase. The various staircases are entirely rebuilt, of easy ascent with level landings and without winding steps. The auditory still retains the distinguishing feature of the old theatre by having the balcony nearly level with the stage, but it has been advanced considerably nearer the proscenium, consequently lessening the centre area, which now only admits of the requisite number of stalls being placed in it. The two doorways to the stalls are adjoining the pillars of the proscenium boxes and are made features of the design. The first circle recedes so as to leave several rows of the balcony seats free and open. Behind the balcony are five private boxes and two large boxes at the sides. The second circle also recedes a little from the tier below, so that in every case the occupants of the first rows of seats have nothing between them and the main ceiling of the auditorium...

A painting depicting the Auditorium and Stage of the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1880 by George Richmond. The painting is based on the black and white photograph, shown above, of a water colour painting by the Architect C. J. Phipps, now lost. The colours used are those suggested in the contemporary article from the Morning Post transcribed on this page - Click for an Index to all of George Richmond's Paintings on this site.

Above - A painting depicting the Auditorium and Stage of the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1880 by George Richmond. The painting is based on the black and white photograph, shown above, of a water colour painting by the Architect C. J. Phipps, now lost. The colours used are those suggested in the contemporary article from the Morning Post transcribed on this page - Click for an Index to all of George Richmond's Paintings on this site.

...The scheme of the auditory is original and unlike any other theatre in the country. The proscenium, the arrangement of which was suggested by Mr. Bancroft, is a massive and elaborately gilded frame, complete on all sides, the lower part forming the front of the stage and concealing the orchestra, which is placed underneath. On either side of this frame are three tiers of proscenium boxes enclosed between columns and surmounted by Corinthian capitals. The same arrangement of columns is repeated at the angles of the square furthest removed from the proscenium, forming three boxes on either side of the three tiers. From these columns a series of vaulted arches support a circular ceiling and in the tympanum of each arch are figure subjects. The most important, over the proscenium (painted by F. Smith), exemplifies the following lines form Milton's Comus:

"Brightest Lady, look on me
Thus, I sprinkle on your breast
Drops, that from my fountain pure
I have kept, of precious cure."

On the frieze below is the motto: "Summa ars est eclare artem". The four lunettes in the arches on either side are filled with the following subjects from Shakespeare's plays:

1. The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene II, by J. D. Watson. "So may the outwards shows be least themselves, the world is still deceived with ornament."

2. Measure for Measure, Act 4, Scene I, by F. Smith. "Break off thy song and haste thee quick away."

3. As You Like It, Act 2, Scene I, by F. Smith. "Poor deer, quoth he, thou mak'st a testament, As wordlings do, giving thy sum of more To that which had too much."

4. All's Well that Ends Well, Act 2, Scene I, by J.D. Watson.. "Here is my hand; the promises observ'd, thy will by my performance shall be serv'd."

5. Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene III by, J. D. Watson."What's here? A cup clos'd in my true love's hand?"

6. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene I, by F. Smith."Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful."

7. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene II, by J. D. Watson. "Why then we'll make exchange; here, take you this, and seal the bargain with a holy kiss."

8. Othello, Act 1, Scene III, by F. Smith. "Wherein I spoke of most disastrous chances; of moving accidents by flood and field."

In the five lunettes immediately over the proscenium are figures of the following muses: Terpsichore, Enterpe, Thalia, Erate, Melpomene, painted by T. Ballard.

The style adopted for the interior is Italian Renaissance. The general tone of the decoration is an ivory white, with all the mouldings and ornamentation gilded. The upholstery, seating and carpets being crimson and the walls of rose colour, the pattern specially designed, the curtains to the private boxes are of ivory coloured satin trimmed with gold fringe. The painted ornamentation upon the ceiling and round the lunettes is gold upon a delicate faun [sic] colour ground with grey sparingly used on the ceiling.

The front to the second circle has the panels filled with small allegorical figure-subjects by T. Ballard, on a gold ground, representing Dancing, Satire, Tragedy, Dressing, painting, going to the Play, Comedy, Coming from the Play, Poetry, Farce, Authorship. The panels of the first circle are filled with recumbent Shakespearian figures, seven painted by J. D. Watson, namely Touchstone, Caliban, Launce and his dog, Orlando, Cleopatra, Imogen, Hamlet; and six by F. Smith, namely, Timon, Malvolio, Ariel, Ophelia, Titania, Desdemona, all on gold ground. The front of the balcony is ornamented with acanthus leaf gilded.

The stalls and balcony are fitted with arm chairs and upholstered in crimson velvet. The curtains and carpets of velvet pile harmonise with the papers.

Below the entrance vestibule and balcony there is a foyer, from which on either side a wide corridor leads to the stalls. Adjoining the foyer is a refreshment saloon, painted and fitted up in the oriental manner. The floor of the entrance vestibule is of marble mosaic in an elaborate design, the centre formed by the Imperial crown, surrounded by the Rose, shamrock and Thistle, and the name of the Theatre in a border. In the vestibule the prevailing tone is olive green, with ornaments in gold and blue, and the panels in doors and fanlights are filled stained glass in gilded lead frames. On the levels of the first circle, second circle and gallery are refreshment-saloons and retiring-rooms for both ladies and gentlemen.

The auditory is lighted by one of Strode's sunlights. The new stage has been fitted with the usual machinery and this part of the building has been separated from the auditory by a solid cement concrete wall, taken from cellar to roof.'

The reporter's comments: 'The theatre, thus ingeniously designed and richly ornamented, has an air of almost palatial splendour. So does it glow and glitter with gold that it looks like a temple of Plutus; yet, effulgent as is the general effect, the treatment is so artistic as to ensure perfect harmony of tone'.

The above article was first published in The Morning Post, 2nd of February 1880, and was kindly sent in by the Architectural Historian Görel Garlick in September 2018.

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