Royal Strand Theatre
|Royal Strand Theatre|
2nd Anniversary Souvenir from A Chinese Honeymoon (1903)
|Owned by||Benjamin Lionel Rayner|
|Opened||15 January 1832|
1858 S. Reynolds and Samuel Field
1865 John Ellis
1882 Charles J. Phipps
|Other names||Barker's Panorama
Rayner's New Subscription Theatre
The New Strand (Subscription) Theatre
Punch's' Playhouse and Marionette Theatre
|Current use||Site occupied by station|
- Aldwych was also home to the later Strand Theatre
The Royal Strand Theatre was located in Strand in the City of Westminster. The theatre was built on the site of a panorama in 1832, and in 1882 was rebuilt by the prolific theatre architect Charles J. Phipps. It was demolished in 1905 to make way for Aldwych tube station.
From 1801, Thomas Edward Barker set up a rival panorama to his father's in Leicester Square, at 168/169 Strand. On the death of Robert Barker, in 1806, his younger brother, Henry Aston Barker took over management of the Leicester Square rotunda. In 1816, Henry bought the panorama in the Strand and the two panoramas were then run jointly until 1831. Their building was then used as a dissenting chapel and was purchased by Benjamin Lionel Rayner, a noted actor in 1832.
Raynor engaged Charles Broad to convert and extend the original building as a theatre. This was built in 1832 in seven weeks, at a cost of £3,000. The theatre opened on 15 January 1832, as Rayner's New Subscription Theatre, with a production of Struggles at Starting. Within weeks, the venture failed and was sold to the actress Harriet Waylett, re-opening as The New Strand (Subscription) Theatre. Again, the theatre lacked support and closed in November 1832. The theatre was re-opened in early 1833 as the New Strand Theatre, by Fanny Kelly – who also based a drama school there. The theatre failed because it was unlicensed, and this put it into competition with London's patent theatres. Presenting plays by subscription was one method of evading the Acts, but tickets could not be sold at the theatre. This was circumvented by selling them at neighbouring shops; and at one point the public were admitted free on purchase of an ounce of rose lozenges for four shillings (stalls), or half an ounce of peppermint drops for two shillings (the pit) from the neighbouring confectioners.
The theatre was again closed under the Patent Acts in March 1835, and the owners brought before the magistrates. It reopened on 25 April 1836, with the necessary licence, under the management of Douglas William Jerrold and James Hammond. The theatre was enlarged in 1836 and a gallery added in 1839. The theatre became the Strand Theatre in 1850, and for a while in 1851 was owned by William Robert Copeland, and known as Punch's' Playhouse and Marionette Theatre. In 1858, the theatre was taken over by William Swanborough and rebuilt at a cost of £7000, opening on 5 April 1858 as the Royal Strand Theatre.
The theatre now began to enjoy some success with Ada Swanborough, performing in H. J. Byron's burlettas featuring a cast that included James Thorne, Edward O'Connor Terry, Miss Raynham, Mrs. Raymond, and Marie Wilton. These began with The Lady of Lyons, or, Twopenny Pride and Pennytence, Fra Diavolo Travestie; or, The Prince, the Pirate and the Pearl, The Maid and the Magpie; or, The Fatal Spoon (an early play to include a dance at the end of a song), and The Babes in the Wood and the Good Little Fairy Birds. The theatre was rebuilt in 1865, re-opening 18 November 1865, destroyed by fire on 21 October 1866 and rebuilt. It then featured the first appearance of the popular pantomime character, Widow Twankey played by James Rogers, in Byron's version Alladin in 1861. It was also home to many successful burlesques and other works in the 1870s, including the hit operettas Madame Favart and Olivette. It also hosted W. S. Gilbert and Frederic Clay's comic opera Princess Toto in 1876.
The theatre was condemned as having inadequate fire precautions and closed 29 July 1882; rebuilt by Charles J. Phipps, re-opening 18 November 1882 – with improved access. Attempts were made to recoup the expenditure through a sale, but this was unsuccessful. The musical comedy A Chinese Honeymoon opened in October 1901 and ran at the theatre for a record breaking 1,075 performances, until closing in 1904.
In the 16th century, Strand had hosted many grand houses, by the River Thames and the area began to be built up. By the end the 18th, it had become a notorious rookery - an overcrowded slum. The area had been unaffected by Great Fire of London and survived with narrow streets, unsuited to the new traffic. A scheme was instituted to build a new road, Kingsway between Holborn and Strand, culminating in a grand crescent, Aldwych. After many false starts, the scheme was begun in 1901 by the London County Council. To go with this a link was built to the tube station at Holborn, and in 1905 the theatre was acquired by Act of Parliament and demolished to enable Aldwych underground station to be constructed on the site. The many actors who were attached to the theatre protested against its deconstruction. The station is now closed but is said to be haunted be an angry actress who still scares people today.
Apart from this theatre, the Olympic, Opera Comique, Globe, Old Gaiety and many others were swept away by the scheme, they were replaced by the Gaiety, Aldwych and New Theatres, and a realignment of the Lyceum.
- From Stage to Platform: The Metamorphosis of the Strand Theatre 1830–1905, Paul Hadley (London Passenger Transport 1984 No. 12 April, pp. 588-593)
- Lee, Amy Wai Sum. "Henry J. Byron", Hong Kong Baptist University
- Royal Strand Theatre, Aldwych (Arthur Lloyd Theatre history) accessed 9 July 2008
- Stedman, p. 142
- Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 250 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
- Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.