|1840 Miss Kelly's Theatre and Dramatic School
1850 (Royal) Soho Theatre
1850 New English Opera House
1861 New Royalty Theatre
|Address||Dean Street, Soho
|Owner||Frances Maria Kelly|
|Type||Theatre and opera|
|Capacity||657 seats (1906)|
|Current use||Site occupied by office block|
|Opened||25 May 1840|
|Closed||25 November 1938|
|Rebuilt||1883 Thomas Verity (alterations)|
The Royalty Theatre was a small London theatre situated at 73 Dean Street, Soho and opened on 25 May 1840 as Miss Kelly's Theatre and Dramatic School and finally closed to the public in 1938. The architect was Samuel Beazley, a resident in Soho Square, who also designed St James's Theatre, among others. An earlier theatre also named the Royalty existed in Wells Street, Wellclose Square, London from 1787 until the early part of the nineteenth century.
The theatre originated with an attempt by the actress Frances Maria Kelly (1790–1882) to establish a dramatic academy, and thereafter it had a long tradition of actress-management. "The theatre was small, obscurely sited, perilously combustible and rarely prosperous for long, partly by reason of its consequent use for occasional or independent ventures, but it housed some productions of note." However, there was a relatively spacious stage, and Beazley's work in the auditorium was thought pretty. The Times described the theatre as "most elegantly fitted up and appointed, and painted in a light tasteful manner". The theatre was designed as a bijou for a fashionable audience, and a box was taken by Queen Adelaide.
On the opening night, three pieces were presented: Summer and Winter, by Morris Barnett; a melodrama, The Sergeant's Wife; and a farce, The Midnight Hour. The opening was unsuccessful, and within a week the theatre was closed. A contributory factor was probably the high admission charges of five or seven shillings. Kelly reopened the theatre, at reduced prices, on 22 February 1841, for a short season of her own monologues, but in the following year illness ended her active use of the theatre.
In 1850 the theatre was reopened as the (Royal) Soho Theatre, after redecoration by W. W. Deane and S. J. Nicholl, changing its name to the New English Opera House from 5 November 1850, and in the following year an entrance portico was built. Various types of productions played at the theatre, including English 'Grand Opera'. Performances were mostly by amateurs, hiring the theatre at standard rates. At other times, the theatre, as "Theatre Français", attracted patrons chiefly among the foreigners in Soho.
In 1861, the direction of the theatre was assumed by Albina di Rhona, "the young Servian artist", a dancer and comic actress. She renamed it the New Royalty Theatre, and had it altered and redecorated by "M. Bulot, of Paris, Decorator in Ordinary to his Imperial Majesty, Louis Napoleon", with "cut-glass lustres, painted panels, blue satin draperies and gold mouldings". Despite a varied opening programme, in which Miss di Rhona danced, the leader of the Boston Brass Band from America executed a bugle solo, and a performance was given by a fourteen-year-old actress named Ellen Terry (later the leading Shakespearean actress of her time), the re-opening was not successful. The theatre was managed, from 1866 to 1870, by Martha Cranmer Oliver, who featured mostly burlesques, including F. C. Burnand's burlesque of Black-eyed Susan, which ran for nearly 500 nights, and a burlesque by W. S. Gilbert, The Merry Zingara.
The theatre was managed by Henrietta Hodson during the early 1870s. She also produced mostly burlesques and comedies, including Gilbert's The Realm of Joy and Ought We to Visit her? In 1872, it became known as the Royalty Theatre and retained this name (although it was occasionally known as the New Royalty Theatre). On 25 March 1875 the theatre, under the direction of Madame Selina Dolaro, enjoyed an historic success with Trial by Jury, the first Gilbert and Sullivan opera to be staged by Richard D'Oyly Carte. It premiered together with Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole and another one-act farce, Cryptoconchoidsyphonostomata. The favourable reception of Trial led Carte to create his own company elsewhere, so it brought no continuing prosperity to the Royalty. In January 1876 at the theatre, Pauline Rita appeared under Carte's management as Gustave Muller in The Duke's Daughter.
The Santley years
In 1877 began the association of the theatre, lasting some thirty years, with Kate Santley, who later seems to have acquired the head lease. Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte joined forces with Santley in January 1877 to present Lischen and Fritzen, Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, and Happy Hampstead by Carte (under the pseudonym Mark Lynne) and his secretary, Frank Desprez. In that year the First Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade strongly recommended to the Metropolitan Board of Works the immediate closure of the theatre. Santley, however, had it reconstructed to designs of architect Thomas Verity, whose plans, providing improved means of egress were approved in 1882. Verity had also designed the Comedy and the Criterion theatres and the Pavilion at Lord’s.
Many of the productions in these years were opera-bouffes adapted from the French. M. L. Mayer, formerly of the Gaiety Theatre, staged twice-yearly seasons of plays in French. The Coquelins and other luminaries of the Comédie-Française appeared here in the 1880s, when the Royalty was 'the recognized home of the Parisian drama.' A threat of closure for safety reasons was averted by a further reconstruction of the theatre in 1883 to provide additional exits. This was designed by Thomas Verity, and Santley was praised for the theatre's renovations. The opening of Shaftesbury Avenue and of new theatres in that neighbourhood, including the Lyric Theatre and the Apollo Theatre, drew audiences away from the little Royalty Theatre in Dean Street, and in the 1890s the Royalty was not prospering. When the theatre finally had a great success, with Brandon Thomas’s play, Charley's Aunt, its popularity led to its transference after only a month to the larger Globe Theatre. Ibsen's Ghosts premièred, to predictable outrage, at the theatre, in a single private London performance on 13 March 1891. The Lord Chamberlain's Office censorship was avoided by the formation of a subscription-only Independent Theatre Society, which included Thomas Hardy and Henry James among its members. Again, for the Society, George Bernard Shaw premièred Widowers' Houses, his first play, here the following year.
In 1895-96 the Royalty's manager was Arthur Bourchier, and the theatre underwent another renovation, by architect Walter Emden. He produced, among other plays, The Chili Widow, an adaptation of his own that ran for over 300 nights. In 1899, the first production of the Incorporated Stage Society took place with the first performance of Shaw's You Never Can Tell. In 1900-01 Mrs. Patrick Campbell hired the theatre and staged a succession of contemporary plays in which she starred, and in 1903-04 Hans Andresen and Max Behrend presented a successful season of German theatre. Also in 1904, the newly founded Irish National Theatre Society gave plays by W. B. Yeats and, in 1905, it presented an early performance of Synge's first play, The Shadow of the Glen. In addition, Philip Carr's Mermaid Society produced Elizabethan and Jacobean plays.
After further rebuilding work and redecoration in French Regency style, which increased the capacity of the theatre to 657 seats, the Royalty reopened on 4 January 1906 with a season of Theatre Français directed by Gaston Mayer. In 1911, J. E. Vedrenne and Dennis Eadie acquired the theatre, and in 1912, they staged Milestones, by Arnold Bennett and Edward Knoblauch (later Knoblock), which had over 600 performances. The Man who Stayed at Home was also a hit in 1914, playing for 584 performances. Henry Daniell starred as Bobby Gilmour in The Man from Toronto at the theatre in May 1918.
A post-war success was the concert-party entertainment, The Co-Optimists, first staged in 1921. The year 1924 saw the first West End production at the theatre of Noël Coward's The Vortex. Ibsen's Pillars of Society played in 1926. The last big success for the Royalty was in 1932 with While Parents Sleep. By 1936 the danger of fire from celluloid stores and other adjacent properties was thought to override the consideration, strongly pressed on the Lord Chamberlain by the licensee, that the theatre had been on the site before the development of inflammatory trades nearby. The last performance was given at a matinee on 25 November 1938, by the Southern Cross Players.
Although several schemes were considered for its rebuilding, the theatre soon became derelict and was damaged in the World War II Blitz. The Royalty was demolished in 1953 and a block of offices, Royalty House, was erected on the site.
A modern Royalty Theatre was opened in the basement of an office block at Portugal Street near Aldwych in 1960. This was bought by the London School of Economics and renamed the Peacock Theatre in 1996. It is a lecture hall by day and a venue for the Sadler's Wells Theatre company by night.
- Royalty Theatre at the Arthur Lloyd site accessed 23 March 2007
- The Pitt Estate in Dean Street: The Royalty Theatre, Survey of London: volumes 33 and 34: St Anne Soho (1966), pp. 215-21 accessed: 23 March 2007
- Wilmot-Buxton, Harry John. "William Clarkson Stanfield", Chapter IX, English Painters, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington (1883), accessed 22 November 2013
- Stone, David. Pauline Rita at Who was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 27 August 2001, accessed 7 June 2009.
- Theatreland Timeline (London Metropolitan Archives) accessed 11 October 2007
- The Independent Theatre (A Glimpse of Theatre History), accessed 15 January 2009
- Who's Who in the Theatre, edited by John Parker, tenth edition, revised, (1947) London, pp. 477–478.
- Sheppard, F H W (ed): Survey of London, Vol XXXIII, Athlone Press, University of London, for the Greater London Council (1966) London.
- The Lost Theatres of London by Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson (1968) London: Rupert Hart-Davis ISBN 0-450-02838-0
- Soho Square and its neighbourhood, Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 184-96
- History of the Royalty Theatre at arthurlloyd.co.uk
- Information about Santley's management of the Royalty Theatre
- Playbills (text) at the University of Kent special collections.