Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bath and the Theatre

When tourists in the Georgian era came to visit Bath, one of the top things on their list of things to do in Bath was to go to (and also to be seen at) Bath’s new Theatre Royal. For over two hundred years now Bath has been a big name on the theatrical circuit; welcoming the best classic productions, as well as some of the most innovative new works, that there are around. Ever the history enthusiasts (hardly surprising given that of all the types of hotels available in Bath, we chose to run a luxury Grade II listed guest house) we had a look at the history of theatre in Bath.

In 1768 Bath became the first city outside of London to receive a Royal Patent and, already with a growing reputation for top quality performances, this really put Bath on the theatrical map. Soon Bath was as important a booking for thespians as London was.

The original Theatre Royal wasn’t in the building that it is today though. The first Theatre Royal was in Orchard Street. It still survives but it is currently used as a Masonic Hall. Part of the building that now houses Bath’s Theatre Royal actually used to be Beau Nash’s house (Bath’s Master of Ceremonies from 1704 to his death in 1761). The move from Orchard Street to Sawclose followed plans drawn up by George Dance, professor of architecture at the Royal Academy. Amazingly the project only took a year to go from concept to finished creation, and on the 12th October 1805 it opened with a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Since then it has played host to such famous faces as Sir Derek Jacobi, Rosamund Pike and Sir Patrick Stewart. It has had included in it’s programmes everything from family pantomimes to Shakespeare’s tragedies, and from Mozart’s operas to multi media adaptations of Virginia Woolf.  And with such a rich and lengthy past it’s hardly surprising to learn that it is said to have it’s own ghosts - The Grey Lady and The Phantom Doorman.

But Bath’s love of the theatre doesn’t stop at the historic Theatre Royal. There are a great many theatres to choose from in Bath. The Egg is dedicated to children’s theatre, while the Mission Theatre and The Rondo Theatre are both smaller scale venues which host a wide variety of touring and also locally produced works. Open-air productions are regularly held each year at local heritage venues such as Prior Park and Iford Manor and Bath is also home to the renowned street theatre company, The Natural Theatre Company.  

There are now over 18 cities in Britain with a Theatre Royal but Bath has still managed to retain its long-held reputation for theatrical excellence. So if you visit Bath we recommend having a look at what’s on and taking some time to catch a performance or two.

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