Friday, 13 January 2017

Visit Bath and Discover A Brief History of Bath Theatre Royal

Bath Theatre Royal - it seems as if it’s always been there.

Bath Theatre Royal, at least the incarnation of it that we’re all familiar with today, isn’t as old as it may appear.

The main entrance to Theatre Royal in Sawclose was built in 1720 by Thomas Greenway (one of the top architects for Bath before John Wood came along) and used to be Beau Nash’s house. However the theatre itself is a little newer, built in 1805, and extensively renovated in 1982 and 1999 to give the auditorium it has today; full of ornate plasterwork and red velvet seats and gold gilt decoration. The Theatre Royal wasn’t the first theatre in Bath though.

In 1705 Bath’s first theatre was built in Trim Street by wealthy clothier George Trim. It was cramped though and made hardly any profit. It was demolished in 1738 to make room for the royal Mineral Hospital.

Next The New Theatre in Kingsmead Street opened in 1723, and was visited by Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta of Wales shortly before it shut in 1751. 

The theatre that first held the title of Theatre Royal, the first theatre outside of London to be granted royal patronage, was the one opened in Orchard Street on the 27th of October 1750. Its royal grant was given in 1768 and the reputation grew quickly.

The season in Bath soon became as important for actors as the season in London. As its popularity grew the theatre needed to expand and in 1805 the Orchard Street Theatre closed, becoming a Catholic Church in 1809. (Now it’s the Masonic Hall.) It was then that the current Theatre Royal opened, on the 12th of October, with a performance of Richard III.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Between 1820 and 1850 ticket sales declined and the theatre almost closed several times - not helped by the rise in popularity of seaside resorts and the spa towns such as Bath going out of fashion.

Thankfully it survived this, the fire which destroyed much of it in 1862, the extensive bombing of Bath during the Bath Blitz, and in 1982 the Theatre Royal which we know now was opened on November 30th with a gala performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Princess Margaret attended.  

Today it’s lucky enough to host some of the top West-End shows and innovative new and touring productions from across the UK and around the world. It hasn’t lost its past entirely though. The building is Grade II listed and is a excellent example of Georgian architecture.

In addition to this, the main auditorium is said to be haunted by the ghost The Grey Lady, who was an actress from centuries ago. According to the legend, The Grey Lady watches productions from the so-called Grey Lady Box and leaves the scent of jasmine behind where she has been.  So if you smell jasmine while watching a performance there, that may be why!

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