Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 26, 2017
Webpage updated: February 25, 2021



THEATRE ROYAL II (1813-1937)

The imposing columns of the Theatre Royal.
From a postcard.

During 1810 Plymouth Corporation decided it would be a good idea for the Town to have a new hotel and assembly rooms and that this development should also include a theatre.  It was planned to put this on the site of the first Theatre Royal in Frankfort Street but the architect they chose had grander ideas of his own.

Mr John Foulston was new to the Town but he decided that such a grand project as this should not be lost in the narrow streets but should be set apart on a special site of its own.  The spot he chose was on the very western edge of the Town, beyond the extent of development at that time.   He was widely criticized for its isolation but he predicted that the Town would grow to embrace his wonderful structure.  He was right and George Street quickly grew towards the Theatre.

The foundation stone was laid on September 10th 1811 by the Mayor, Mr Edmund Lockyer, Doctor of Medicine (1782-1816). The whole block, comprising the Royal Hotel as well as the Theatre, was designed by John Foulston and George Wightwick (1802-1872).  Although it was still not completed, the Theatre Royal, which had seating for 1,200 people, was opened on Monday August 23rd 1813.

It was one of the first buildings in Britain to make use of cast and wrought iron for the main structure of the auditorium and for the roof.  It is claimed to have been the first building in the country to use structural ironwork for fireproofing in a public building, at a time when both the Covent Garden and Drury Lane Theatres in London were being rebuilt with traditional materials even after disastrous fires.

It boasted a spacious vestibule, first and second circle, upper boxes, pit and gallery.

The first programme consisted of "As You Like It" plus a farce "Catherine and Petruchio", the latter being rudely interrupted by some parts of the audience.  Prices were Boxes 4s, pit 2/6d, gallery one shilling.  Apparently 1,149 people attended the opening night, amounting to 152 14s income, but it did not last.  By 1820, the Royal had apparently acquired the title of "The Theatre of Splendid Misery" because of declining audiences. 

Major improvements were made in 1861 which cost the lessee, Mr John Reilly Newcombe (1803-1887), some 3,000 and in return for which Plymouth Corporation gave him a fourteen year lease.  The Theatre suffered several fires, in 1862, 1863, and in 1878, the last two requiring major renovation work.

Between 1849 and 1866 Mr Henry Erastus Reed (1827-1910) was the Theatre's Musical Director and between 1887 and 1897 he was the Theatre's lessee.

Pantomimes were as much as feature of the Theatre Royal as any other Plymouth theatre.  During the time that Mr James Mackey Glover was managing director of the Theatre Royal he presented many pantomimes in conjunction with Mr John Tiller.  On Boxing Day, Tuesday December 26th 1916 the show was "Jack and Jill", but with many characters modern audiences will not recognize.  Top of the bill was Truth, played by Ivy Saint Clare; while the Prince Regent, or Baron Jolliboy, was played by Mr Frank Powell.  The foster mother to Jack and Jill, otherwise Dame Durden, was played by Mr George Miller; while the children of the title was played by Miss Edith Harvey and Miss Millie Cox.  Princess Bountiful, the daughter of the Prince Regent, was played by Miss Eileen Desmond while her suitor, Prince Fearnought, the Crown Prince of Carnocopia, was played by Miss Kitty Storrow.  Possibly because Mr Glover was a supporter of military bands, the show included The Eight Military Maids, dancers with a drum and bugle band doing military drills.  Naturally local places figured in the plot, if there ever was one: the Village of Peace and Plenty was Ivybridge and the Road to the Well was Plymbridge.

The Theatre Royal was demolished on April 11th 1937 to make way for the Royal Cinema.