Theatre Royal, Nottingham


Theatre Royal, Nottingham
c.1910

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Brimming with history, the Theatre Royal is not only a city centre landmark but also one of the most beautiful Victorian theatres in Britain. Built in 1865 and later transformed in 1897 by renowned architect Frank Matcham, the theatre is considered to be one of the most spectacular surviving examples of Matcham’s work.
Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall

While Market Street was emerging from the rubble of Sheep Lane, the Theatre Royal sprang up in just six months using a neoclassical design from a fresh new architect. It was the second English theatre design of upcoming architect Charles J Phipps, who went on to become Britain’s first great theatrical architect with an impressive list of theatres across the country to his name. Phipps’ resplendent design had a classical theme closely modelled on the Salle Favart theatre in Paris, featuring six Corinthian pillars in Ancaster stone soaring over the entranceway, supporting a large attic with ornamental vases. This new, dignified, white building rose from the murky industrial skyline just like a classical temple, exactly as ordered.

Within the temple, the class system of 1860s Victorian England was at work, with five brass handled doors beneath the grand colonnade reflecting the status quo. There were stairs to the upper circle and two doors on the left for the middle classes; another two doors for the wealthy with ‘large dress ready’ marble staircases to the dress circle and private boxes in well-served opulence; the final door leading down to the gentleman’s cloak room. Everyone else, you ask? Nottingham’s working classes entered via doors at the side of the theatre to access the pit (stalls) – standing room only. In all, it had a 2,200 capacity, nearly twice its modern, all-seater capacity. Once inside, a sumptuously painted cylindrical interior featured bright frescoes over crimson velvet seats, and was illuminated by an enormous, 170-jet gas flame chandelier. Along with gas-fired ‘lime light’ stage lights and yet more gas jets on the stage. Fire safety wasn’t what it is today.
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