Theatre Royal in the Spa City of Bath
- Sawclose, Bath, BA1 1ET
The Theatre Royal is one of Britain’s oldest and most beautiful theatres offering top quality drama, comedy, opera, dance and frequent Sunday concerts, alongside The Bath Bi-Annual Shakespeare Festival (next one due 2016).
The theatre is over 200 years old. It is one of the more important theatres in the United Kingdom outside of London, with capacity for an audience of around 900. It has three separate theatres - Main House, Ustinov Studio and The Egg (for children).
The present main entrance to the Theatre Royal, in Sawclose, was built in 1720 by Thomas Greenway (who was one of Bath's leading Architects before John Wood came into prominence), and was Beau Nash's first house.
The exterior of the building, with arches, pilasters, garlands and ornaments, is visible from Beauford Square, designed by George Dance the Younger and erected by John Palmer. The theatre itself was erected in 1805, replacing a former theatre of the same name, which is now a Freemason's Hall. After a fire in 1863 the interior was redone by C J Phipps.
The theatre, along with the neighbouring Garrick's Head public house, is a Grade II* listed building and is considered a prime example of Georgian architecture.
The auditorium has tiers of ornate plasterwork, with sumptuous red and gilt decoration, and a majestic trompe l'oeil ceiling and glittering chandelier. It was extensively renovated in 1982, and refurbished in 1999.
The Ustinov Studio
In 1997 a studio theatre was built at the rear of the building on Monmouth Street, called The Ustinov Studio, named after the actor Peter Ustinov. Originally a space for the youth theatre and small scale touring productions, the Ustinov programme soon expanded to encompass classical concerts, stand-up comedy (including high-profile acts such as Bill Bailey, Stewart Lee and Lucy Porter) and in-house productions. To accommodate the technical needs of these productions, a refurbishment was planned to take place throughout 2007, improving the backstage & technical facilities, the foyer, bar and auditorium. The Ustinov Studio re-opened in February 2008, with their own production of Breakfast With Mugabe starring Joseph Marcell, Miles Anderson and Nicholas Bailey.
Currently enjoying the most exciting period in its illustrious history under Artistic Director Laurence Boswell, the Ustinov Studio has been nationally recognised for the extraordinary quality and range of its work, regular seasons of in-house productions, all UK Premieres of new or newly adapted works. In the 2012 American Season, Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play was the winner of the Best New Play - Theatre Awards UK 2012. The Ustinov Studio was also nominated for the prestigious Empty Space... Peter Brook Award 2012. The Daily Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish praised the venue as a "constantly bubbling fount of marvels" at the awards ceremony. The Ustinov is proud to have received a second consecutive nomination for the 2013 awards.
The Egg Theatre
In 2005 another new theatre was opened behind the Theatre Royal, the egg, which is a children's theatre, providing professional theatre productions for children and their families, alongside workshops and youth theatre productions. It also has the egg Cafe, a family friendly cafe.
The Theatre's Vaults Restaurant provides pre-show dinners and matinée lunches, and a suite of rooms (The 1805 Rooms) are available for functions.
The theatre itself is said to be haunted by The Grey Lady, who was an actress centuries ago. She has been seen watching productions in the popularly-named Grey Lady Box, and she leaves the distinctive scent of Jasmine. She has been seen and scented in recent years.
Backstage tours of the Theatre Royal are the first Wednesday and Saturday of each month.
The Main House and front Box Office entrance is on Sawclose.
The Ustinov entrance is on Monmouth Street.
The egg entrance is at the end of St.John’s Place – the paved way where you will also find The Garrick’s Head, access to the 1805 Rooms and the Stage Door.
Historical Timeline of the Theatre Royal
1705 Bath's first theatre was built by George Trim (a wealthy clothier and the builder of historic Trim Street in Bath), a small and cramped theatre which made little or no profit.
1738 Thirty years later the theatre was demolished, to make room for a building that was to become the Royal Mineral Water Hospital. A few plays were perfomed, during this time, at Simpson's Rooms.
1723 'The New Theatre', in Kingsmead Street, opened - closing for the last time in 1751. Just before its closure the Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta of Wales patronised the theatre.
1750 A new theatre, in Orchard Street, opened on 27th October, with a performance of Shakespeare's Henry IV.
1768 By a special act of parliament a royal patent was granted. Bath has a Theatre Royal for the first time, also the first outside London. The theatre's repuation was growing, and a season in Bath was as important for famous actors as a London billing.
1804 Plans for a new and improved theatre in Beaufort Square are made.
1805 Orchard Street theatre closed, to be converted into a Catholic church in 1809. Today it is the Masonic Hall.
Just one year from its conception, the new building was completed. It was designed by
George Dance (the younger), professor of architecture at the Royal Academy. The theatre opened on 12th October 1805 with a performance of Richard III.
1820 - 1850 Attendance and ticket sales at the theatre declined, closure was threatened on several occasions.
1862 On the 18th April the Theatre was destroyed by fire. Plans were immediately made to build a new theatre on the old site.
1863 The new theatre opened in March. It was designed by Charles John Phipps.
'A Midsummer Nights Dream' was performed on the opening night. Ellen Terry played Titania.
1902 Extensive refurbishments, including a fire-proof curtain, additional entrances and a staircase. This was mainly due to the Royal Patent having expired, and it was renewed with the approval of the Lord Chamberlain.
1905 The theatre's centenary year. Sir Henry Irving (famous English actor) made his farewell performance.
1914 Plans were made for extensive structural repairs. These were postponed due to the outbreak of the First World War.
1940 - 1945 The Theatre Royal thrived during the Second World War, surviving the extensive bombing of Bath during the blitz.
1979 The theatre was purchased from Triumph Theatre Productions, to be run as a non-profit making concern - a registered charity.
1980 An appeal was launched to raise funds for much needed renovations. Sir Peter Hall, director of the National Theatre, announced plans to make Bath the National base for middle-scale productions, once the work was completed. It was estimated that the work would cost around £1.8 Million.
1982 The Theatre Royal, as we now know it, re-opened on November 30th, with a gala performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (as did its former re-opening in 1863) attended by Princess Margaret.
"Theatrical Performances, when conducted with Decency and Regularity, have always been esteem'd the most rational Amusements, by the Polite and Thinking Part of Mankind. Strangers, therefore, must be greatly surpris'd to find at Bath Entertainments of this sort in no better Perfection than they are, as it is a Place, during its Seasons, honour'd with so great a Number of Persons, eminent for Politeness, Judgment and Taste; and where it might reasonably be expected (next to London) the best Theatre in England"
Quote from John Coxe Hippisley, 1747, from a proposal for the building of a new theatre in Bath.
Facilities at the Royal Theatre
The first Wednesday and following Saturday of the month. Subject to cancellation so please check with the Box Office on 01225 448844.
- Time: 11am – meet at the egg cafe
- Price: adults £4, concessions £3
- Tours last about 45 minutes
Suitable for groups aged between 4 and 25, this hour-long tour takes you onstage, backstage and above stage of our three auditoria! Please call Lucy Girvan on 01225 823499 or email email@example.com to arrange your visit.
We will be delighted to provide a speaker on the History and Restoration of the Theatre Royal, or the history of Pantomime for your club or society. Contact Ann Meddings on 01225 823476.