Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Activities, History and museums
The Theatre Royal is a Grade I listed building situated on Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The theatre was designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green as part of Richard Grainger's grand design for the centre of Newcastle, and was opened on 20 February 1837 with a performance of The Merchant of Venice. One of the first managers here was Thomas Ternan who employed his wife, Frances Ternan as the main actress.
Following a performance of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, a huge fire destroyed the interior of the building in 1899. It had its interior redesigned by Frank Matcham and reopened on 31 December 1901. The theatre's restaurant is named after Matcham. Externally, the building is exactly as it was when it was first built.
It underwent a major refurbishment and restoration in the latter part of the 1980s, reopening on 11 January 1988 with a performance of A Man For All Seasons starring Charlton Heston.
The Theatre Royal went dark on 14 March 2011 due to a major restoration of the auditorium, box office, bars and restaurant. The restoration restored the theatre to the original 1901 Frank Matcham Edwardian interior. The whole interior was stripped apart from the original plasterwork which was carefully preserved. The proscenium arch, tiers and boxes were gold leafed and the plasterwork restored. On all levels the seats were replaced with Edwardian-style theatre seats in keeping with the restoration. The amphitheatre which was removed during previous renovations was restored to offer more leg room and better views than the gallery. This took the theatre to five distinct seating areas, the stalls, grand circle, upper circle, amphitheatre and gallery. Wheelchair spaces were installed on levels which had previously been inaccessible. As well as the boxes near the stage, boxes at the rear of the grand and upper circles were also restored taking the total number of boxes up to ten. The stage lift and orchestra pit were replaced to offer better facilities for opera and musicals. A new ventilation system was put in place to improve comfort levels in the theatre. New frescos for the lobby and upper circle were commissioned and put in place. This £4.75m project introduced higher standards of comfort and improved energy. The Theatre Royal reopened on 12 September 2011 with Alan Bennett’s epic period drama The Madness of George III; George III was in fact the monarch who gave the Theatre Royal its charter.
The theatre currently hosts a variety of shows, including ballet, contemporary dance, drama, musicals and opera. The Royal Shakespeare Company visits annually, and considers the Theatre Royal its northern base. The Christmas pantomime is also very popular.
Almost all of the shows that come to the Theatre Royal are part of national British tours, and in a typical year the theatre will have 30 to 35 visiting shows. For the annual pantomime, and any visiting musicals and opera performances, there is a sizeable orchestra pit available which can seat 60 musicians if necessary. The stage itself is also of substantial size, and can house 50 singers, dancers, actors and musicians.
Newcastle's original Theatre Royal opened on 21 January 1788. Its location on Mosley Street obstructed plans for the redevelopment of the city centre (as it was on the route of Grey Street), so it was demolished to make way for the present building. One of the theatre's most successful managers at this time was Stephen Kemble of the famous Kemble family, who managed the theatre from 1791 to 1806. The original theatre's final performance was on 25 June 1836.
The current theatre has a proscenium stage, and accommodates a variable orchestra pit on 2 lifts - which reduces the stall seating. The audience is seated on four levels: stalls (501), grand circle (252), upper circle (249) and gallery (247).
Project A is a one year actor training programme led by an artistic director and supported by leading industry specialists. Delivered from within the Theatre Royal over an academic year (3 terms) participants will gain professional standard actor training culminating in a production term to be performed in the Studio Theatre and toured locally.
The course started in September 2015 with the first year free for the successful candidates. The programme is being seem as an alternative to drama school and is expected to lift the actors involved into the industry.
The Royal Shakespeare Company have very strong ties to the theatre and will be involved with the programme heavily in the second term.