Theatre Royal

Brighton’s first theatre was a barn on Castle Square. From 1764, a theatre company returned annually but the seasons weren’t as long as one might expect – the barn was required for the harvest!

Things have come a long way since 1764. The first permanent theatre opened on North Street in 1774 but closed not long after in 1787. Its licence was transferred to a new Theatre on Duke Street which became the ‘Theatre Royal’ in 1805 following a visit by the Prince of Wales (who later became the Prince Regent and King George IV). Hewitt Cobb became its owner and he built a replacement Theatre Royal on New Road. It was built in 1806-7 at a cost of £12,000 with a capacity of around 1,200 on one of the plots that had been sold off by the Prince to finance the construction of New Road.

A number of buildings have been incorporated into the Theatre Royal complex over the years and little remains of the original structure. 1894 saw great exterior change at a cost of £14,000. The rendered facade of the original building at 11-12 New Road was replaced with today’s red brick frontage which has octagonal turrets and copper domes. 9 New Road was incorporated as a new entrance lobby and box office. 35 Bond Street was acquired and turned into a new stage door. The history of the distinctive colonnade, or ‘Royal Colonnade’ as it is known, deserves a column of its own. The stunning yet warren-like interior has also evolved over the years and the last great works programme took place in 1927. Unsurprisingly, the building is Grade II Listed.

Today, the Theatre Royal is owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group, the largest theatre group in the West End. And, this year is a significant year – the Theatre Royal’s 200th birthday. Various celebrations have taken place throughout the year as a result. Also, 2007 has seen the opening of a revamped New Road. Technically, it has not been pedestrianised as cars are still allowed though they really do now take the back seat. Theatres took a knock in the 1930s when ‘talkies’ were introduced yet today, 200 years later, live shows couldn’t be more popular.

To see more of the Theatre Royal, arrange a backstage tour by popping in and speaking to helpful staff. Or, more logically, just book a ticket to a show!