The Kennington Theatre, Kennington Park Road, Kennington
Formerly - The Princess of Wales's Theatre
Above - The Kennington Theatre during the production of 'Sherlock Holmes' - From an article in the Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
The Kennington Theatre originally opened as the Princess of Wales's Theatre on Saturday the 24th of December 1898 with a production of the pantomime 'Cinderella'. The Theatre was designed by the respected Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and was situated next to Kennington Park on the corner of Kennington Park Road and Kennington Park Place. The Theatre, which was constructed on the site of the former residence of the Bishop of Rochester, was completed just 5 months after its Memorial Stone was laid by Henry Irving on Monday the 25th of July 1898 (see sketch below).
Right - A photograph of the site of the Kennington Theatre in 2008, taken from the same angle as the Playgoer image shown at the top of this page - Courtesy Guy Jones.
The Theatre was constructed by Walter Wallis and Decorated by Messrs. De Jong. The Auditorium was built using the cantilever system on three levels, Stalls and Pit, Dress Circle, and Gallery, with Boxes and had a capacity on opening of 1,347. The Stage was a generous 80' wide by 50' Deep.
Above - Sir Henry Irving honours Mr. Robert Arthur by laying the Memorial Stone of the new Princess of Wales's Theatre at Kennington Park - From the Penny Illustrated Paper, 30th of July 1898. In attendance at the ceremony amongst others were Robert Arthur, Sir John Wilcox, M. P., Passmore Edwards, Mr. Kitson, L.S.B., Bram Stoker, Tom Craven, Constance Moxon, David Mann, Walter Summers, David W. Amos, Colonel Staples, H. H. Morell, Frederick Mouillot, H. Loveday, Harry Ashford, Walter Pasmore, H. Dana, William Sprague, and Walter Wallis.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the soon to be built Theatre in their April 1st 1898 edition saying:- 'A new theatre is being built in Kennington Park-road, from designs by Mr. W. R. G. Sprague. It will have frontages of about 80ft. to Kennington Park-road, 150ft. to South-place, and 90ft. to De Laune-street. The main frontages will be executed in white Port land stone. The elevations are of Italian Renaissance character.
The more expensive parts of the house will be entered from Kennington-road by a few broad steps running the entire length of the 50ft. wide colonnade into a vestibule, and thence to the grand crushroom, which will be 42ft. by 22ft. The walls will be of an Italian marble, and recessed marble columns will be employed. From this crushroom one ascends a marble staircase 27ft. wide, branching off on each side to the dress-circle, with a separate entry to each side of the stalls. Above the main crushroom will be a ladies' foyer and the grand saloon.
Throughout the interior the decoration will be French Renaissance in style, with a free introduction of paintings on ceilings and panelings, whilst the draperings and colourings throughout will be of soft tints, with a free use of gold. The auditorium will have a depth of 70ft. and a width of 60ft., and will be constructed on the two-tier system. The electric light will be employed. Exceptionally large saloons are adjacent to each part of the theatre, the pit saloon having the walls entirely covered by fancy tiling.
The gallery staircase and pit entries and exits are lined with white glazed bricks. The theatre throughout will be heated and ventilated on the plenum system. The stage will be fitted with a special double asbestos and steel fire-proof curtain, controllable by one man. The stage will be about 80ft. wide and 50ft. deep. Large scenery stores, painting-rooms, and property-rooms are included in the scheme. Mr. Sprague hopes to have the theatre ready in November.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, April 1st 1898.
The Theatre eventually opened a little later than the article above suggested, opening as the Princess of Wales's Theatre on Saturday the 24th of December 1898 with a production of the pantomime 'Cinderella'. The ERA printed a review and a sketch of the new Theatre on its opening day, the 24th of December 1898, saying:- 'Mr Robert Arthur has indeed good reason to be proud of his new theatre in the Kennington-park-road. That it is one of the handsomest and most up-to-date playhouse in the metropolitan area is admitted by all who have been privileged to go over the building, even in its incomplete state...
...Sir Henry Irving laid the memorial stone on July 25th last, and the imposing building, which occupies a commanding corner position in the Kennington-park-road, is an acquisition to the neighbourhood, both from an architectural point of view and as the means of supplying all the year round, a thoroughly good theatrical entertainment to local supporters of the drama. Mr W. G. R. Sprague, a young architect, who has achieved architectural triumphs in other parts of London as well as in important provincial centres, is responsible for the designs, and the new house should certainly add to his reputation.
The exterior is very striking, as the accompanying illustration shows; and the house occupies an almost ideal site, having a frontage of about 80ft. to Kennington-park-road, 130ft. to South-place, and 90ft. to De Laune street. The whole of the main frontage is executed in white Portland stone, the elevations are of rich Italian Renaissance character. The more expensive parts of the house are entered from Kennington-park-road by a few broad steps, running the entire length of the wide stone colonnade, into a vestibule or lobby, and thence to the grand crush room. This apartment is unquestionably one of the features of the building, having a length of 42ft., and a width of 22ft. The wall is of specially selected Italian marble, and recessed marble columns add to its beauty, whilst specially designed and deeply recessed fireplaces at each end conduce to the general comfort and luxury. From this crush-room one ascends a bold marble staircase, 27ft. wide, branching off on each side to the dress circle, with a separate entry to each side of the stalls...
...Directly above the main crush-room are the ladies foyer and the grand saloon, both of these apartments being quite separate, and treated in the same rich style of decoration. The style of decoration throughout the interior is French Renaissance, with a free introduction of paintings on coilings and panellings, whilst the draperies and colourings throughout are harmonious and soft tints with a free use of gold, so that the utmost effect of richness and harmony is obtained without the making of any one colour obtrusive.
The auditorium has an average depth of 70ft. and a clear width of 60ft., and is constructed on the two tier system, viz stalls, pit-stalls, and pit on the ground floor, dress circle forming the first tier or balcony, and the gallery and amphitheatre being the second tier.
Right - Kennington Gardens and the Kennington Theatre - From a postcard sent in 1903.
The embellishments of the auditorium throughout are of the richest description, and the electric light employed in the scheme of decoration adds considerably to the general effect . Exceptionally large and richly decorated saloons are adjacent to each part of the theatre, the pit saloon having the walls entirely covered by fancy tiling.
The lavatory accommodation has received special care, and will be found as perfect as modern science can make it. In every case the walls are lined with white or fancy tiles. The gallery staircase and pit entries and exits, &c., are lined with white or other glazed bricks.
Right - The same view of Kennington Gardens in June 2009 - Courtesy Charles Bowman.
The heating of the house is on novel lines. So far as we know, there is no suburban theatre which has such a comprehensive arrangement.
The idea of the apparatus is so simple that it can be described in very few words. In the first place, fresh cold air from the outside atmosphere is drawn into a chamber in the basement of the building, and thence driven by a powerful fan through air ducts or passages which encircle the basement of the theatre. The fresh air in the ducts is passed over powerful hot water radiators, and after being raised to a sufficient temperature, passes out into the auditorium itself and the various other parts of the theatre. The apparatus serves the double purpose of heating and ventilating, cooling the theatre in summer, warming it in winter, and always providing a plentiful supply of fresh air without the serious draughts which have hitherto been inseparable from direct introduction of fresh air. Although hot water pipes and radiators are the means adopted for warming the building there is not, so far as the theatre itself is concerned, a pipe or radiator visible, and people will wonder at the temperature of the building when the means of heating are entirely invisible. The only places where the radiators are to be seen are one of two corridors and staircases; even here they are almost out of sight because fitted in recesses, and therefore not obtrusive. There is in this system absolute safety to the public, and perfect control possible to the management, as the temperature of the building can be altered to suit the varying conditions of the external atmosphere and large or small audiences. The apparatus supplies about 1,500,000 cubic feet of air per hour at the various inlets, which are to be found in all parts of the house, including the vestibule, grand crush-room, foyer, and saloons. This means a constant change of air in the building, which will be most agreeable, the atmosphere of the large auditorium itself being changed several times per hour, while in the saloons a more frequent change takes place. As this fresh warm air becomes vitiated it is forced out at the various outlets provided for the purpose, in a state of constant purity. The advantages of a constant supply of fresh air in crowded places such as theatres is invaluable, for we know only too well how quickly the atmosphere of the average theatre becomes polluted by a crowded audience, and, to make matters worse, owing to a deficient ventilation, that same atmosphere is breathed over and over again, with very often a highly injurious effect on the audience. Thanks to Mr Arthur, there is, however, no chance of this occurring at the Princess of Wales's Theatre, and the audiences there will breathe pure air at a satisfactory temperature. This work, we understand, has been designed and carried out by Messrs Emley and Sons, Limited, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Left - The Kennington Theatre from Kennington Gardens - From a postcard sent in 1903.
Miss Sophie Harriss will be principle boy, and dear Miss Lily Morris principle girl. Mr Tom Craven, of "Dear Reader" fame (a son of Mr T. H. Craven, the author of Milky White, and many other plays), will embody the Baron. Mr John Donald, late of the Strand Theatre, has been appointed manager. The private view took place on Friday afternoon.'
Above - The Kennington Theatre during its Cine Variety years - From 'Picture Play Magazine' November 1923.
In January of 1921, after a production of 'Dick Whittington' ended the Theatre was closed and reconstructed so as to be able to stage Cine Variety, with a back projection screen of 18' by 14', framed by a pagoda, which could be flown in at the front of the stage. The Theatre reopened on the 28th February showing films which changed mid week and a farce called "The Devilled Chicken". However, the Theatre continued to put on regular pantomimes at Christmas.
The Kennington Theatre's last license was issued in 1934 whilst under the ownership of Gaumont British Theatres and then it was taken over by the Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatre's circuit who wanted to demolish the building and build a new Odeon Theatre on the site. This never transpired however and the building sat unused for many years until it was damaged by bombs during the war and was then partly demolished, to make it safe, in April 1943.
In November 1949 the building was the subject of a Compulsory Purchase Order by the local Council and a block of flats were constructed in its place the following year.
In 1902, just four years after the Kennington Theatre had first opened, 'The Playgoer' printed an extensive article, with many photographs by Denton & Co., entitled 'An appreciation of the Kennington Theatre.' I have included the whole article and photos below and added some other images and postcards which depict the Theatre too.
AN APPRECIATION OF KENNINGTON THEATRE.
Illustrated from photographs specially taken for The Playgoer by Deton & Co.
Above - The Main Entrance of the Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
WHEN Sir Henry Irving, over four years ago - or, to be exact, on July 25th, 1898 - visited the neighbourhood of Kennington Park, and, supported by leading managers, actors, actresses, and fashionable society, laid the foundation stone of what was destined to become one of the most beautiful playhouses in existence, probably not one member of the large assembly then present had much, if any, idea how far the magnificence of the new theatre would extend.
I am inclined to think that it requires rather more than the usual ability and knowledge of the business side of things theatrical to solve the ethics of successful suburban management; but I venture to assert, without hesitation, that Mr. Robert Arthur, during the few years that the Kennington Theatre has been open to the public, has done this with entire satisfaction to himself and all concerned.
On land originally owned by His Majesty King Edward, the pile was leisurely and solidly erected, and on Boxing Day, 1898, Mr. Arthur invited all good playgoers (and there are many thousands in Kennington alone, to say nothing of those who travel from surrounding districts) to visit his new and superbly built playhouse, and to witness his first pantomime - voted one of the best and brightest in London- entitled Cinderella. Since that eventful night many are the "stars" who have appeared on the stage of this same theatre, and mention of the fact that their names include those of such players as Beerbohm Tree, George Alexander, Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, Wilson Barrett, John Hare, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Mrs. Langtry, Mrs. Lewis Waller, Julia Neilson, Fred Terry, Arthur Roberts, and Dan Leno, will be sufficient evidence of the brilliancy of the "stars" in question.
Above - The Lounge, through which you would pass to reach the Dress Circle and Refreshment Saloons of the Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
Kennington Theatre has been reasonably described as being one of the most sumptuous playhouses in Europe. To begin with, it is anything but a small theatre, the total area occupied by the building comprising some one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five square yards. The handsomely carved white stone frontage, supported by massive pillars and embellished with artistic figures, rises to a height of sixty feet, and has a side length of one hundred and sixty feet.
Left - A corner on the Grand Staircase of the Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
The main entrance, which leads, of course, to the reserved portions of the theatre, is truly magnificent. One has to walk over a tiled floor of black and white marble, and ascend a flight of steps of noble dimensions, and which, like the balustrade attached to them, are of pure white marble. The walls and the grooved pillars which support the ceiling are of Savonazza marble, which was specially cut and brought over for the purpose from Belgium. On pedestals of this same marble rest huge bronze art figures. And at each end of this vestibule are two enormous carved oak old-fashioned fireplaces, the grates of which hold one hundredweight of coal each, and which are kept alight throughout every performance during the winter months.
Right - The Frontage of the Kennington Theatre showing Bills and Posters displayed on the main entrance stairs for the weeks performances - From a period postcard, photo taken from Ravensdon Street.
Left - Photograph of the site of the Kennington Theatre in 2008, taken from Ravensdon Street, the same angle as the postcard shown above right - Courtesy Guy Jones.
The interior of the theatre proper is tastefully decorated in white and gold. A raised crimson silk tapestry covers the walls, whilst the ceiling, which is a mass of' white and gold frescoes of the emblem of the Prince of Wales, gives, when twinkling with electric lights, one of the most brilliant effects imaginable.
The ladies' foyer, another portion of the theatre which can only be properly, appreciated by being actually seen, leads on to a balcony directly over the main entrance, where tea, coffee and ices are served in the summer months.
Above - The "Geisha" Tea Room of the Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
The house is a two-tier one, and is built on the cantilever system, so that no matter in what seat you may be sitting-stalls, dress and family circle, pit stalls, pit, amphitheatre or gallery - or, for that matter, in what corner of the house you may stand, you will get a full view of the exceptionally fine and large stage.
Above - The Stage and Proscenium of the Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
It is scarcely necessary to state that in such a perfectly constructed theatre the well ventilated dressing-rooms, with their hot and cold water supply, are all that can be desired. Indeed, it is no easy matter to adequately describe Mr. Arthur's theatre, every portion of which has its particular splendour.
Above - The Kennington Theatre, also showing Kennington Park - From a Postcard posted in 1904
Above - Photograph of the site of the Kennington Theatre in 2008, taken from the same angle as the postcard shown above - Courtesy Guy Jones.
Are you a London playgoer? Then the best advice I can give you is to pay it a visit. Kennington Theatre is a twelve minutes' drive from Charing Cross, Victoria, and Waterloo Stations, or ten minutes only from the city, and can be easily reached per the "Tube" railways from all districts. The secret of its acknowledged success is not far to seek, for actual West End companies are constantly visiting it. They play to prices of admission ranging from sixpence to four and five shillings, which, as we all know, are less than half those usually charged in the West End. Liberal catering, good management, and first class advertising, is Mr. Arthur's motto, and this is not an occasional but is also the continuous verdict of his patrons. In these days of keen competition, with a public so exacting and discriminating, testimony such as the foregoing is but a tribute to the genius and excellent judgment of the proprietor.
In concluding this little appreciation of a beautiful theatre, let me just give you a list of the autumn bookings already arranged for, and which Mr. John Halpin, who, by - the - by, is Mr. Arthur's busy and courteous acting manager, has kindly furnished me with.
Right - Mr. John Halpin, Acting Manager at Kennington Theatre - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
They comprise The Casino Girl; the Moody-Manners' Opera Company (who will go there direct from Covent Garden); George Edwardes' company in A Country Girl, from Daly's; the entire and original Savoy company in Merrie England; Julia Neilson and Fred Terry in Sweet Nell of Old Drury; A Chinese Honeymoon; Sherlock Holmes; T. E. Murray in a new musical play, English Daisy. Mrs. Lewis Waller in Zaza; The Toreador; Miss Olga Nethersole, with her recent Adelphi production, Sapho; and The Little French Milliner, from the Avenue. On Boxing Day, Mr. Arthur will produce his fifth original operatic pantomime, which is being written (as in previous years) by Walter Summers, who has this year chosen for his subject the story of The Babes in the Wood. F. D.
The above article and most of its accompanying images were first published in 'The Playgoer' of 1902 and were very kindly sent in for inclusion on the site by Iain Wotherspoon.
The Kennington Theatre - From The Arthurian Annual of 1904
Above - The Kennington Theatre - From the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.
Kennington Theatre has been reasonably described as being the most sumptuous playhouse in Europe. The handsomely carved white stone frontage, supported by massive pillars and embellished with artistic figures, rises to a height of sixty feet. The main entrance, which leads to the reserved portions of the theatre, is truly magnificent. One has to walk over a tiled floor of black and white marble, and ascend a flight of steps of noble dimensions, and which, like the balustrade attached to them, are of pure white marble. The walls and the grooved pillars which support the ceilings are of Savonazza marble, which were specially cut and brought over for the purpose, and on pedestals of this same marble rest huge bronze figures.
Right - The auditorium of the Kennington Theatre - From the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill.
That it is a huge success is an acknowledged fact, and the reason is not far to seek, for the latest West End companies are constantly visiting it. Liberal catering and good management is Mr Arthur's motto.
Many are the " stars" who have appeared on the stage of this theatre, and that their names include such players as Mr Tree, Mr George Alexander, Mr and Mrs Kendal, Mr Wilson Barrett, Mr John Hare, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Mrs Langtry, Miss Julia Neilson, and Mr Fred Terry, and the comedians, Arthur Roberts and Dan Leno, will be sufficient - evidence of the brilliancy of the " stars."
Last season was perhaps the most successful the Theatre has yet experienced. The Pantomime, THE BABES IN THE WOOD, hailed by the press and public as second only to Drury Lane, ran several weeks to enormous audiences. Succeeding this followed the cream of theatrical entertainment, A COUNTRY GIRL, which was running at Daly's at the same time; Mr Wilson Barrett, who presented a novelty in his new early English play, THE CHRISTIAN KING, and on the Saturday, terminating his engagement playing THE SILVER KING, broke all previous records as to holding capacity. Then came THE BEST OF FRIENDS from Drury Lane, Mr and Mrs Kendal (who presented for the first time their charming play, MRS HAMILTON'S SILENCE, THE GREAT MILLIONAIRE, SAN Toy, and Mrs Raleigh with her Adelphi play, A QUEEN OF SOCIETY, and the first London production of the new Opera Bouffe, LA TOLEDAD.
Another new production was then presented, an English version of LA GIOCONDA, by the Moody Manners Opera Company, which subsequently was staged at Covent Garden. A further item of interest to the London Shakespearian public was Mr F. R. Benson's representation of WINTER'S TALE.
Kennington Theatre continued on its triumphal career even as summer advanced, and the Mountain came to Mahomed when the great comedian, Mr Willie Edouin, who was making all London laugh, came to Kennington to appear in and produce his own Opera, AMORELLE, the music of which is by Gaston Serpette.
This production was the event of the year: an extremely clever book, excellent story, delightful music, and a company of well-known public favourites, including Miss Stella Gastelle. Thus the first portion of the year, with a visit of THREE LITTLE MAIDS and the Savoy Opera Company, passed into history.
Midsummer now being at its height, the Dramatic Season commenced, running on until August 24th, when the first production out of London of the clever comedy, THE MARRIAGE OF KITTY, was presented every evening to crowded houses. Succeeding weekly visits from THE GIRL FROM KAY'S, THE BELLE OF NEW YORK, M ISS Ellen Terry, who presented her Imperial Theatre production, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, followed by FLORODORA, Miss Julia Neilson and Mr Fred Terry, MY LADY MOLLY, which was running also at Terry's, DANTE, and RESURRECTION, the Theatre again entered upon a series of new productions.
The first was A WHITE PASSION-FLOWER, which served to bring to the notice of the public a new clever actress, Miss Adeline Bourne. Then Mr Murray Carson presented his and Miss Norah Keith's play, A MAN AND HIMSELF; a most remarkable study. After came HONOR, by Alicia Ramsey and Rudolph de Cordova, with Miss Kate Rorke in the title role. 'Finally, Mr Martin Harvey presented his new romantic play, THE BREED OF THE TRESHAMS, so well received by the provinces, and which verdict was endorsed by the London public.
Of the season to come one can promise even greater brilliance. The
Pantomime, THE FORTY THIEVES, with the great
comedian, Tom E. Murray, and others to please old and young, success
practically is assured. Of the dramatic fare to succeed the Pantomime,
Mr Arthur has engaged all the latest novelties in plays, and all the
available "stars." Wilson Barrett, E. S. Willard in repertoire,
The above text and images in this section are from the Arthurian Annual of 1904 - Kindly donated by Shirley Cowdrill whose Grandfather was Andie Caine 1869 1941. More information on Robert Arthur and his expansive group of Theatres can be read on the page for Her Majesty`s Theatre, Dundee.
The Bishop of Winchester
PLAYS AND PLAYGOERS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, - My attention has been specially drawn to the bearings of our present troubles upon those who serve the public through its amusements, our actors and actresses. There is, I fear, a very black time ahead for them. Already companies have returned empty-handed from the provinces, and there is every prospect of their being disbanded and of theatres being closed.
I have been asked whether I would suggest to people to lessen this trouble by going as usual to the theatre. The case is not simple, and probably no general advice would be either useful or right. It is not,' pleasant to think of amusing ourselves in the midst of suffering and suspense. In some this feeling will be so strong as to leave them no choice. But it is not so with all. We have before us a long and wearing pressure upon heart and nerve, and an almost breaking strain of absorption in one anxiety.
I believe that for many it will be wiser and more wholesome to give themselves moderate relief and change. To go to the play quietly, without such things as expensive dinners and suppers, will, I believe, then be right for a large part of the public. And by doing so they will be saving from destitution and danger the deserving members of a profession who bear much on our behalf; and very specially its women.
Left - The Kennington Theatre - From 'The Builder' of 1899.
Possibly some may find other methods, such as giving theatre tickets' to those who cannot usually go.
Yours very truly, EDW. WINTCN, President of the Actors' Church Union. FARNHAM CASTLE, SURREY, August 20th. Reprinted by kind permission from "The Times." - Aug, 22nd, 1914.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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