The Prince's Theatre, Oxford Street, Manchester
Above - The Prince's Theatre, Manchester - From the book 'Red plush and Gilt - The Heyday of Manchester Theatre during the Victorian and Edwardian periods' by Joyce Knowlson - Courtesy Alfred Mason.
The Prince's Theatre, Manchester was constructed by Metcalf and Waterson at a cost of £20,000, and designed by the architect Edward Salomons. The Theatre, which had seating for 1,590, opened with a production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' on Saturday, October the 15th 1864, under the management of Charles Calvert, who had previously run the Theatre Royal on Peter Street, Manchester from 1857 to 1862.
Right - The Playbill for the Opening of the Prince's
Theatre, Manchester in October 1864
- From 'Sixty-eight years on the stage' by Mrs Charles Calvert, published
The Times Newspaper reported on the Theatre's opening in their 22nd of October 1864 edition saying:- 'That the addition of a new theatre to our places of intellectual amusement should cause considerable excitement was to be anticipated as a matter of coarse, but the opening of the Prince's has evoked especial interest, as well as evident anxiety in the fortunes of an undertaking which appeals to the higher artistic instincts and sympathies of the public.
We were prepared, by certain easily-recognised signs and intimations, for a great rush on the opening night, but scarcely for the extraordinary aspect presented by the neighbourhood of St. Peter's on Saturday evening, when, for the first time the doors of the new establishment were opened, and the Prince's began its history as a "home" of that "divine" art which Shakespeare has adorned with his genius, and to which not a few of the most gifted of mortals have devoted their lives and talents.
That there exists amongst us a large amount of genuine enthusiasm for the drama no one will doubt who witnessed the assault made upon the new building as soon as an opening was espied. Crowds were at every door, behaving themselves as crowds do when every individual is determinately bent upon being in to see and to secure a foremost place. Within every seat was tenanted, nay, every available space had an occupant, and long before the curtain rose the theatre was completely full.
Since our former notice of the building and its arrangements, matters had, of course, advanced towards completion, The exterior wore its finished aspect, a little additional touching and painting being alone required; and it may be said, for the credit of Messrs, Metcalf and Waterson, the builders, that they have brought before the public a large substantial building, requiring unusual care in construction, without a single accident.
The entrance hall was unfinished, but has been laid with brightly-coloured tesselated pavement; the stairs had not received their crimson covering, but the lower circle has a carpet of that colour, on which the chairs, upholstered in dark green, form a capital contrast to the lighter and beautiful ornamentation of the walls and balconies.
The private boxes are handsomely fitted up, and an equal amount of comfort and elegance pertains to the orchestra stalls. The circle known as the amphitheatre stalls has every seat backed; cushioned, and divided; and in the pit each occupant has a stuffed seat, separated by arms from its neighbour, an arrangement which must give great satisfaction to the numerous patrons of this portion of the theatre...
Above - The Auditorium of the Prince's Theatre, Manchester - From the book 'Red plush and Gilt - The Heyday of Manchester Theatre during the Victorian and Edwardian periods' by Joyce Knowlson - Courtesy Alfred Mason.
...Now that the interior is almost finished, we can repeat with emphasis the very favourable opinion previously expressed of its richness and chaste beauty. The brilliant centre-light permits a clear examination of the highly ornate circular ceiling, which, in coloured and illustrated compartments - triangular sections radiating from the centre - in a pleasant set-off to the less florid enrichments beneath. We need not again speak of the details of the ornamentation, but proceed to notice the act-drop, which is visible on the rising of the usual green curtain. This drop is not a picture, as in the majority of theatres, but a composition of drapery representing full-length curtains partly withdrawn. In the opening is seen a portion of a noble hall containing statuary - a suggestion which is intended to make the drop a continuation of the ensemble of the interior, and not an object calculated to concentrate the attention of the audience, and to withdraw it entirely from surrounding objects. Tastes may differ as to the desirableness of such a drop, but the skill of Mr. Beverley in the production of the one now under notice must receive hearty acknowledgment. It is a highly effective piece of painting, The massive gilt framing in which it is set adds greatly to the richness of the effect produced.
Left - Charles Calvert - From 'An Architects Experiences' by Alfred Darbyshire, published in 1897.
The scene in the theatre immediately preceding the rise of the curtain was brilliant in the extreme; and we congratulate Mr. Solomons on the happy results attending the execution of his chaste and artistic conceptions. Precisely at half-past six the curtain rose on the members of the corp dramatique, and a hearty recognition greeted them. The National Anthem was there duly honoured, the solos being given by Misses Julia St. George, Townley, and Florence Haydn. Frequent rounds of applause followed, amidst which the curtain fell, Mr. Charles Calvert meanwhile advancing to the footlights, and receiving a generous welcome...
...The reading of the prologue was followed by a performance by the band - Thomas's beautiful overture "La Songe" being excellently given, under the leadership of Mr. Ferdinand Wallerstein. This gentleman is well-known in London as a talented musician, a skilful director, and a clever adapter of music to the drama; and his conductorship of the band at the Prince's will we doubt not, win for him the esteem of even so critical a public as that of Manchester. The band itself appears to be strong enough for any possible purpose. A preponderance of "strings" is evident, and our own taste approves this arrangement for theatrical music. Mr. Wallerstein received the compliment of a recognition of merit and of evident earnestness in the discharge of duty.
"The Tempest" - appropriately selected as a piece well calculated to win approval on a "first night" - opens with a storm at sea, raised by the magic power of "Prospero." The scene was managed with due attention to the proprieties of nature. The dismantled vessel was large enough to fill the horizon of the stage, and laboured so really in a tremendous sea as to bring almost a smell of salt water and its attendant incidents home to every spectator. The scene changes to a lake on the enchanted island, where "Miranda" is heard imploring her father to stay the storm, and bewailing the plight of "some noble creature" in the "brave vessel," whose "cry did knock against" her very heart. Here, too, as "Miranda" sleeps," Ariel "appears to the summons of his master. "Caliban," the monster, too, makes his entrance, and displays his strange, wild, primitive nature in a colloquy with "Prospero." "Ferdinand," son to the King of Naples, is afterwards brought hither by "Ariel," and a first interview with "Miranda" takes place, "Miranda" never having before looked upon other specimens of masculine humanity than "Prospero" and "Caliban." Here occur the beautiful song and chorus, "Come unto these yellow sands," and the air "Full, fathom five."
Right - A Programme for 'Whiteoaks' at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester in May 1938.
The bright new picture of the enchanted island is a fine work of art by the elder Grieve, of Covent Garden, and the whole scene is a beautiful transcript of natural beauty. Equally remarkable for artistic skill are the "desert" and the "wooded" part of the island, both also by Grieve. The high excellence now attained by scenic painters is here demonstrated, nor does it suffer at all in the "cave" picture, by Mr. Holding. The perspective of a natural cavern is correctly realised, and the massing together of the rocks strikes us as geologically correct as well as admirably conceived.
Left - A Programme for Nikita Balieff's 'Chauve Souris Theatre' at the Prince's Theatre, in 1932.
A view of " Ellusis and its Temple" - a scene in which the descent of the goddesses Juno, Ceres, and Iris takes place - is quite as masterly in drawing, but quite of another kind. The character of a soft, delicious Mediterranean shore is brilliantly rendered. The idea of the Deesses is chaste and appropriate, and the fair figure of the Queen of Heaven is suggestive of great splendour and dignity. In this "Masque" presented by the magician to the eyes of the lovers, as they sit on a fragment of rock, the ballet resources of the establishment are brought into play by the introduction of a "reapers' dance," which is at once simple, quiet, and effective, reflecting credit upon the leader of the coryphees, Miss Ellison, herself an elegant and accomplished danseuse. Another dance is made to vary the incidents of the play - that of the "torches," In the scene in which a crowd of harpies comes to seize "Trinculo" and "Stephano." The close of this spirited episode is the appearance of "Ariel" in a gleaming light who is seen riding in the air on the "bat's back."
The last of Mr. Holding's pictures is that which witnesses the climax of the story. An open sea bears a grand old barque upon its placid basin, Prospero is leaving the island - "Ariel" has gained his liberty. As the ethereal being bids farewell to the scene of his imprisonment, the sun goes down - a red and golden glory gleams on the water - over which, in the deep blue of a cloudless sky, "Ariel" wings his happy flight.
Right - A Programme for 'Dirty Work' with Ralph Lynn at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester.
The mechanical appliances of the stage, which are ample, and include the latest improvements of scenic art, were not worked with all the precision and skill that will come with use, and it was quite apparent that the audience understood and allowed for these slight drawbacks. Of the living representatives of Shakespeare's wonderful play, Mr. and Mrs. Calvert claim precedence of notice by courtesy. The lady has been long a favourite in Manchester. Her natural and intelligent style of acting, combined with ease of deportment and physical advantages, gives her the power to charm in a diversity of parts and characters. "Miranda" makes no great demand upon talents of a vigorous sort; but the poet's artless child of nature calls for the exercise of great reticence and self-command. Mrs. Calvert secured the full applause of a crowded house by her careful and thoughtful impersonation of this difficult part. Mrs Calvert imbued "Prospero" with the calm and serious dignity which marks moat of his efforts. To Miss Julia St. George belongs the merit and the credit of making the sensation of the evening. Selected by Mr. Phelps, on his revival of :the "Tempest," for the part of "Ariel," Miss St. George has been secured for the same duty at the Prince's. And we use no exaggeration in saying that a more chaste, beautiful, and truly Shakespearean inspiration has seldom been seen than this lady's conception or the "dainty spirit," "Ariel". It would seem as if for once, a happy combination of physical and intellectual gifts had permitted the very embodiment of one of the rarest fancies. Miss St. George speaks, plays, looks, and sings the part to perfection. Every Word and every movement harmonise, and even her most trifling action speaks the meaning of the poet, Her performance was one of gradually increasing delight to the audience, and enthusiasm found fitting vent in a double recall after the charming singing of "Where the bee sucks," than which we have heard nothing more delicately true to nature, nor more choice as an effort of art.
Miss St. George will make "Ariel" a chief attraction during the continuance of the play. Mr. J. L. Cathcart exerted himself greatly to produce a genuine representation of the monstrous "Calihan." Of the rest of the performers in the "Tempest" we must find space to speak kindly of the "Ferdinand" of Mr. H. S. Haynes, the "Trinculo" of Mr. Hudspeth, and the "Stephano" of Mr. Edwin Dixon. "Stephano's" drunken gait and tone were consistently maintained, and the old-fashioned jester met with appropriate treatment at Mr. Hudspeth's hands. The close of the pay witnessed numerous recalls. A careful pruning of the "Tempest" removed every word that could offend the most delicate ear, without in the slightest injuring the spirit and integrity of the text.
Left - A Programme for '77 Park Lane' by Walter Hackett at the Prince's Theatre, in April 1929.
For the after-piece of "Mazourka" we have left little room or time. It was noteworthy for the appearance of Mr. Frederick Maacabe (already favourably known to us by previous successes in this city) as the "Countess Tiddllwinkl," and assumption of a phrase of the feminine character equally adroit, curious, and amusing. Mr. Maccabe has plenty in him; more than he will be able to reveal in a long engagement. We believe him to be on of those desirable actors who have versatility and resource, and to these gifts the subject of our remarks adds a deep insight into human nature.
Miss Florence Haydn made an agreeable "Mazourka;"
Miss Mary Townley displayed good musical and artistic abilities as "Yelva;"
Miss Edith Challis was very handsome and gentlemanly as the "Count;"
and Miss Alice Dodd was sparkling and clever as "Mazourki;"
Mr. Hudspeth took the part of the "blind fidler" and "magician;"
Mr. Philip Day did some wonderful dancing as "M. Pirouette;"
and Mr. Edwin Dixon, as "Ivan," proved himself capable of
making a great deal out of a sketch. He will prove, we imagine, a most
useful member of the new company.'
The Prince's Theatre opened with a production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' on Saturday, October the 15th 1864, under the management of Charles Calvert, who had previously run the Theatre Royal on Peter Street, Manchester from 1857 to 1862. A series of Shakespearean revivals followed the opening production of The Tempest, which are said to have put Manchester on the map for lovers of Shakespearean revivals.
Above - The Auditorium and Stage of the Prince's Theatre, Manchester - From 'The Penny Illustrated Paper', October 21st, 1876 - Courtesy Alfred Mason. The accompanying text to this engraving reads: - '"The Prince's Theatre Manchester, of which a fair idea is given in the subjoined engraving, is truly a model playhouse; and recent experience of the intolerable discomfort to which playgoers are subjected even in the most expensive portions of our London auditoriums almost makes me wish I could run down to Manchester to luxuriate in the comfortable stalls of the Prince's and enjoy an hour or so with Pattie Laverne in Mr Alfred Cellier's new comic opera, "Nell Gwynne". It was whilst the Prince's Theatre was under the management of Mr Charles Calvert (a second Charles Kean for the production of Shakspeare's plays with the most magnificent pageantry) that this illustration of the interior was drawn, the scene represented being the statue scene in "A Winter's Tale". If the Prince's is no longer famed for the Calvertian splendour with which the legitimate drama is put upon the stage, this gem of a theatre shows no diminution of liberality in its management...' - 'The Penny Illustrated Paper', October 21st, 1876.
In 1869 the Theatre was reconstructed and redecorated by Alfred Darbyshire who was a friend of the Calverts and associated with their Theatre for many years. The 1869 alterations included the adding of an extra circle with more seating and a new proscenium with a new frieze above it, painted by Henry Stacy Marks, which showed Shakespeare surrounded by his principle characters. Darbyshire would also go on to add a new ceiling to the Theatre with a small central dome in 1874.
Above - The frieze above the proscenium of the Prince's Theatre, Manchester, painted by Henry Stacy Marks - From 'Sixty-eight years on the stage' by Mrs Charles Calvert, published in 1911.
Alfred Darbyshire wrote about these alterations to the Theatre in his book 'An Architects Experiences', published in 1897 and availiable online here, saying:- 'As time went on, the policy pursued by Calvert became so popular, that the little Prince's Theatre was found inadequate to accommodate the increasing audiences. It was accordingly determined by the directorate that the house should be enlarged. I was called in to devise a scheme by which the house should be stretched to its utmost capacity; thus commenced my professional association with the architecture of the theatre." I was instructed to provide an additional circle without raising the roof, and to construct a new proscenium. I was allowed carte blanche in the decoration; but the scheme was to be in accordance with the Shakespearean idea of the management. I induced H. Stacy Marks, R.A., to paint a proscenium frieze, the subject being Shakespeare enthroned between Tragedy and Comedy, and attended on either side by representative figures from the principal plays. This picture is one of the finest decorative paintings of our time, and retains its beauty and freshness to the present day. The box fronts were adorned by medallion portraits of the principal tragic characters, with incidents from the plays, all painted by William Phillips. Colour was freely introduced to balance these decorative pictures....
Right - Alfred Darbyshire - From 'An Architects Experiences', published in 1897.
...In 1874 extensive alterations and additions were made in the theatre. A new ceiling and dome over the auditorium, an increased proscenium opening, better accommodation for the artistes, and a new scheme of decoration were carried into effect. These improvements were inaugurated on the night of April 11th, 1874, by a series of thirteen " Promenade Concerts," conducted by M. Riviere. I constructed an immense terraced orchestra on the stage, the walls of which were lined with scenery, and a complete promenade was realised from the front of the house to the back and round the stage... My professional work in connection with the Prince's Theatre has left many pleasant memories... from 1869 to the death of G. H. Browne in 1877 I was constantly employed in providing for the comfort of the audience, and in adding lavishly to the decoration, furniture, and general appointments." - Alfred Darbyshire 1897 .
The Theatre reopened on the 6th of August 1869 with the play 'Much Ado About Nothing', with Mr and Mrs Calvert in the leading roles. There is much more information on the Calvert's period at the Prince's Theatre in the book, now archived online, 'Sixty-eight years on the stage' by Mrs Charles Calvert, published in 1911, and also in Alfred Darbyshire's book 'An Architects Experiences', published in 1897 and availiable online here.
On the 9th of July 1892 a new Company called 'The Prince's Theatre Co. Ltd., was registered with a capital of £25,000 in £100 shares in order to run the Prince's Theatre in conjunction with the nearby Theatre Royal on Peter Street.
Sadly the Prince's Theatre closed in April 1940 when it was sold to ABC Cinemas who planned to build a new Cinema complex on the site, the Theatre was subsequently demolished but because of the war the new Cinema was never built and today the site of the Theatre is home to an office building called Peter House which was constructed in 1958, see image below.
Above - A Google StreetView Image of Peter House, Oxford Street, Manchester, which was built on the site of the former Prince's Theatre in 1958 - Click to Interact.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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