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The Royal Theatre, Guildhall Road, Northampton

Formerly - The Theatre Royal and Opera House / The Repertory Theatre
Later - The Royal and Derngate Theatres

Northampton Theatres Index

The original entrance to the Royal Theatre, on Guildhall Road, Northampton in 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

Above - The original entrance to the Royal Theatre and Opera House, on Guildhall Road, Northampton in 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley

The opening night Bill for the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, Northampton - From a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.The Royal Theatre, on Guildhall Road, Northampton was built by the well known Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps and opened on the 5th of May 1884 with a production of 'Twelfth Night'.

Right - The opening night Bill for the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, Northampton - From a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.

On the Theatre's opening the Stage newspaper reported:

'No element of success was wanting to contribute to the superb triumph that crowned the opening of this new theatre; the audience which thronged every available part of the house, comprised the rank and fashion of the town and county, while the charming Thespian temple, fresh from the hand of the scene painters, gleamed everywhere with light and colour. The artistically designed scenery, the dress circle brilliant with blue and gold, the crimson rested chairs, together with the soft and delicate beauty of the ceiling and mural embellishment, were the theme of audible admiration from all parts of the house.' The Stage 1884.

After a fire in 1887 the Theatre was restored, again by C. J. Phipps, and two years later the Proscenium was widened.

 

The aftermath of the fire at the Royal Theatre, Northampton on the 12th of February 1887 - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - The aftermath of the fire at the Royal Theatre, Northampton on the 12th of February 1887 - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

 

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Northampton - From a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.On the Theatre's 75th anniversary in 1959 a production of 'Twelfth Night' was performed to commemorate the event. The play's programme had the following information about the Theatre:-

'This year, on May 5th, Northampton's Royal Theatre and Opera House will attain 75 years as an historic monument of drama and entertainment. Here, since 1927, the Repertory Players have achieved a continuous and notable standard of plays, old and new.

It is Northampton's third "New Theatre," the New Theatre in Abington Street, opened in 1912 and now closed, being its fourth to be so called. Previous to the opening in 1735 of the town's first actual theatre building, in a malting between St. Giles' Street and The Riding, companies of players must have often performed in the yards of the spacious inns, of which in a town of such importance in the later Middle Ages and Elizabethan times, there were a number. During its sixty-nine years the St. Giles' Playhouse presented many of Shakespeare's plays. In 1778 Mr. Kemble informed the nobility and gentry that he had fitted up the theatre at a very great expense in a very elegant manner.

Left - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Northampton - From a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.

The second New Theatre, at the corner of Horseshoe Lane and Marefair, opened on May 5th, 1806, with Mr. Robertson's Company in " The Castle Spectre." It was built upon the plan of the old Haymarket Theatre, London, at the cost of £1,500. It was a neat little building, but with an elegant interior, with rows of boxes, and twelve rows of mat covered benches. Here Charles Kean thundered his tragic sentences, and the great Matthews attracted large crowds.

 

A Sketch of the Theatre from a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre Royal, Northampton in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.This theatre, the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, was also opened on a May 5th, in 1884. Built for Mr. John Franklin by Mr. Henry Martin, it was a bold and important development in the town's theatrical history. The architect was C. J. Phipps (1835-1897), the most eminent of Victorian theatre architects, who built forty theatres in Great Britain, including Her Majesty's, in London. Many of the most eminent in British theatrical history acted here.

The programme cover for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre Royal, Northampton in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.Left - A Sketch of the Theatre from a programme for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre Royal, Northampton in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.

Right - The programme cover for 'Twelfth Night' at the Theatre Royal, Northampton in May 1959 which was a commemorative production for the Theatre's 75th year - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.

During this theatre's first four decades, as well as productions of George Edwardes' musical comedies, grand opera, operettas, here the first provincial "Mikado" was presented, spectacular pantomimes, burleques and full blooded melodramas. Here Irving, whose walking stick, with Garrick associations, is in the foyer, Ellen Terry, Gordon Craig, Martin Harvey, Benson, Tearle, Seymour Hicks, Wilson Barrett, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, were among those who played in their great roles...

 

A packed audience at the Northampton Opera House on the 30th of July 1926  -  Kindly Donated by Carl Ridoutt.

Above - A packed audience at the Northampton Opera House on the 30th of July 1926 watches the 200th performance of a play by the Elephant & Castle Repertory Company. From a Programme for 'The Dancing Girl' at the Elephant & Castle Theatre on the 1st of November 1926 - Kindly Donated by Carl Ridoutt.

...Since 1927, when with vision and faith the Repertory Company was established, many of the eminent in to-day's theatre, films, radio and television have been members of the Company.

Northampton's Theatre Royal and Opera House, saturated with three-quarters of a century of great and inspiring traditions, stimulates not only those who work in front and behind its gilded high proscenium, but must continue to attract an ever-increasing patronage, so that it may go forward confidently to its centenary. O.R.'

Above text in quotes from the Theatre's 75th anniversary production of 'Twelfth Night' - Courtesy Richard Don Simms.

 

Painting by the late Osborne Robinson of the Auditorium of the Royal Theatre Northampton - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - Painting by the late Osborne Robinson of the Auditorium of the Royal Theatre Northampton - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The late Osborne Robinson, repainting the Royal Theatre's ceiling circa 1960 - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.The Theatre was restored and redecorated in 1960 by the late Osborne Robinson, who painted various murals and updated the previously plain surface which surrounded the Rococo Plasterwork in the auditorium's ceiling with stylised clouds.

Right - The late Osborne Robinson, repainting the Royal Theatre's ceiling circa 1960 - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

One of the Royal Theatre's boxes - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.In 1983, shortly before the Derngate Theatre next door was built, the Royal Theatre's backstage area was given an overhaul to improve its facilities.

Left - One of the Royal Theatre's boxes - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The Royal Theatre has been a producing house ever since the Northampton Repertory Players took up residence in 1927 and can create its own scenery and costumes in house.

The new entrance to the Royal and Derngate Theatres in 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.In October 2006 both the Royal Theatre and the Derngate next door which original opened in 1985, reopened after an 18 month redevelopment costing over £14m, and are now run as one complex called the Royal and Derngate Theatres.

Right - The new entrance to the Royal and Derngate Theatres in 2011 - Courtesy Tim Speechley.

The Theatre Royal is now a Grade II Listed building and its auditorium, built on three levels, Stalls and two horseshoe Balconies supported by columns, with a single box on each side at the first balcony level, has a capacity of 583, however, some of this is taken up by seating for 123 people on the top Gallery benches. The Theatre's frontage is of Ancaster stone and a frieze above the entrance canopy depicts the words Royal Theatre and Opera House.

 

The Royal Theatre's Act Drop, now preserved in storage. The Theatre still owns an original painted Act Drop of 1897 by Ernest Howard, something of a rarity nowadays, and this is now in storage for preservation. The Theatre also owns an even earlier Act Drop, which belonged to the Old Royal Theatre in Marefair, Northampton, which closed when the present Theatre Royal opened. The Act Drop is only 17' wide by 12' 6" deep. The design was later copied to accommodate the new larger Royal Theatre.

Right - The Royal Theatre's Act Drop, now preserved in storage. - From a publicity handout of the then Northampton Repertory Co. (Circa 1970) - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The Royal Theatre is Grade II Listed and you may like to visit its own Website here.

 

Richard Don Simms and the Northampton Repertory Theatre

Some of the cast of the Howard Payne College, Brownwood, Texas performing a Western Version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in a tour around Britain in May to August 1959, including the Royal, Northampton - Courtesy Richard Don Simms (4th from left) who played Snug, the Joiner in the production.

Above - Some of the cast of the Howard Payne College, Brownwood, Texas performing a Western Version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in a tour around Britain in May to August 1959, including the Royal, Northampton - Courtesy Richard Don Simms (4th from left) who played Snug, the Joiner in the production.

The cast of the Howard Payne College, Brownwood, Texas performing a Western version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Royal Theatre, Northampton in July 1959 - Courtesy Richard Don Simms (3rd from right) who played Snug, the Joiner in the production and says: 'Thank you, Northampton Repertory Theatre, for your great hospitality.'

Above - The cast of the Howard Payne College, Brownwood, Texas performing a Western version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Royal Theatre, Northampton in July 1959 - Courtesy Richard Don Simms (3rd from right) who played Snug, the Joiner in the production and says: 'Thank you, Northampton Repertory Theatre, for your great hospitality.'

 

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