Theatre Royal, Newcastle

The Theatre Royal is a historic theatre, a Grade I listed building situated on Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal, Newcastle.jpg
Façade of the Theatre Royal
AddressGrey Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
Coordinates54°58′22″N 1°36′43″W / 54.97278°N 1.61194°W / 54.97278; -1.61194
OwnerTheatre Royal Trust
DesignationGrade I
TypeMajor regional theatre
Capacity1,249 total seat capacity across four levels
ProductionVisiting productions
Opened20 February 1837
Rebuilt1901 Frank Matcham
ArchitectJohn and Benjamin Green


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.[1] One of the first managers here was Thomas Ternan who employed his wife, Frances Ternan as the main actress.[2]

The shareholders of the Proprietors' Committee appointed lessees to manage and programme the theatre. The longest running individual lessee, before Ltd companies, was Edward D. Davis from 1845 to 1870 during which in 1867 the interior was redesigned by architect Charles J. Phipps.[3] William Glover and George Francis, both of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow took over from 1871 to 1878; to be followed by Charles Bernard of the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow until 1882. James Howard and Fred Wyndham of Edinburgh and Glasgow became lessees from 1883 to 1887. Due to their intention, carried out, of also leasing the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, the shareholder committee did not renew their lease of the Royal.[3]

Instead, Robert Arthur of Glasgow and now lessee of Her Majesty`s Theatre, Dundee took over in 1888.[4] After the fire of 1899 he instructed architect Frank Matcham to totally redesign the interior, re-opening in 1901. The venues of Robert Arthur Theatres Ltd in Scotland and England, which had many shareholders in Tyneside, prospered until losses overwhelmed the company in 1911.[5] At this point the Arthur shareholders, led by the family of Joseph Cowen MP, appointed a new chairman of the lessee company, Michael Simons, of Glasgow, who in 1895 had created Howard & Wyndham Ltd.[3]

From 1912 onwards the Theatre Royal Newcastle was an important part of the Howard & Wyndham group, led successfully by chairman Simons, followed by the Cruikshank family, whose King's Theatre, Edinburgh joined the group in 1928. Newcastle City Council took over ownership in 1967.[3][5]

Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh formed a triangle of industry, commerce and entertainment business from the 1870s onwards. From 1962 and increasingly from the 1970s the interchange of shows and pantomimes was joined by tours each year of Scottish Opera and of Scottish Ballet. Opera North joined in.[3][6]

Following a performance of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, a huge fire destroyed the interior of the building in 1899.[7] It had its interior redesigned by Frank Matcham[8] and reopened on 31 December 1901.[1] 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;[8] 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. 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.

The Original Theatre RoyalEdit

Newcastle's original Theatre Royal opened on 21 January 1788.[9] 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,[10] who managed the theatre from 1791 to 1806. The original theatre's final performance was on 25 June 1836.

Technical detailsEdit

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 AEdit

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 gain professional standard actor training culminating in a production term to be performed in the Studio Theatre and toured nationally.

The course started in September 2015 with the first year free for the successful actors. The programme is seen 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 are involved with the programme heavily in the second term.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b "Happy 180th birthday to Newcastle's magnificent Theatre Royal". The Chronicle. 20 February 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  2. ^ Thomas Ternan, John Simkin, Spartacus Educational, retrieved 19 January 2015
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Theatre Royal, 100 Grey Street, Newcastle".
  4. ^ "Her Majesty's Theatre, Seagate, Dundee".
  5. ^ a b Graeme Smith (2008),The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, Glasgow Publications, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9559420-0-6
  6. ^ Graeme Smith (2008), The Theatre Royal: Entertaining a Nation, Glasgow Publications, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9559420-0-6
  7. ^ Butcher, Joanne. "Newcastle Theatre Royal set for £3.5m restoration". The Journal. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Geordieland's theatrical phoenix spreads its bright new wings". The Guardian. 9 September 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Public buildings: The Theatre Royal | British History Online". Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  10. ^ "18th Century Newcastle Theatre Royal poster goes under the hammer". 13 February 2015.
  11. ^ Theatre Royal Archived 12 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Hodgson, Barbara (5 June 2015). "Newcastle Theatre Royal launches young actor training scheme". Chronicle Live. Retrieved 18 November 2015.

External linksEdit