The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
The theatre in was a cock-pit, which, hoisting a Phoenix for a sign, was sometimes called by that name; it was not, however, until after the restoration of Charles II., that a house suitable for the accommodation of the public was erected. It soon shared the too common fate of the London theatres, and was burnt down in ; and years afterwards it was rebuilt under the direction of that great architect, sir Christopher Wren. This fabric, which was of considerable dimensions, and excellent in its internal arrangements, remained undisturbed until the year , when it was determined to take it down, and re-build it on a scale better adapted to the increased population, and the more refined taste of the age. During this period, had been highly attractive; on its boards, a Garrick and a Siddons had trod, and the former, after amassing a splendid fortune, sold his share of the property for
The theatre built by sir Christopher Wren was probably too small, though we hear no complaints of that sort, even when the popularity of the British Roscius was at its height; but certain it is, that in building the new theatre in , the architect fell into the opposite extreme; the house was so enlarged in its dimensions, as to be a theatre for spectators, rather than hearers; and as the audience lost all those advantages, which a convenient distance from the speaker gave in seeing the expression of his countenance, and hearing the varied modulations of his voice, the love of spectacle, which had already manifested itself, began to predominate. The splendour of the scenes, the ingenuity of the machinist, and the richness of the costume, aided by the captivating charms of music, superseded the labours of the poet; and while Otway a century ago obtained but for the tragedy of Venice Preserved, Mr. George Colman the Younger, was in our day rewarded with for the spectacle of
When it was determined to take down the edifice erected by sir Christopher Wren, Mr. Henry Holland was appointed the architect, under whose direction the theatre was built, and opened on the . As so many theatres had been destroyed by fire, it was determined to take every precaution against such a calamity in future. An iron curtain, which resisted the force of a sledge hammer, was constructed so as to let down in a moment of danger, and separate the audience from the stage, while a reservoir was formed on the top of the house, filled with water sufficient, as the epilogue spoken at the opening of the theatre, by Miss Farren, gave assurance, to
On the night, the iron curtain was let down, and the stage was filled with water, on which a man rowed round with a boat; the managers boasted of their reservoirs,
But these were
for, years afterwards, the whole fabric was burnt to the ground. This calamity occurred on the ; and so rapid were the flames, that, although the fire did not break out until o'clock at night, the immense edifice was reduced to a pile of ruins in less than hours.
So various and so conflicting were the interests in the property of the theatre, that it was long before they could be reconciled; at length it was determined to rebuild it on a somewhat more diminished but more magnificent scale.
The stone of this externally substantial and internally superb and well contrived theatre, was laid on the , and the new theatre opened on October .
The architecture is simple, elegant, and uniform. The skill of the architect, Benjamin Wyatt, esq. was powerfully and liberally aided by an intelligent and public-spirited committee, of which the late Samuel Whitbread, esq. was the zealous and indefatigable chairman. It was partly built upon the plan of the great theatre at Bourdeaux, supposed to be the best house in Europe for the accurate conveyance of sound.
The grand entrance is at , through a spacious hall leading to the boxes and pit. This hall is supported by Doric columns, and illuminated by large brass lamps. large doors lead from this hall into the house, and into a rotunda of great beauty and elegance. On each side of the rotunda are passages to the great stairs, which are peculiarly grand and spacious; over them are ornamented ceilings, with a turret light. The body of the theatre presents nearly -fourths of a circle from the stage. This circular appearance is partly an optical deception, and has the effect of making every spectator imagine himself nearly close upon the stage, though seated in a centre box. The colour of the interior is gold upon green, and the relief of the boxes is by a rich crimson. There are circles of boxes, each containing boxes, with rows of seats, and sufficient room between each: there are slip boxes on each side, ranging with the gallery, and the like number of private boxes nearly upon a level with the pit. The boxes will hold individuals, the pit about , the lower gallery , and the upper gallery ; in all persons may be accommodated. The entrances to all the boxes and pit are secure. The appearance of the house is brilliant, without being gaudy, and elegant without affectation. The fronts of the boxes have all diversified ornaments, which are neatly gilt, and give a variety and relief to the general aspect. We must not omit the just praise which is due to the architect for these arrangements, which exclude the interruption caused by improper persons, and by necessary attractions draw off the noisy and frivolous part of the audience from the grave and sober hearers.
The grand saloon is feet long, semicircular at each
|extremity, and separated from the box corridores by the rotunda and grand staircase. It has a richly gilt stone at each corner, over which are finely imitated black and yellow veined marble slabs, or pedestals, in the niches. The ceiling is arched, and the general effect of massy Corinthian columns of verd antique at each end, with corresponding pilasters on each side, is grand and pleasing. The rooms for coffee and refreshments, at the ends of the saloon, though small, are very neat; they consist of recesses, Corinthian pilasters, circular arches with domes supporting skylights, from which glass- lamps are suspended. On the north side of the theatre is the wardrobe. The retiring rooms for the stage boxes are decorated with rich crimson carpets and with deep crimson embossed paper. The private boxes have no antichamber.
There are rows of seats in the pit, with short ones, in consequence of the orchestra making projections into it. The orchestra is about feet wide, and extends nearly the whole width of the pit. The proscenium is now arranged in a very different manner from its original state, as designed by Mr. Wyatt. On each side, elevated on a lofty pedestal, forming a parallelogram, are demi-columns of the Corinthian order, fluted and superbly gilt, and supporting an entablature; above which, in semi-circular niches, are allegorical statues of Tragedy and Comedy. On each side, between the columns, are private boxes, the fronts of which are of crimson plaster, with a radiant head of Apollo in the centre. The king's box is that between the columns, on the left of the auditory, which ranges with the dress circle. The upper part of the proscenium consists of a painted crimson curtain, with the royal arms in subdued colouring.
The ceiling is very elegant, and is enriched with roses in annulets, &c. From an opening in the centre a very large and elegant cut glass chandelier depends, which is lighted by gas.
The principal green-room is a handsome apartment; on a bracket is a bust of
which was sculptured by J. Smith in , and presented to the green-room by the late Samuel Whitbread, esq. in . Opposite is a cast of the bust of E. Kean, esq. by S. Joseph.
The painting-room, which is over the eastern extremity of the stage, is feet long, and feet wide. At the north-east angle of the theatre is a detached building, called the scene-room. It is feet inches in length, and about feet wide.
The theatre itself is a master-piece of art, and an ornament to the metropolis. The coup d'oeil is delightful beyond the power of description: it certainly has no rival in England, or perhaps in the known world, for beauty, completeness; and magnificence. The architect need envy no other artist, living or dead, after exhibiting this happy specimen of his taste and genius.
The following is a correct account of the number of persons the house will hold:--
The following measurements of the interior were taken very lately:--
Since the erection of the present theatre, the concern, under the management of committees, sub-committees, acting committees, and select committees, has been in a very embarrassed state; and, in , the proprietors and renters having resolved on letting the theatre to some individual, at a fixed rent, for a term of years, Mr. Elliston became the lessee, at an annual rent of l Previous to the season of -, the interior of the theatre was completely new modelled, and a new auditory substituted for the old ; executed by Mr. Peto, from the designs of Mr. S. Beazley. Mr. Elliston expended in this alteration; and subsequently, on the representation of many of the nobility and gentry of the want of a portico, the same gentleman caused to be erected the portico in . Yet, on Mr. Elliston not fulfilling a contract in his lease at the conclusion of the season -, it was most ungenerously declared forfeited. The sum the lessee was to expend during the years was ; Mr. Elliston expended exclusive of valuable scenery, &c. which, by a clause in the lease, devolved to the theatre. The house was afterwards taken by Mr. Stephen Price, an American manager, who has carried it on with considerable success.
Returning to Charing-cross, on the north side of which was, until lately, the