1 January 2013

A Visit to the Brand New Theatre in 1794

Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in 1807. The Theatre in Birmingham
used this theatre's scene painter, Thomas Greenwood, for their own
painted curtain and scenery. The colour-scheme for the Birmingham
Theatre was deep pink, crimson and apple green and it had two tiers
rather than the three of Sadler's Wells. 

After the Theatre on New Street was burnt down in 1792 George Saunders of London was employed in its rebuilding, with the help of a 29 year old William Hollins, who later went on to build a number of Birmingham's most prominent buildings himself. The facade that had been designed by Samuel Wyatt in about 1780 had survived the fire, so Saunders rebuilt the main building, which re-opened in May 1794.

We can take a little look inside:
'Upon entering the House, the eye is struck with its capaciousness, elegence and richness. Its form, for the audience part of the Theatre, is semi-circular to the box on either side of the stage, which, as far as each extends, takes the line of a circle reversed. Two tier of Sixteen Boxes surround the House; they are decorated with many white enamelled Iron Columns, representing a Bundle of Reeds, the fillet that encircles and binds them, and the vases and capitals, being richly gilt. From above the columns project elegant brackets, which suspend the brilliant cut glass chandeliers [of which there were twenty]. The colour of the inside of the Boxes is a deep pink, the covering of the seats crimson, and the cushions apple green.'*
There were also 'elegant ornaments painted on the parapets in Front of the Boxes' and a 'magnificent Ceiling in the form of a Fan, adorned with antique figures and ornaments corresponding with the decoration of the Boxes, and a painted Curtain with stage scenery by Messrs. Greenwood and Dixon'.** In the new building the boxes (costing 4 shillings), gallery (1 shilling) and pits (2 shillings) were all accessed by entrances on seperate streets, which meant that visitors did not have to ascend or descend steps on arriving at or departing the theatre; an early thought to safety. Visitors to the boxes were attended to in a custom built saloon, and all areas could access the ballroom which stood at the front of the building, and where refreshments would be served. There were also The Shakespeare Rooms, for alcoholic drinks, and a coffee house, which were both run by Mr. Wilday.

* References on request
**Thomas Greenwood was a scene painter who had worked at Drury Lane Theatre and, at the time of working on Birmingham's theatre, at the Sadler's Wells in London. Find out more about the Sadler's Wells theatre here.

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