© Mr Peter Frederick Rushby LMPA
THE THEATRE ROYAL, KING STREET (north side)
BRISTOL, BRISTOL, BRISTOL
Mr Peter Frederick Rushby LMPA
15 August 1999
08 January 1959
Date of last amendment:
08 January 1959
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ST5872NE BRISTOL KING STREET, Centre
901/16/624 The Theatre Royal
Theatre. 1764-66. By James Paty. Altered 1800 and redecorated late C19, rebuilt externally with complete frontage, new fly tower, workshops and studio theatre in 1970-2 by Peter Moro and incorporating Coopers' Hall, 1743-4 by William Halfpenny. Brick front, rubble side walls and largely timber interior, and hipped pantile roof. Open plan. C20 brick facade on concrete frame surrounds the C18 interior. Coopers' Hall is limestone ashlar, rended to sides, with pantiled hipped roof behind gable. To King Street, four-bay brick frontage with four gables over first-floor windows and blind ground-floor to studio theatre. Glazed courtyard to rear at first floor level. Adjoining to right is the former hall and chapel of the Coopers' Hall, since 1970-2 the entrance and foyer to the Theatre Royal, incorporated by Peter Moro into one building - now a double-height space with staircase, and rehearsal room over.
The Coopers' Hall is now the principal entrance to the theatre. A symmetrical facade with rusticated raised basement to a moulded band, rusticated quoins to the piano nobile, entablature with bead and reel, modillion cornice and outer parapet with blind balustrade sections. The centre is set forward, with a tetra style piano nobile of attached Corinthian columns, full attic storey with a steep pediment containing the Coopers' Arms, and supporting consoles to each side. Segmental-arched basement openings, two to the right, taller with plate glass to the middle, blind to the outside. First-floor windows have architraves,
blind baluster aprons, pulvinated frieze and alternate segment31 and triangular pediments, with rectangular sunken panels above, to 12/12-pane sashes; attic windows have architraves to 4/8-pane sashes. Formerly with urns to the corner parapet dies. To Rackhay, at rear, stage door entrance by Moro with offices and dressing rooms over. Grey brick and banded concrete (exposed floors), with boiler stack to rear. Black metal strip glazing and doors.
INTERIOR: The theatre has a horseshoe plan: details include a shallow proscenium arch with 2 Corinthian pilasters in front either side of stage boxes, pit, stalls, with circle and gallery c1800 on reeded Doric columns above. Decoration from 3 periods hard to separate: rocaille and foliate decoration to pilasters, soffit of proscenium arch, and fronts of the stalls, circle and gallery, with entablatures to the 2 upper tiers, and a relief of the Royal Arms to the front of the circle. Passages to the sides of the stalls and circle with Ranelled, arched timber screens, and stairs up to the circle. The ceiling has a centrepiece with stars and cartouches. Some C18 pew-ended benches in the corners of the circle and gallery.
The interior of the Coopers' Hall remodelled by Moro. Low entrance with paved floor and rectangular piers leads via stairs with steel handrails to ticket desk and to dogleg steel and glass stair to broad balcony foyer. C18 ceiling with dentil cornice deep cove, rosettes and chandeliers over, a combination of styles and periods reminiscent of contemporary work by, for example, Carlo Scarpa. Rehearsal room over with exposed kingpost roof. Above the ticket desk further stairs lead into the bar and buttery inserted by Moro as a link between the two historic buildings, with foyers served by broad staircase with thick black steel and timber balustrade; some 1970s wallpaper in inner foyer is indicative of Moro's original scheme. In the foyer, a large-scale model of the stage demolished in 1968. To the right of the buttery/bar area, a staircase serves the backstage areas. Suites of offices and dressing rooms, together with tailoring shop, face Rackhay, over ground-floor stage door and green room area. All have exposed concrete ceilings and exposed brick walls. Behind, workshop with paint frame gives on to large side stage, and to stage itself, which has grid with 31 flies, fly floor linked on both sides, sloping stage with traps. Over the workshop is the wardrobe and rehearsal room, with laundry and rest room between. To King Street is the studio theatre, the Young Vic, also opened 1972, with entirely flexible seating between a small gallery set on either side; former buttery area with tiled floor now also used for lunchtime performances. Offices above not of special interest.
HISTORICAL NOTE: the oldest theatre in the country in continuous use, and the most complete example of C18 theatre design. Based on contemporary measured drawings of Drury Lane. It received its licence, and name, in 1778, and the Hanoverian arms date from then. In 1800 the ceiling was raised and the present gallery added, with a partial redecoration. The original stage and equipment survived to the 1960s, though the famous 'thunder-run' in the roof space above the auditorium ceiling, a zigzag series of wooden troughs for rolling cannon balls, still exists. The first and most complete C18 theatre in Britain. The Moro work is incredibly compact and practical, demonstrating his acute understanding of how a producing theatre works. The integration of the two elements is exemplary.
Bibliography Ison w: The Georgian Buildings of Bristol: Bath: 1952-: 123; Gomme A, Jenner M and Little B: Bristol, An Architectural History: Bristol: 1979-: 183; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: North Somerset and Bristol: London: 1958-: 413; Archaeological Journal: Edwards J R: The Theatre Royal, Bristol: 1942-; Architectural Review: Summerson J: The Theatre Royal (November 1943).