Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 2Wilkinson, Robert
Opening of Drury Lane New Theatre.
This Theatre opened on Saturday the , with Hamlet, to an immense audience. The public expectation had been so much excited, that the doors were crowded at an early hour, and the difficulty of entrance was excessive. When, at length, the crowd had slowly laboured their way into the hall, they found other difficulties, and the passages to the doors for receiving money were scenes of nearly as much struggle and danger as the street. This
|hall is a large unornamented oblong entrance, lighted by a handsome circular lamp, with a range of narrow iron railing inclosing the pay-doors. The next progress is into a circular apartment, surrounded by columns, and covered by a dome. In the centre is a cast from the beautiful statue of Shakespeare, by Roubillac, in the garden of Mrs. Garrick, at Hampton, left, after her decease, to the .|
On the landing-place of each of the grand staircases, a line of railing, bronzed and gilt, is drawn across for the ticket receivers; and these once passed, the audience are let loose among the galleries of this striking edifice. The general avenue to the upper part, in the interior, is a showy circular passage, running round the Shakespeare Hall, at about a of its height, lighted with antique lamps of bronze, and branching off to the saloon and the boxes. The saloon, on the construction of which the architect probably occupied much of his means, is handsome, so far as size might assist its effect. Large ottomans are placed at intervals in lines down the middle, and the recesses in the sides lined with sofas. The colour of the furniture is throughout scarlet. coffee-rooms close the extremities. Chandeliers and lamps, on antique models, are interspersed in great profusion. On the box-doors being opened, the Theatre blazes upon the eye; and it is scarcely possible for any eye to look upon it without being dazzled and delighted by its prodigal and luxuriant beauty. The back of the boxes sweeps, as it appeared to us, a segment of about -thirds of a circle; but the front deviates, with uncommon elegance, from a figure almost too precise and too unmanageable for the purposes of a theatre, and assumes the form of an irregular conchoid, or, to use a more familiar illustration, a horse-shoe considerably flattened in the middle. This form gives great advantages in seeing and hearing, from bringing forward the audience more equally to the front. We understand that the centre boxes are feet nearer the stage than in the , and feet nearer than in the former house. The front of the dress-boxes is simple and delicate; that of the circle, retiring by a slight bend, is covered by gilding and colours; the fronts of the upper rows are gorgeously decorated with green and gold; the back of the boxes is a strong red—the cushions a deep crimson. To the credit of the architect and the committee, the basket is wholly omitted. The pit contains only rows of seats, but it seems capacious and well-arranged; the entrances are at the back. The orchestra occupies but a part of it, and the seats at either end reach down to the stage. The aspect of the stage is admirable: the place of the stage doors is filled up by immense groups of gryphons or sphinxes in bronze, supporting each a blazing tripod of hydrostatic lights, the invention of Mr. Barton.[*] The flame rises from a circle of small tubes above the edge of the urn, and from its brilliancy, wavering delicacy, and slight connection with its support, excited universal admiration. Over these, on a line with the and circles, are the managers' boxes, small and singularly tasteful; above these is a magnificent cornice—and the whole is surmounted by the statue of a muse. This is all finely picturesque. From the overpowering brightness of the stage and the tripods, the eye rises to the graceful ornament of those recesses that look, with their gold and imaged work, like pavilions in an eastern garden, and from them gradually fixes on the pale marble form of a muse, surrounded with the severer lines of the architecture, slightly shaded from the burning brightness of the stage, and standing in all the grace of chaste, lonely, Greek simplicity. large green columns with gilded capitals limit the stage on either side; and the architect seems to have availed himself of them in a very able manner. From the comparative narrowness of the stage, it might have been feared that the figures of the performers would appear disproportionably large, at least to all that majority of the audience not perfectly on their level; but, by bringing forward those pillars, and still more by, if we may so express ourselves, extending their pedestal on both sides of the proscenium, an immediate contrast is formed, which reduces the stature of the performer to the due proportion. From this, which struck us as a very happy expedient, the stage appeared to have all the advantage, without the inconvenience of that size, which has given rise to so much complaint in the . On a comparison with this latter Theatre, defects occur to us in both; but the mutual character differs so widely, that a perfect contrast is beyond our powers. The produces its effect by rigid regularity; the other, by various elegance. In the , decoration obtrudes itself reluctlantly, and is submissive to the sterner spirit of the temple; in the other, the very wantonness of a luxuriant taste sports in all its fancies, and impresses all it touches with the spirit of an oriental palace. Shakespeare would have chosen Covent Garden for the stern passion of his , or the desperate and sublime cruelty of his ; but for the light elegance, and fairy beauty, and fantastic splendour of the , or the , he would have turned unwillingly from . They are both able works, and do honour to the liberality and the skill by which they have been raised within so short a period; but a decision on their respective merits must depend on the peculiar habits of the decider.
[*] The tripods of hydrostatic lights have been removed since the first season, and other trifling alterations taken place.
Title page of Vol. 2 reads: Theatrum illustrata. Graphic and historic memorials of ancient playhouses, modern theatres and other places of public amusement in the cities and suburbs of London & Westminster with scenic and incidental illustrations from the time of Shakspear to the present period.