The New Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
The structure itself is a correct model of Grecian architecture, adapted to the dramatic improvements and purposes of the present time. It was necessary, therefore, that the sculptural decorations should agree as much as possible with the idea, in character and execution. The order of architecture in this building is taken from that of the Temple of Minerva, at Athens; and the basso-relievos explain the purposes of the edifice, in the
Sculptures on each side the Grand Portico:
Of which the piece representing the ANTIENT DRAMA—in the centre, three Greek Poets are sitting: the two looking towards the portico are Aristophanes, representing the Old Comedy, and (nearest to the spectator) Menander, representing the New Comedy; before them Thalia presents herself with her crook and comic mask, as the object of their imitation: she is followed by Polyhymnia playing on the greater lyre, Euterpe on the lesser lyre, Clio with the long pipes, and Terpsichore, the muse of action or pantomime. These are succeeded by three nymphs, crowned with the leaves of the fir-pine, and in succinct tunics, representing the hours or seasons governing and attending the winged horse, Pegasus.
The third sitting figure in the centre, looking from the portico, is Aeschylus, the father of tragedy: he holds a scroll open on his knee; his attention is fixed on Wisdom, or Minerva, seated opposite the poet; she is distinguished by her helmet and shield: between Aeschylus and Minerva, Bacchus stands leaning on a faun, because the Greeks represented tragedies in honour of Bacchus. Behind Minerva stands Melpomene, or Tragedy, holding a sword and mask; then follow two Furies, with snakes and torches, pursuing Orestes, who stretches his hands to supplicate Apollo for protection —Apollo is represented in the quadriga, or four-horsed chariot of the sun. The last described figures relate to part of Aeschylus's tragedy of The Choephoræ.
The MODERN DRAMA.—In the centre (looking from the portico) Shakspeare is sitting: the comic and tragic masks, with the lyre, are about his feet: his right hand is raised, expressive of calling up the following characters in the Tempest: first, Caliban, laden with wood; next Ferdinand, sheathing his sword; then Miranda, entreating Prospero in behalf of her lover: they are led on by Ariel above, playing on a lyre. This part of the composition is terminated by Hecate (the three-formed goddess) in her car, drawn by oxen, descending. She is attended by Lady Macbeth, with the daggers in her hand, followed by Macbeth, turning in horror from the body of Duncan behind him.
In the centre (looking towards the portico) is Milton seated, contemplating Urania, according to his own description in the Paradise Lost: Urania is seated facing him above; at his feet is Sampson Agonistes chained. The remaining figures represent the Masque of Comus; the two Brothers drive out three Bacchanals, with their staggering leader, Comus. The Enchanted Lady is seated in the chair: and the series is ended by two tigers, representing the transformation of Comus's devotees.
The designs of both basso-relievos, and the model of the antient drama, are by Mr. Flaxman. The model of the modern drama, and the execution in stone, is by Mr. Rossi.
The statues representing Tragedy and Comedy are placed in niches at each end of the front.
Tragedy, which occupies the niche in the southern extremity of the building, or that nearest to Russell Street, is a fine figure, holding the tragic mask and dagger. The sculptor is Mr. Rossi.
Comedy holds the shepherd's crook or pedum on her right shoulder, and the comic mask in her left hand. This statue, which is the workmanship of Mr. Flaxman, is placed in the niche of the northern extremity of the building, next to Long Acre.
According to common conception, there is not sufficient discrimination between the two figures; and, indeed, it is thought that they might both be taken for representations of the Tragic Muse. But the figure of Comedy is founded upon the severe taste of antiquity; and, as its object is to correct as well as please, it is marked by dignified tranquillity, more than by the smirking graces which might be supposed to characterize Farce, rather than legitimate Comedy; nor are the violent energies of Tragedy expressed in the other figure—a solemn, grave attitude, and "looks commercing with the skies," give an impressive majesty to her appearance. The statue of Comedy exhibits a milder dignity, and is simply elegant.
Interior of the Theatre.
The pit is spacious, and the benches are raised gradually, to a very convenient elevation for a view of the stage; and the galleries hold fully an equal number with the former ones, though they are on a quite different construction. One great advantage attends this change: in summer the doors of the galleries and the windows of the lobbies being left open, the audience in those parts cannot be oppressed by heat, as in the former theatre.
Under the gallery is a row of annual boxes, constituting the third tier; they consist of twenty-six in number, with a private room behind each. The access to these boxes is by a beautiful staircase, exclusively appropriated to them, and not connected with any other part of the house, with also a lobby, exclusively, spacious and magnificent in the extreme.Fortunately an arrangement took place with respect to these boxes, after nearly three months' contest in the celebrated O. P war; and they are now in use with the rest to the public.
The lower boxes are upon the same plan as those in the old house. There is, however, an additional seat; each box will thus hold twelve persons, being three more than in the old house. The grand staircase from Bow Street to the boxes is most superb, and, in extent, greatly exceeds that of the Opera House. The doors of the boxes are of solid mahogany.
The front of the stage is surmounted with the royal arms, and the pillars at the sides are plain and elegant. This, indeed, is the characteristic style of the whole house. The artist has studied the simplex munditiis, and never did artist more completely realize the principle. An elegant simplicity, equally remote from glare and glitter on the one side, and crudity and coldness on the other, prevails throughout. The fronts of the boxes are of a colour between bronze and stone, with a Chinese flower in continuation between the tiers, and parsemé with stars. The house is lighted by gas.
The ceiling of the Theatre is painted to imitate a dome. The proscenium of the stage is a large arch, from the top of which hang red curtains festooned in the Grecian style, and ornamented with a black Grecian border, and gold fringe: on each of these festoons is painted a gold wreath, in the centre of one of which is written, in gold letters, the motto of the stage, "Veluti in Speculum." The proscenium is supported by pillars, painted to imitate yellow stained marble, of which colour are the sides of the pit; and the stage doors are white and gold.
The artist has been also particularly attentive to the comfort and accommodation of the performers. The gentlemen's dressing-rooms are on one side, and those of the ladies on the other. There are three green-rooms, all of them on the side of Bow Street. The wardrobe-room is spacious and superb; in the centre is a square table, of great size, the surface mahogany, highly polished; the presses which line the room are in wainscot, finished with the most exquisite taste.
In the construction of this splendid edifice, the calamitous fate of the two late great winter Theatres has not been forgotten. Every means of safety against fire, or other accident, that ingenuity could devise, has been adopted. At all convenient intervals are strong party-walls, with iron doors, by which, if a fire were to break out, it would be confined within that particular compartment, and be prevented from spreading through the house. The fire-places are made with the grates turned upon a pivot, by which means the front can be moved round to the back, and the fire is thus extinguished without the possibility of accident. Water-pipes are also insinuated into every part of the house, through which they are spread like veins through the human body. Great brass cocks, which, when turned, would pour the contents into the house, present themselves to the eye in the lobbies and other open places. The flight of stairs to the upper gallery consists of 120 steps, and the number of bricks laid down in seven months, amounted to seven millions—a circumstance which may afford an idea of the magnitude of the edifice, and the celerity with which it has been built. The materials are of the best quality, and the building is most substantial and secure. Its strength was tried by immense leaden weights, placed on several tiers, greatly exceeding the weight of the most crowded audience that could be compressed into the house; and yet the building did not in any point give way in the slightest degree perceptible. This experiment was totally useless to any person competent to form an opinion of the work. To weak and timid people it may, however, be satisfactory.
The entrance to the Theatre is even grander than the Theatre itself. The noble stone portico on the outside is well known. As you enter this to proceed to the boxes, you turn to the left; and, at the top of a short flight of steps, which is surmounted on each side by a pedestal, on which is placed a bronze Grecian lamp, are seated the money-takers. After passing them, there is another noble flight of steps, along each side of which, on a level with the top step, runs a row of four round Ionic pillars, and two half square ones, all exactly imitated from porphyry: between each of these hangs a bronze Grecian lamp; fronting you, as you ascend these steps, is a cast statue of SHAKSPEARE, placed under an arch in the ante-room. The statue is quite a new design: the face is more like the Felton likeness than the Chandos; and the figure is standing in a graceful attitude, folding his drapery round him. The ante-room is supported by pillars in equally exact imitation of porphyry. The principal lobby is a long room, ornamented with eight beautiful cast statues from the antique; but it is small, and the parts devoted to the serving of refreshments are rather confined. The lobby upstairs is still smaller, and the staircases are narrow. Upon the whole, however, the Theatre is well contrived, and tastefully executed; and both in its inside and outside worthy of the metropolis in which it is placed.