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
New Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
It will be seen by the external view, that the new Theatre was not built in any part on the site occupied by the old Theatre; though the proximity might raise a reasonable doubt hereafter with historians as to that fact, especially as there has been transferred to the new building, the long-considered valuable heritage of "Little." The present Theatre is built upon land demised by the Crown for a term of years, and is not more than a judicious improvement upon the former , without a peculating attack on the material senses of seeing and hearing.
The old Theatre closed on Saturday, the ,[*] with the tragedy of King Lear, and the farce of Fortune's Frolic; and the new Theatre opened as early as the following, with an Address from Mr. Terry, the inimitable comedy of the Rivals, and a new petite opera, called Peter and Paul, or Love in the Vineyards.
So much has been done by the artists in the views of this Theatre, that very little remains to be added of a house, of which the history has scarcely commenced.
The ceiling presents an allegorical painting of Morning, represented as Apollo, guiding the chariot of the Sun, while the cooling Zephyr floats upon the horizon. As a contrast in the opposite quarter, we descry Cynthia, as Night, clothed with stars, retiring before her more resplendent compeer. We are at a loss to know in what manner this supposed allegory is, or ever was, applicable to either the time or the amusements of a Theatre. Our ancestors never, that we have heard, frequented playhouses sufficiently early for the "silken flag" to glare in the beams of the "rising sun;" and for ourselves we must admit the quiet glow of the yet young moon seems more apposite with the hour of amusement, and more likely to associate with many of the scenes that form the business of the stage, though we doubt if either could be justified as a correct taste. Again, we have attached as ornaments, groups of Cupids, with trophies of the different seasons. All this, if not absolutely absurd, is as inconsistent as dressing the actor of Macbeth in a gold laced coat, bag wig, and cocked hat. Nor does the proscenium, embellished, probably, to correspond with the ceiling, display a more correct judgment. The complicated drop scene has been attempted to be rendered intelligible to "human eye" by the following description, put forth under authority, and which, fortunately, does not leave conjecture anything to supply. It "represents, on the left hand of the audience, the entrance of a temple of "the composite order, richly ornamented with basso relievos, and supposed to be dedicated to Apollo. The statues of "Thalia and Melpomene surmount the principal entrance. On the right hand, an altar dedicated to Beauty; and "flowers and various ornaments, allusive to the costumes of the Bacchantes, are also introduced. The era of the new "building, as well as of the new and glorious reign of the present Monarch, are alluded to by the temple of the "Muses, illuminated by the glory of the rising sun , that spreads its beams over the whole "scene." The arch of the roof appears supported by palm-trees, which are novel and simple, and have a good effect: however, as a plant not being indigenous, rather inapplicable to the present purpose. The boxes consist of tiers (being more than in the old house), besides rows of side boxes, having projecting fronts formed in pannel, and ornamented with a light gilt frame-work over a pink ground. The pit and galleries are commodious; and the spectator finds an advantage from the seats being rather wider apart than in the former Theatre. An attempt was properly made to assist the voice of the actors by a sounding-board over the stage, which not answering, was removed at the end of the season.
For the immediate purpose of building this Theatre rent-charges were created at per annum for each subscribed, with the privilege of admission to any part of the house (except the stage, behind the scenes, and private boxes), for years, from the , and to be transferable annually free of expense. It was stated that the old Theatre, as well as the new , were free from every debt or claim, and that the rent-charges were to raise being "the and only charge on the Theatre, except the ground-rent."
It was somewhat unfortunate that economy was an absolute preliminary to the building of this Theatre, although not of a gigantic size; and we regret the necessity of observing, that the word has been misused for parsimony. The staircases, balustrades, and lobbies, awakened, from strong similarity, the keenest recollection, so repeatedly impressed upon our memory as poor authors, by our forced visits to the . They are rude, naked, and chilling; and the effect of the view of them, in passing to the interior, is petrifying, and repels all those associations of comfort and hilarity, which the mind naturally embodies in its eagerness for recreation and pleasure.
There is a descent of steps in the avenue to the pit. Who could have expected it? and what bold architect will attempt, by reasoning, to justify the same, after the fatal accident at the old Theatre in ? Such an event should have taught, that if the necessity existed to have a descent, it must be placed beyond the bar for receiving checks, where no similar accident could occur by the impetuous struggle for admission.
We may be thought cynical in these reflections, were it not, unfortunately, the voice of many; who still candidly agree that for the enjoyment of the drama, with the desirable advantage of seeing the countenances of the actors, and hearing accurately what is said, not any regular theatre equals the Little Theatre in the .
[*] We preserve the Farewell Address as delivered by Mr. Terry. "Ladies and Gentlemen, This night closes the performances at this Theatre, which, in consequence of the great improvements in this part of the capital, is, it seems, to be pulled down. Yet it is not without regret that we take our leaves of a building which has been honoured with your liberal protection for more than half a century, and which has introduced so many celebrated authors and favourite performers to your flattering approbation and the distinction of your patronage. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Various unforeseen circumstances have arisen to depress this property; and the constant encroachment of the winter Theatres upon its season (originally established under a Royal Patent), has so materially injured it, as to threaten its very existence, and to reduce the Proprietors to the alternative of either supinely submitting to the annihilation of their interests, or assiduously struggling to obtain an independent company. '"The preparations for a new Theatre are in a forward state, and the Proprietors confidently trust, that by next season they shall be able to welcome their kind patrons in a Theatre more commodious, and worthy their countenance and protection. "And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Proprietors beg you to accept their most grateful acknowledgments for your liberal support, and to assure you that it will still be their unremitting study to merit your favour, and ensure a continuance of your protection. All the performers, Ladies and Gentlemen, desire me to unite their grateful thanks for your distinguished approbation, and we all most cordially bid you farewell."
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.