Thursday, November 30, 2023

England's oldest operational theater, Georgian Theatre Royal, is a gem

Elegant boxes and beautiful curtains, ornate original design touches and perhaps the oldest known
theatrical set piece mark the historic Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire, England.


Richmond's Georgian Theatre Royal is among the country's
 most revered theaters, and the oldest still operational one.



THEATER is as much a part of life in England as steak and kidney pie, pub life and the Royal Family. Whether you spell it with an "er" or an "re" you can be sure that Richmond's Georgian Theatre Royal is worth a visit if you're anywhere near north Yorkshire.

We sat for a few minutes in the Royal Box,
during an afternoon guided tour
Then Prince Charles and
Camilla, before he became
King, in the Royal Box.
THE THEATRE Royal is the oldest still operational theater in England, a charming, small venue where regular performances and concerts are held as they have been since 1899 -- with a few interruptions.  Its official handle is the Georgian Theatre Royal and it opened with "As You Like It," written by William Shakespeare in 1599. The theater continues to offer classical works, as well as concerts and a variety of productions including  recent sold-out presentations of  "The Buddy Holly Story" and "Northern Soul."
WITH ONLY 154 seats, everyone in the house is practically "ringside." We recently enjoyed beautiful orchestra seats with our hosts and Yorkshire residents, John and Sue, who are regulars at the theater.
The streets of Richmond suit the historic look and feel of the
intimate Theatre Royal, the city's pride, a beautiful venue.
The venue is beloved by Yorkshire residents who are rightly proud of its history and life as both a thriving community playhouse and a living theater museum. No wonder it is revered, for famed actor Edmund Kean is among luminaries to act on the historic stage.
Building on the theater began in 1788 with actor-manager Samuel Butler and his first wife Tryphosa Brockhill Butler in command.  It was a "circuit theater" then, with actors traveling the countryside to play other houses -- in Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Northallerton, Ripon, Ulverston and Whitby.  All those theater venues are long gone, giving more meaning to Theatre Royal's longevity.
FOLLOWING TRYPHOSA's death, then Butler's demise, his second wife, Francis Maria Jefferson, took over the operation. Following her run, for more than the next100 years, the building housed other enterprises, including a wine warehouse and an auction house.  A determined fundraising effort allowed a return to its original purpose and it reopened as a non-profit trust in 1963.  An expansion followed in 1996, then a major restoration in 2002. More than 1.6 million pounds was raised, with a gala reopening in 2003.
A view of the theater's interior from the stage,
looking back, to show the compact house.
We marveled at the artwork in this sturdy old theater, which hosted performances by Dame Sybil Thorndike in the 1960s and famed contemporary actor Dame Judi Dench in more recent times. Dench is also president of the theater.
Famed actor Edmund Kean
had star billings in the
theater's early days.

The neighborhood of Richmond's
Theatre Royal houses many
interesting buildings, including
shops, hotels and restaurants.

 OUR GUIDED tour included viewing of some of the prized artifacts, organized in 2016 with the opening of "The Georgian Theatre Royal Experience." Within the theater is a museum detailing the history of the building and displaying artifacts from the theatre's collection, as well as The Woodland Scene, reported to be the oldest surviving stage scenery in the world. The "Experience" is run by an educated, engaging group of theater loving volunteers, including retired teachers and businessmen, all theater buffs. They are proud of the theater's outreach through the Paul Iles Learning Centre, named after its patron. It  houses The Georgian Theatre Royal Youth Theatre and hosts myriad events including volunteer open days, book groups and costume making sessions.
THE THEATER's most precious possession is what is that aforementioned world's oldest piece of theatrical scenery.
"The Woodland Scene" was painted in a workshop in Royston, Hertfordshire, in around 1820.
The theater in preparation for a performance of
"Northern Soul." Here, stage, backstage and props.
 The cozy theater also houses a bar, box office, office space and storage space.
The theater's pantomime productions are a huge audience hit, with giant set pieces and characters from children's literature, folk and fairy tales. "Rapunzel" is running now. 
Surely Edmund Kean's ghost is smiling down.
For more on performances or tours:

Veteran actor, director and a charming Scrooge (in night cap),
Sean Murray stars in Cygnet Theatre's "A Christmas Carol."
It is one of a dozen holiday treats on the boards in San Diego
NEXT UP: While we're in a theater mood, holiday time is upon us and in southern California, that means theater and a variety of fabulous productions.  From dueling pianos on a holiday theme at North Coast Rep, to  Lamb's Players spirited seasonal twist on their wildly popular "RESPECT," to "Elf, the Musical" at Welk Theatre and Sean Murray a delightfully pensive Scrooge in Cygnet's "A Christmas Carol," there is something for every holiday spirit. More next week, as we explore, learn and live: 


  1. We saw Judi Dench in a performance there years ago. Splendid small space.

  2. A lovely piece on a great landmark.

  3. Los Angeles AdmirersDecember 5, 2023 at 3:05 PM

    How we love trains. Great piece.