Recording the progress of a project commissioned by North York Open Studios and based in the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond.
Friday, 3 February 2012
An Initial Visit
I made an initial visit in November. The theatre is small but perfectly formed ! I last saw it a long time ago when I was only 7 or so. My whole family went to Richmond for a very exciting Christmas away - the first time I'd ever spent Christmas away from home. I've never forgotten going to see the pantomime - 'Beauty and the Beast' here. It would have been in the late seventies. I remember it being very hot and crowded - and feeling really part of the performance as it was happening because it was all so close.
I was shown around by a really informative guide - thank you Dave Palmer. Its a museum during the day with regular guided tours. The whole thing has been renovated since I last saw it - I particularly liked all the painted fronts of the seating and the trap doors. The stage is really raked - something you only realise when you stand on it. There are words everywhere - the boxes are named after playwrights of the time, several of whom are now quite obscure. The tour includes being able to see back stage, well, under the stage, and the two rather cramped dressing rooms.
These little faces are original paintings that have been preserved. I thought how wonderful that so much remained in place in the building. Apparently the theatre was boarded up for 200 years; it was open for a fairly brief time - from 1788 to 1848 it was full of life and performance - concerts, plays etc. and then almost nothing until it was renovated and reopened in 1963. I was very struck by the fact that it was somewhat forgotten - that it had ever been a theatre and it was used for all sorts of different functions, including as a repository for paper salvage during the war. And now its full of life and light again.
I also particularly liked the many playbills on display - especially their multiplicity of fonts.
The first two plays ever performed there are known - on the 2nd September 1788, 'Inkle and Yarico' and 'The Midnight Hour' were played. I'm really keen to look at these - there's something compelling about the idea of the first words spoken to the audience on that stage.