The Theatre Royal and Victorian Theatre in Historical Perspective

"We were walking through London on a winter evening, making our way from a pasta restaurant to the Lyceum Theatre to see a production of "The Lion King." We turned a corner and there it was, "The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane." The name was there, complete with the coat of arms of Queen Victoria. It was an epiphany. The tradition of the Theatre Royal did not begin in Barkerville; it began here, on this spot, in 1666. Barkerville's Theatre Royal was carrying on a 350-year-old tradition that linked the "Capital city of the World" to a small mining town in the mountains of British Columbia. This is the tradition the Theatre Royal, Barkerville is carrying forward.

Richard Wright

The Theatre Royal in England, had its beginning in 1660 when Charles II reclaimed the throne from Cromwell's parliamentarians. Charles gave two Royal Patents to perform Theatre legitimately in London (hence the terms legitimate or legit theatre). Thomas Killigrew received such a patent and began the first Theatre Royal in 1663. It was a long narrow building, 58 feet by 112 feet, with a capacity of around 700.

The theatre escaped the Great Fire of London but burned down in 1672. Killigrew rebuilt with a design by Christopher Wren. This building seated 2000.

It was here in this theatre that the custom of standing for "God Save the King [Queen]" began. Dr. Thomas Arne, the theatre's musical director, composed a song in honor of George III called "God Bless Our Noble King." The crowd rose to its feet when it was played --a tradition that was continued to the Theatre Royal in Barkerville.

This grand old dame was razed in 1791 and a third Theatre was built, a monster of 3611 seats that opened in 1794. It went up in flames in 1809. Theatre Royal Drury Lane was rebuilt in 1812 and still stands today, seating 2226.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, like Barkerville's Theatre Royal, has several ghosts including Charles II, actor Charles Kean, the clown Joe Grimaldi and an 18th century courtier who was murdered and walled up in the theatre corridor. It was also, unlike the Barkerville site, the scene of a murder in the green room and George III was shot in the building by a mad gunman in 1800.

The theatre was later used for cinema productions though it is now once again producing legitimate theatre.

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