A brief history of The Georgian Theatre Royal
Built 1788, closed 1848, reopened 1963, restored and extended 2003, improved 2016 and 2020
The Georgian Theatre Royal, Britain's oldest working theatre in its original form, is both a thriving community playhouse and a living theatre museum.
Built by actor-manager Samuel Butler in 1788, the Georgian Theatre Royal was managed by Butler along with his circuit of theatres at Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Northallerton, Ripon, Ulverston and Whitby.
The Georgian Theatre Royal is Britain's most complete Georgian playhouse. Built by the actor-manager Samuel Butler in 1788, the Theatre was in regular use until 1830 when performances became less frequent. In 1848 it was let as an auction room. Wine vaults were constructed in the pit at about the same time. In 1960 a non-profit trust was incorporated, a public appeal launched and a restoration began. The Theatre reopened in 1963. It is Grade I Listed 'as a building of special architectural or historical interest'. Behind the stage, an exhibition area was expanded in 1996.
From 2002 a second extensive restoration was undertaken and the Theatre reopened in September 2003 after this £1.6 million upgrade. The Georgian plays an important role as a focus for economic regeneration and renewal in its rural communities.
The Theatre Royal is a typical eighteenth-century country playhouse, and keeps alive an important period of English theatre architecture. No other playhouse can offer such authenticity, and few other theatres can offer such an intimacy. A capacity today of 154 seats is arranged in rectangular form: sunken pit, boxes on three sides and a small gallery above. The furthest seat is only 10.7m from the stage, whose proscenium width is 4.72m with a depth of 6.4m to the back wall. Performers and theatregoers are in the closest proximity in this enchanting 'courtyard' theatre, the proportions of which have been emulated many times worldwide in the late twentieth century.
The 2003 refurbishments include a new, more authentic decorative colour scheme based on extensive research, reinstatement of stage machinery and simulated candle lustres combined with new stage technologies.
A new extension created a box office, a third dressing room, bars and foyers.
'The Woodland Scene'
We are lucky enough to possess Britain's oldest set of scenery, known as 'The Woodland Scene' which was probably painted between 1818 and 1836. Conserved in 2016, the scenery now takes centre stage in The Georgian Theatre Experience.
"A treasure. Quite remarkable. Beautiful in every degree... It should be listed as one of the wonders of the world, in my book." Peter Davison, Actor
There are over 4,000 items in the Theatre's archives. These include posters, handbills, letters and petitions from 1789; press cuttings, photographs, letters and programmes from 1943; autographs of actors from 1970 and much more that can be viewed or used for further research. A digital copy of many of our archive photographs can be found on the Google platform: Google Arts and Culture. Contact us for further details of access to our archives: email@example.com.