A tale of Margate’s historic Theatre Royal

Photo Sheradon Dublin

Since 1787 thespians have been treading the boards of Margate’s Theatre Royal.

The Grade II* listed building on the corner of Hawley Square, was part of the planned expansion of the small town and port of Margate during the mid-Georgian period.

It was built to vie as a facility for the entertainment of the upper classes, competing with the Assembly Rooms in Cecil Square (1770s), and the Circulating Library, Hawley Square (1786), both now demolished.

The historic property, which is now within a conservation area, was radically altered in 1874 by Jethro T. Robinson who was the father-in-law of Frank Matcham, the famous and prolific theatre architect who, along with his two protégés, was responsible for more than building 200 theatres before 1915.

Photo Sheradon Dublin

The 1874 conversion marked the transition of the venue from a Georgian boxed Playhouse into a Victorian theatre. The stage was shortened and a second floor ‘gallery’ level added to the expanded auditorium.

As well as welcoming some of the greatest acting ‘stars’ of the Victorian era, the theatre was the site of the first drama school in the country. The School of Acting was opened by Sarah Thorne in 1885 and attended by a young Edward Gordon Craig, who went on to become the undisputed father of modern theatre design and was arguably the most important theatre practitioner to come out of Britain since Shakespeare.

The Theatre Royal Margate is today a thriving part of the town’s cultural renaissance and supports, and is supported by, the local community.

Photo Sheradon Dublin

With a diverse programme of shows from award-wining Edinburgh Festival productions, top TV comedians such as Jon Richardson, Sean Lock and many more, live music from bands including The Zombies, Gerry & The Pacemakers to energetic children’s shows, there’s truly something for everyone to experience.

A Theatre Royal spokesperson said: “Theatre Royal Margate is a genuinely special venue. With just 13 rows of seats in the stalls, you are never far away from the action on stage.  Its intimate, chocolate box interior has a habit of winning the heart of anyone who treads its boards and many performers now choose to return here time after time, in preference to larger more modern venues. We may be small, but you have to admit, we’re beautifully formed!

“Our audiences are incredibly supportive too, trusting us to try something new as well as supporting their favourite names in showbusiness.

“We couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved over the last 6 years, working with national companies , local organisations and big names in every genre to make Theatre Royal the busy venue it is today. Thank you to everyone who has supported us by buying tickets, putting up posters, ushering our shows or just helping to spread the word.

“And did you know it’s our birthday this month? The Theatre Royal Margate was ceremonially opened on June 27, 1787.  We’ve come a long way in 231 years!”

The Theatre Royal is operated by YOUR Leisure Kent Ltd.

Find out  what’s on at http://theatreroyalmargate.com/events/

Did you know….

Courtesy Theatre Royal Margate Archive

The Theatre Royal is the second oldest theatre in Britain and can lay claim to having the oldest stage

There has only been one reported fire at the theatre – back in August 1789

The theatre was used as a military barracks in 1803 during the Napoleonic War

The theatre’s most famous manager, Sarah Thorne, held the post twice. First in 1861 until 1874 and then again from 1879 until her death in 1899. Some say that she has haunted the theatre since 1918 in protest at its use for gambling.

She is not the only spirit said to wander the 18th century playhouse. Past stories tell of witnesses seeing the curtain move and then crashing as though a body had fallen. Commentators say it is the spirit of an actor who took his life at the theatre after being dismissed from his touring company.

2 Comments

  1. Fantastic theatre , delighted to be their Father Christmas last year, they do so much with schools under the radar.

  2. I was part of the team that restored The Theatre Royal Margate. 1988-1991 will always have a soft spot for it in my heart.
    As Chief Electrician / Lighting Designer / Sound Engineer,
    I was involved in all the shows during that period

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