How Far Did Historical Influences Affect The Development Of The Theatre Royal Bath In The 18th And 19th Century?

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Rory Stevens                                                                                               10PA

How Far Did Historical Influences Affect The Development Of The Theatre Royal Bath In The 18th And 19th Century?

During the 18th and 19th centuries going to the theatre became very popular, and was a common pastime in the evening. During the first half of the 19th century the theatre was at its most popular throughout the two centuries, and throughout the whole of the 19th century it was as popular as it was during the 18th, attracting the same sort of audience size. Today you would take a trip to the cinema, out to a fancy restaurant or nightclub; in the Victorian times you would pay a visit to the theatre. As going to the theatre was one of the main social events of the time, changes in society would affect the developments happening in the theatres. Therefore, there should be a very close link between historical influences and the development of the theatre. The sphere of development in the theatre and the sphere of changes to society around it are directly overlapped and connected.

In Bath there were other theatres before the Orchard Street theatre received its Royal Patent in 1768. The first of these theatres was built in Upper Borough Walls and lasted from 1706 until 1737; it was then demolished to make way for a hospital. For the next 12 years the Simpson’s Rooms were a temporary stage for travelling actors, but being only a temporary stage it showed just 25 plays in 6 years.

The theatre changed in many ways during the 18th and 19th centuries and underwent several major developments including; changes to the site, building, interior, type of plays and audiences attracted.

The Orchard Street Theatre opened in 1750 and was a largely successful theatre; in 1768 it was granted a Royal Patent, and became the first Theatre Royal outside of London, only the third in the whole country. It became so successful that in the year of 1805 it closed down and re-opened on a new larger site, to accommodate the increasing audience sizes. It moved form Orchard Street to Beufort Square in the new more popular, modern, area of Bath. On the 12th October 1805, the curtain first went up on Beaufort Square.

Both sites the Theatre Royal occupied underwent many developments during the 18th and 19th centuries. The plans for the design of the theatre were changed many times until it was settled that it would be built in the style of the Doric order, which at the time was expensive and fashionable. Other buildings in the city were also being built like this. The Assembly Rooms Designed by John Wood the Younger in 1769, were both a meeting place and a venue for public functions.

Assembly Rooms, Bath

The first site on Orchard Street underwent its most noticeable changes when people first started accusing it of being too small to house the audience numbers it was attracting. Plans were drawn up to improve the appearance of the Theatre in 1766. Money was spent on general improvements of the auditorium and a lofty dome decorated with statues of Apollo and Muses replaced the initial flat ceiling. However, when re-opened the renovations were far from satisfactory, and in 1775 the auditorium was again re-constructed, this time by the designs of John Palmer the architect. The dome was removed, efficient ventilation installed and a completely new proscenium built. These were then complimented by the addition of new retiring rooms and open sided boxes.        

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These developments however, failed to keep the theatre from being moved and in 1805 it was constructed in a classical style unlike its surroundings, which had been built in Gothic style. The reason for this design style was that it would stand out and attract attention. No other changes were made to the building until in 1862 the theatre burnt down in a tragic fire. Every wall burnt down except one - the wall containing the Royal crest. It was quickly rebuilt keeping the classical style and, with a new attitude towards the theatre; people started to come to watch ...

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