Nice London Theatre, Shame if Something Happened to It
Country: England, United Kingdom
City: London WC2
Location: Wellington Street / The Strand
[First “Lyceum” theatre operating from 1794 on an adjoining site. Demolished during the creation of Wellington Street.]
Built 1834 by Samuel Beazley. 1882 and 1884 partial rebuilding and alterations by C. J. Phipps. In the 19th century, managed by Sir Henry Irving during many years. 1904 major rebuilding by Bertie Crewe, retaining only the façade and portico of the original building. 1919 minor alterations by Edward Jones. 1939 bought by the London City Council that had plans to demolish the building in favour of a road improvement. 1951 converted to a ballroom by Matthews and Sons. Re-opened 1951 as “Mecca Ballroom”. 1996 reconversion into a theatre, rebuilding of stagehouse, auditorium restoration and redecoration, incorporation of adjoing building by Holohan Architects. Re-opened 1996 as a theatre. Used for musical performances, e. g. “The Lion King”. 2000 seats.
[Other historical names of this theatre: “Theatre Royal”, “English Opera House”, “Royal Lyceum Theatre”]
Beginning in 1871, under manager Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman and his wife, Henry Irving appeared at the theatre in, among other things, many Shakespeare works. Irving began with the French melodrama The Bells, an instant hit in which he played the ghost-haunted burgomaster. The piece ran to sell-out crowds for 150 nights, which was an unusually long run at the time. Charles I, in 1872 was another hit, running for 180 nights. In 1874, Irving played Hamlet at the theatre, perhaps his greatest triumph, running for 200 nights. In 1878, after Bateman’s death, Irving took over management of the theatre from his widow. The Builder, 28 September 1878 reported that there was a difference between Irving and Mrs. Bateman regarding the personnel of the company at the Lyceum. “Mr. Irving is said to have told Mrs. Bateman that he was resolved to have actors to act with him, and not dolls, otherwise he would no longer play at the Lyceum. The result was that Mrs. Bateman threw up the management of the theatre, and Mr. Irving takes her place.” Mrs. Bateman became the manager of Sadler’s Wells Theatre.13
Irving continued to star in plays there, especially Shakespeare, until 1902, engaging co-star Ellen Terry for that entire period of 24 years.14 Bram Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898 as business manager of the theatre, and Irving was Stoker’s real-life inspiration for the character Count Dracula in his 1897 novel, Dracula. Stoker hoped that Irving, with his dramatic, sweeping gestures, gentlemanly mannerisms, and speciality in playing villain roles, would play Dracula in the stage adaptation of his novel. However, Irving never agreed to appear in the stage version, although the play was produced at the Lyceum.
Irving and Terry began with Hamlet in 1878. Their 1879 production of The Merchant of Venice ran for an unusual 250 nights, and success followed success in the Shakespeare canon as well as in other major plays.15 Other celebrated productions included Much Ado About Nothing,16 The Lady of Lyons by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1878), Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, The Lyons Mail by Charles Reade (1883), the immensely popular Faust by William Gorman Wills (1885, which even drew applications for reserved seats from foreigners), Macbeth (1888, with incidental music by Sir Arthur Sullivan), Henry VIII (1892),17 Becket by Alfred Tennyson (1893), King Arthur by J. Comyns Carr, with incidental music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1895),18 Cymbeline (1896) and Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau’s play Madame Sans-Gêne (1897).
When Irving and Terry toured America, as they did several times beginning in 1883, the theatre played works with many famous actors including Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. Martin Harvey, a pupil of Irving’s played a season there in 1899. Benoît-Constant Coquelin appeared as Cyrano de Bergerac in the summer of 1898.