The present Richmond Theatre, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, is a British Victorian theatre located on Little Green, adjacent to Richmond Green. It opened on 18 September 1899 with a performance of As You Like It. One of the finest surviving examples of the work of theatre architect Frank Matcham, the building, in red brick with buff terracotta, is listed Grade II* by Historic England. John Earl, writing in 1982, described it as: "Of outstanding importance as the most completely preserved Matcham theatre in Greater London and one of his most satisfying interiors."[
The theatre, originally known as the Theatre Royal and Opera House, is structured into the familiar stalls, dress and upper circles, with four boxes at dress level. The auditorium is a mixture of gilt detailing and red plush fabrics, covering seats and front of circles. Its interior and exterior has been used as a movie set in many films (e.g. Evita, Topsy-Turvy, standing in for the Victorian Savoy Theatre, Finding Neverland – doubling as the Duke of York's Theatre, National Treasure: Book of Secrets – setting of Ford's Theatre) and TV programmes (e.g. Jonathan Creek).
In the early 1990s the theatre underwent a major overhaul overseen by the designer Carl Toms. This included a side extension giving more space for the audience and included a 'Matcham Room’. The driving force behind the renovation of the theatre was Sally Greene, with strong support from Richmond upon Thames Council through its Chief Executive, Richard Harbord and Community Services Committee chairman Serge Lourie.
The theatre is now part of the Ambassador Theatre Group and has a weekly schedule of plays and musicals, usually given by professional touring companies. Pre-West End shows can sometimes be seen. There is a Christmas and New Year pantomime tradition and many of Britain's greatest music hall and pantomime performers have appeared there. In 2016 the theatre was honoured with the People's Choice Award at The Richmond Business Awards.
The first Theatre on Richmond Green was built in 1718 by the actor manager Mr. Penkethman. (Note. The Cambridge History of British Theatre says that the Theatre was built in 1719 and opened on the 6th of June that year, and many other articles have copied this information, but the press cuttings below make the case for it being built a year earlier in 1718.
A small article in the St James's Evening Post of the 31st of May 1718 advertised the building of the new Theatre saying: 'We hear, Mr. Penkethman is building a handsome Theatre at Richmond, for the Diversion of the Nobility and Quality, who attend the Court of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess : Contiguous to which, is a Room handsomely adorn'd, where he will shew his fine Musical Picture; in which the Royal Family are curiously Painted by the greatest Master of the Age; Drawn from Elizabeth, Princess of Great Britain, eldest Daughter of King James I. and Frederick King of Bohemia, her Husband, and originally design'd for the Entertainment and Diversion of their Highnesses the Young Princesses.' St James's Evening Post, 31st of May 1718.
And by July the same year the Theatre was open. On the 29th of July 1718 the St James's Evening Post carried the following notice saying: 'Last Night their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princes were at Mr. Penkethman's New Theatre at Richmond, to see the Play of the Busie-Body, which was excellently perform'd; and there was a very great Appearance of Quality and Gentry. St James's Evening Post, 29th of July 1718.
In 'Theatrical Richmond' by Austin Brereton 1885 he says that this Theatre was rebuilt in 1733, by an actor called Chapman, and that the Theatre 'fell into decay and was closed for theatrical purposes six years later, this temple of the drama being then used as a barn. Its site is now occupied by York Place.'
The Second Theatre on the Green, Richmond (1765) Formerly - The King's Theatre.
The second Theatre on Richmond Green was built by Mr. Sanderson of Drury Lane in 1765 and opened on the 15th of June that year with a production of the Comic Opera 'Love in a Village.' The Theatre was opened under the management of the actor Mr. Love, whose real name was James Dance. Love was also the architect of the Theatre, which became an important playhouse where many celebrated Actors of the time appeared on its stage.
The St James Chronicle of the 15th of June 1765 reported the opening of Love's new Theatre in Richmond saying:- 'On Saturday, the fifteenth Instant, was opened, by Authority, the New Theatre on Richmond Green, with the Comick Opera of Love in a Village. The Performances, which are to continue during the Summer Season, are under the Direction or Mr. Love of Drury-Lane: The Theatre was planned and built by Mr. Sanderson, and the Scenes painted by Mr. French, both also belonging to the famed Theatre Royal. As the Audiences that honour the Richmond Theatre with their Presence are as polite and brilliant as those who frequent the Playhouses in London, it has long been lamented that the theatrical Entertainments there were as inelegant as the Company was respectable...
...The present Manager therefore, by the assistance of some opulent Friends, has at a very great expence erected a Theatre as commodious and handsome, and, for its size, as magnificent as those of the Metropolis. The Scenery and Decorations are also extremely elegant: There is provided a good Band of Musick; and the Performance in general was conducted with so much Decency and Regularity, as seem to give a fair Earnest of the Endeavours of the present Company of Players to merit Encouragement. The following elegant Prologue, written for the Occasion, by David Garrick, Esq; was spoken at the Opening by Mr. Love. It was received with universal Applause, and by particular Desire again repeated before the Comedy of the Provoked Husband Yesterday Evening.' The above text in quotes was first published in the St James Chronicle, 15th of June 1765.
The Theatre was built on the North side of Richmond Green and next door was a house built of red brick, as was the Theatre, where the actor managers of the Theatre lived, including Edmund Kean who eventually died in the house on the 15th of May 1833.
The Theatre was redecorated in 1767 and it's auditorium was reported as having been 'elegantly decorated' in the St James's Chronicle of the 23rd of May that year, and consisted of a pit with seperate and covered entrances on either side of the Theatre, a balcony, and boxes. Appearing were Mr. Love, owner and manager of the Theatre, along with many other famous names of the day, including Mrs Juliet Baddeley, whose husband bequeathed the money to begin the Baddeley Cake Ceremony at Drury Lane Theatre in 1794 which is still celebrated today.
A state visit by King, George III, and Queen Charlotte meant that the owners were later able to rename their Theatre the Theatre Royal. (George III would later die blind, deaf and mad at Windsor Castle on the 29th of January, 1820.). This second Richmond Theatre eventually became too dilapidated to continue and was demolished in 1884.
In Richard Bingham's 1886 book, 'A Celebrated Old Playhouse, the History of Richmond Theatre in Surrey from 1765 to 1884', he writes on the demolition of the Theatre saying:- 'The demolition of the famous structure was begun at the end of the year 1884, and excited a large amount of interest not only in the town itself, but in theatrical circles generally throughout the country. By the kindness of Mr. Hilditch, of Asgill House, the purchaser of the property, such as were sufficiently interested in the historical building were allowed to take a last look at it previous to the advent of the destroyer, and many availed themselves of the privilege. Photographs of the place were taken by local photographers, and some enthusiasts had frames made of the wood taken from the stage to place the pictures in.
At last the evil day came when the angels of destruction descended on the doomed playhouse and removed it from off the earth, even using the very bricks and woodwork for enlarging some mineral water works in the town, at least so it was stated. Thus darkly ended the career of Richmond Playhouse, which had begun so brightly an hundred and nineteen years ago. It was too much to hope that in the present age of competition and improvement, Richmond Theatre should have been allowed to stand as a relic of bygone days and people. And yet while the house where Shakespeare was born is allowed to remain, that wherein his great exponent, Kean, "with powers almost as divine as the poet's," lived and died, has been ruthlessly swept away.
The building stood at the corner of a thoroughfare little used or likely to be used, and, without hindering any very great improvement, might well have been preserved as an interesting memorial of the past. It was a quaint place and an excellent specimen of the country playhouse of a hundred years ago - one of the last of its kind - and as such was dear to all those who, like Mr. Hardcastle, "love everything that's old."
But Richmond Theatre must now be numbered with the things that were; this ancient Temple of the Drama exists no longer save in the memories of those who knew and loved it for the many famous names and associations with which it was identified. And now also this history - so pleasurable in its compilation - draws to a close.' The above text in quotes was first published in 'A Celebrated Old Playhouse, the History of Richmond Theatre in Surrey from 1765 to 1884' by Frederick Bingham 1886.
The Third and Present Theatre on the Green, Richmond (1899).
The third and current Theatre on Richmond Green was formally opened on Thursday the 14th of September 1899 as the Theatre Royal and Opera House, although its public opening was on Monday the 18th of September 1899 with a production of 'As You Like It.' Even before the Theatre opened to the public however, the ERA visited the building and printed a report of what they saw there in their 9th of September 1899 edition saying:- 'The inhabitants of this popular suburb are evincing great interest in the handsome theatre which Mr F. C. Mouflet, the enterprising proprietor of the existing Theatre Royal, is having built on Richmond-green. During the past few months the building has been going on with despatch, and is now rapidly approaching completion.
The opening night is fixed for Monday week, Sept. 18th. Mr Mouflet rightly claims to be one of the pioneers of the modern suburban theatre-building, and it is now nearly ten years since he first opened the theatre close to the river. The advance of the times, however, has necessitated a better and more commodious place of amusement, and Richmond people owe much to Mr Mouflet for his enterprise in giving the place a building more in keeping with its historic associations.
It is a very handsome structure, and the decorations have been chosen with great taste. The new theatre will be under the management of Mr C. E. Hardy, who has for ten years so successfully managed the old one. It will be lighted throughout by electric light, which will be generated at an isolated station (or from the town main if necessary); and there is a reserve source of gas in case of emergency.
The theatre will hold 1,370 persons in boxes, stalls, pit stalls, dress circle, pit, amphitheatre, and gallery. The stage will have a depth of 34ft., a width of 52ft., and a proscenium of 27ft; and the height from grid to stage will be 50ft., taking any scenery. There is an asbestos curtain, which will completely cut off the stage from the auditorium, and is fitted with a patent sprinkler. The hydrants are similar to those used by the local fire brigade. There are a tableaux curtain and a drop curtain, and the scenery is painted by Mr Walter Drury. There are buffets and refreshment bars for every part of the house.
The ventilation is on the latest principles, and, indeed, everything throughout the house is of the most approved and up-to-date style. The operations are ably superintended by Mr J. F. Revill. The artistes will be very comfortable in eight commodious dressing-rooms, fitted with hot and cold water, and a green-room. There will be a private view on Thursday evening next, and for the opening night on the following Monday Mr Ben Greet's company, including Miss Dorothea Baird, has been secured, and will perform As You Like It. The prologue, written by Mr Fred Bingham, will be spoken by Miss Norah Denny and Mr Ben Greet. Herr Mistowski will be the musical-director.' The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 9th of September 1899.
The Theatre was formally opened on Thursday the 14th of September 1899 and the ERA printed a sketch and a complete review of the new building, including its opening night production, in their 16th of September 1899 edition saying:- 'The new Theatre Royal and Opera House which has been erected for Mr F. C. Mouflet, of the Castle and Greyhound Hotels, Richmond, was formally opened on Thursday evening by the Mayor of Richmond (Councillor C. B. Edgar, J.P.). It was Mr Mouflet's first intention to alter the Assembly Rooms into a theatre, but acting on the advice of his architect, Mr Frank Matcham, he purchased a very important site adjoining the Free Library, and instructed Mr Matcham to prepare plans. The result is one of the best arranged and most artistic and substantial theatres in or out of London.
Art Music and Comedy at the Richmond TheatreThe new house is within a minute's walk of two railway stations, and conveniently situated to the omnibus termini, and stands immediately opposite an open space known as the Little Green, to which it presents a highly ornamental front of red brick and terra cotta. On either side, the building is surmounted by a turret, each of which has been ingeniously utilised for ventilating purposes. In the centre, above the principal entrance, stands a figure representing Music, immediately beneath which the broadly-smiling face of Comedy looks out. At night the front of the building will be brilliantly illuminated by three hanging arc lights and two standard lamps placed on either side of the broad flight of steps leading to the entrance to boxes, stalls, and dress circle. The elegant appearance of the whole structure is heightened by windows of stained glass, and a balcony, accessible to boxes, stalls, and dress-circle, extends along the entire front.
Entrances and Exits to the Richmond TheatreThe entrances to all parts of the house (with the exception of the gallery) are in the front. The main doors in the centre, which, with the framework, are of massive mahogany, open into a small vestibule, which, in its turn, opens into a larger one (22ft. by 14ft.), both having marbled floors, and being panelled in mahogany. On the right of the larger vestibule (which is lighted by a large brass electrolier, and has a beautifully-painted ceiling), is the pay-box, constructed of mahogany and cut glass. The main staircase, facing the entrance, is of marble, with a marble scroll pattern balustrade on either side. In the centre is a plaster medallion portrait of Edmund Kean. On the right these stairs lead to the stalls, on the left to the dress-circle. The doors giving admission to pit stalls, amphitheatre, and pit are on either side of the main entrance.
A special feature in this connection is that each corridor leading from the street has a double door, thus ensuring the audience immunity from draughts. It may further be noted that all external and exit doors are fitted with Briggs' panic bolts, which, impervious to pressure from without, easily give way to a push from within. Another special feature is the semi-archway and surrounding forming the entrance to the orchestra stalls, while at the opposite side is a recess fitted up with rockery and ferns, and lighted with small coloured electric lamps. The walls of the stalls are all covered with fumigated panelled oak, giving an appearance of quiet richness which is very striking.
The upper circle over the dress circle is furnished with comfortable seating, which is continued along the two sides, and at the back of this the architect has introduced very handsome arcading with pilasters and arches, and coffered ceilings leading back to the main walls. The whole has the most unique and artistic appearance, being beautifully decorated.The stalls, pit stalls, and pit are on the floor, which has a generous rake to it; there are two boxes on each side of
he proscenium, the other two being at the back of the dress circle. Stretching away in a broad sweep from the latter are the amphitheatre and the gallery, and, the house being constructed on the cantilever system, there is no seat in any part of it from which an absolutely uninterrupted view of the stage cannot be obtained. In front of the gallery a large coved ceiling springing away from the ceiling proper (an arrangement not found in many other theatres) is designed with an especial view to acoustic perfection. High above the heads of the "gods " is a lantern, 18ft. by 10ft., which is opened by a mechanical arrangement, and which should render the ventilation complete. Stalls, dress-circle, and pit-stalls have tip-up seats, and the amphitheatre is upholstered in red leather.
The seating accommodation for the public is as under: - 6 private boxes (holding four to six persons), 84 stalls, 179 dress-circle, 140 pit stalls (reserved), 120 amphitheatre, 300 pit, 400 gallery, making a total of 1,227. Large and handsomely-decorated saloons are provided, that for the dress-circle being unusually elegant, the woodwork is all in polished mahogany, the beautiful modelled ceiling being supported with columns and pilasters, and the whole decorated most artistically. Access to outside balconies is obtained for smokers from the saloon overlooking Richmond-green, which, when furnished with ferns and plants, will be very attractive.
The decorations of the auditorium, which are in the Elizabethan style, are rich, and yet characterised by an artistic reserve which is most pleasing to the eye. The gilt mouldings, set off by crimson hangings and upholstery, form a welcome combination of light and warmth. The entire building, before and behind the curtain, is lighted by electricity, gas being laid on simply as a precautionary measure. Altogether, the installation has provided for about 1,000 lights, the electricity for which is generated by a compound undertype loco boiler of 20 h.p. nominal, remotely situated at the back, and beneath the level of the stage. All the electric fittings in the auditorium and the approaches thereto have been specially designed in character with the general scheme of decoration.
The principal feature of the front of the house is the ceiling. From the sides over the amphitheatre a series of arches and groins bring the top of the auditorium to a dead square, off which springs a large inverted domical ceiling, almost every design in which stands out in fine relief. It has four large subject-panels representing scenes from Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. In the centre is a large sun burner fitted with gas, but designed for ventilating rather than lighting purposes, inasmuch as it is covered by a large thirty-light brass electrolier of ornamental design. The four spandrils left by the plan of the ceiling have decorated panels inscribed respectively with the names of Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Congreve, and Sheridan.
The proscenium opening is of marble, having on either side a draped column springing directly from an oak-panelled base, which forms the sides of the stalls. These columns have at the top figures representing Comedy and Tragedy, each being surmounted by a highly ornamental canopied head. At the top of the proscenium is an extended key-panel, having on it the inscription from Pope, "To wake the soul by tender stroke of art," this being surmounted by the arms of the borough of Richmond. Above is a 4f t. gold frieze with white figures in relief. The spandrils on either side are adorned with recumbent classical figures. The stage is veiled with an act-drop representing a view of Richmond-bridge looking up the river, and tableau curtains of crimson plush. There is also an asbestos curtain, with water sprinkler attached, which, with wall in cement under, entirely separates the stage from the auditorium. The whole of the material used in construction, in fact, is fireproof, there are hydrants on every floor, and access to the street is immediate and perfect. The heating will be accomplished throughout by radiators and steam pipes.
The width of the proscenium opening is 27ft., and the stage, which has been constructed under the supervision of a well-known stage carpenter, measures 34ft. from back to front, 52ft. across the full width, and 50ft. in height to the grid, above which there is room for men to work. In the flies there is well-lighted accommodation for scene-painting. Beneath the stage, which is fitted with an excellent system of trap-doors, are rooms for the supers and the members of the orchestra, which will be controlled by Herr Mistowski, of Richmond.
On the prompt side is an elaborate arrangement of valves and switches, whereby the whole of the lighting arrangements can be easily controlled. On the other side is the manager's room, conveniently situated both to the stage and to the front of the house. The stock scenery has been painted by Mr W. Drury, of Brighton, at a cost of some hundreds of pounds. The performers themselves have been liberally cared for. The eight dressing-rooms, of varying size, on three floors at the back of the stage, are fitted with electric lights, hot and cold water is laid on, and the necessary warmth is secured by hot-water pipes. The entire building, with decorations included, was designed by Mr Frank Matcham. The manager of the Theatre Royal and Opera House will be Mr Charles E. Hardy, who won his spurs at the other Theatre Royal in Whittaker Avenue.
At the opening ceremony on Thursday night there were present, in addition to the Mayor and Mayoress, several members of the Richmond Corporation, Alderman Sir James Szlrimper, Messrs T. Skewes Cox, M.P., A. F. Henderson, of the Fulham Theatre, Newman Maurice, of the Teddington Bijou Theatre, C. St. John Denton, C. E. Hardy (manager), E. Ledger, and others. The visitors made a tour of inspection of the new theatre, the appearance of which met with general approval and admiration. Brilliantly illuminated by the electric light, the interior of the house presented a very bright and animated aspect, while the taste shown in the scheme of decoration was evident.
The Mayor and members of the Corporation having taken their places on the stage his worship, in the course of a brief address, referred to the old Richmond Theatre facing the green, and remarked that David Garrick took a personal interest in its erection, the date being, he believed, 1776. The elder Mathews made his appearance there, and George the Third was a frequent visitor. In later years Charles Kean became the lessee of the theatre and ended his days in the neighbourhood. Remembering the associations of the old theatre it seemed proper that the green should witness the erection of this new and elegant structure. It was gratifying to know that they had in Richmond a burgess like Mr Mouflet, possessed of so much enterprise and good taste. He had engaged the services of an architect of wide experience in such work, and he was sure they would agree with him that the result reflected the highest credit upon all concerned. In conclusion he congratulated Mr Mouflet on his new and handsome theatre, and heartily wished him success in his enterprise.
Mr Mouflet thanked the Mayor for the honour done him in opening the new theatre, and also for the kind words be had given utterance to. He was sure that everyone was pleased with the new house. He had been connected for a quarter of a century with the town of Richmond, and had spent many happy hours there. With regard to the new theatre, it would be his endeavour to get the best possible companies, and he hoped that success would crown his efforts. The house would be conducted on popular lines and popular prices, and he thought that if he could provide a comfortable, well-ventilated place of amusement for the district it would receive liberal patronage. He regretted that the house was not quite finished, but he was told that the theatre was more advanced towards completion than were ninety-nine out of a hundred houses just on the point of opening. In conclusion, he said that Mrs Mouflet would have been present, but was prevented by a sudden attack of illness.
Mr Frank Matcham, the architect, thanked the audience for their kind approval of the new theatre, and expressed a hope that it would be generously supported. Mr J. S. Cox, M.P., proposed a vote of thanks to Mr Mouflet, which was duly carried. The National Anthem was then sung, and cheers were given for the Mayor and Mayoress, &c.' The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 16th of September1899.
The Theatre opened to the public on Monday the 18th of September 1899 as the Theatre Royal and Opera House with a production of 'As You Like It. This name would soon be changed however, to the Prince of Wales Theatre, probably when Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria to the throne after her death in January 1901. In March 1909 the name was changed again, this time to the Richmond Hippodrome. During the Theatre's Hippodrome years it was in use mainly as a variety Theatre and often showed early films as part of the entertainment from 1910 until 1914 when the name was changed again, this time to the Richmond Theatre, the name the Theatre retains to this day.
The Richmond Theatre has been a very successful and a much loved building since its opening over one hundred years ago. The Theatre has had various alterations and improvements over the years but has kept its character and prominent place in the hearts of Richmond's population since its inception. The Theatres Trust says the Theatre today is: "one of the most completely preserved Matcham theatres in Greater London and one of his most satisfying interiors." The Richmond Theatre is Grade II Listed and currently has a stage depth of 9.1m - 29' 10", a proscenium width of 8.5m - 27' 10", and a height to the grid of 14m - 46 foot.
Venue Access Information.
The Stalls, Stalls Bar and an adapted toilet are accessible to wheelchair users. Please note this venue does not have a lift and access for wheelchair users is restricted to the Stalls level only.
An induction loop is fully installed in the auditorium. There are a limited number of headsets for the infra-red hearing system which should be booked in advance at the Box Office. Headsets are available from the kiosk in the foyer on payment of a returnable deposit (£5).
Hearing dogs and guide dogs are welcome in the theatre. Please inform the Box Office at the time of making your booking. There is an adapted toilet on the Stalls level.
Children under the age of 18 months will not require a seat and can remain on the lap of the attending adult. Children over this age must therefore have a seat purchased for them.
Richmond Theatre Visual Story. A visual resource to help prepare visitors for a new experience and to help them become familiar with new surroundings and what to expect. Click here to download it.
Upcoming Access Performances: Aladdin – Audio Described –Tuesday 9th January 2018 7pm; Aladdin - Relaxed Performances – Wednesday 10th January 2018 1pm; Strangers on a Train - Audio Described - Friday 23rd February 2018 - 7.30pm; The Weir - Captioned - Thursday 1st March 2018 - 7.30pm; The Weir - Audio Described - Friday 2nd March 2018 - 7.30pm; Great Expectations - Audio Described - Thursday 15th March 2018 - 7.30pm.
Theatre Tours: Take a peek behind the scenes and learn about the secrets of Richmond Theatre. Contact 0208 332 4500 for more details.
Location : Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1QJ
Access Line : 0800 912 6971
Tel: 020 8332 4500