Royal Court Theatre Facade

Royal Court Theatre Facade

Royal Court Theatre  Interior

Royal Court Theatre Interior


The Royal Court Theatre, at different times known as the Court Theatre, the New Chelsea Theatre, and the Belgravia Theatre, is a non-commercial West End theatre on Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England. In 1956 it was acquired by and remains the home of the English Stage Company and is notable for its contributions to contemporary theatre.

The first theatre on Lower George Street, off Sloane Square, was the converted Nonconformist Ranelagh Chapel, opened as a theatre in 1870 under the name The New Chelsea Theatre. Marie Litton became its manager in 1871, hiring Walter Emden to remodel the interior, and it was renamed the Court Theatre.

Several of W. S. Gilbert's early plays were staged here, including Randall's Thumb, Creatures of Impulse (with music by Alberto Randegger), Great Expectations (adapted from the Dickens novel), and On Guard (all in 1871); The Happy Land (1873, with Gilbert Abbott à Beckett; Gilbert's most controversial play); The Wedding March, translated from Un Chapeau de Paille d'Italie by Eugène Marin Labiche (1873); The Blue-Legged Lady, translated from La Dame aux Jambes d'Azur by Labiche and Marc-Michel (1874); and Broken Hearts (1875). By 1878, the management of the theatre was shared by John Hare and W. H. Kendal.

Further alterations were made in 1882 by Alexander Peebles, after which its capacity was 728 (including stalls and boxes, dress circle and balcony, amphitheatre, and gallery). After that, Arthur Cecil (who had joined the theatre's company in 1881) was co-manager of the theatre with John Clayton. Among other works, they produced a series of Arthur Wing Pinero's farces, including The Rector, The Magistrate (1885), The Schoolmistress (1886), and Dandy Dick (1887), among others. The theatre closed on 22 July 1887 and was demolished.

The current theatre: 1888–1952.

The present building was built on the east side of Sloane Square, replacing the earlier building, and opened on 24 September 1888 as the New Court Theatre. Designed by Walter Emden and Bertie Crewe, it is constructed of fine red brick, moulded brick, and a stone facade in free Italianate style. Originally the theatre had a capacity of 841 in the stalls, dress circle, amphitheatre, and a gallery.

Cecil and Clayton yielded management of the theatre to Mrs. John Wood and Arthur Chudleigh in 1887, although Cecil continued acting in their company (and others) until 1895. The first production in the new building was a play by Sydney Grundy titled Mamma, starring Mrs. John Wood and John Hare, with Arthur Cecil and Eric Lewis. By the end of the century, the theatre was again called the "Royal Court Theatre". Harley Granville-Barker managed the theatre for the first few years of the 20th century, and George Bernard Shaw's plays were produced at the New Court for a period. It ceased to be used as a theatre in 1932, but was used as a cinema from 1935 to 1940, until World War II bomb damage closed it.

The English Stage Company

The interior was reconstructed by Robert Cromie, and the number of seats was reduced to under 500. The theatre re-opened in 1952. George Devine was appointed artistic director at the suggestion of Oscar Lewenstein, one of the founders of the English Stage Company. Greville Poke, another co-founder was appointed Honorary Secretary of the ESC in October 1954. The ESC opened at the Royal Court in 1956 as a subsidised theatre producing new British and foreign plays, together with some classical revivals. Devine aimed to create a writers' theatre, seeking to discover new writers and produce serious contemporary works. Devine produced the new company's third production in 1956, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, a play by one of the angry young men. The director was Tony Richardson. Osborne followed Look Back In Anger with The Entertainer, with Laurence Olivier in the lead as Archie Rice, a play the actor effectively commissioned from the playwright. Significantly, although it was quickly reversed, the artistic board of the ESC initially rejected the play. Two members of the board were in agreement in opposing The Entertainer. The Conservative Christian verse dramatist Ronald Duncan, the third co-founder of the ESC, disliked the work of Osborne according to Osborne biographer John Heilpern, while Lewenstein, a former Communist, did not want one of the theatre's new plays to be overwhelmed by its star and did not think much of the play.

In the mid-1960s, the ESC became involved in issues of censorship. Their premiere productions of Osborne's A Patriot for Me and Saved by Edward Bond (both 1965) necessitated the theatre turning itself into a 'private members club' to circumvent the Lord Chamberlain, formally responsible for the licensing of plays until the Theatres Act 1968. The succès de scandale of the two plays helped to bring about the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. During the period of Devine's directorship, besides Osborne and Bond, the Royal Court premiered works by Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Ann Jellicoe and N.F. Simpson. Subsequent Artistic Directors of the Royal Court premiered work by Christopher Hampton, Athol Fugard, Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill, Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Daniels, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Martin Crimp, Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Martin McDonagh, Simon Stephens, Leo Butler, Polly Stenham and Nick Payne. Early seasons included new international plays by Bertolt Brecht, Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Marguerite Duras. In addition to the 400-seat proscenium arch Theatre Downstairs, the much smaller studio Theatre Upstairs was opened in 1969, at the time a 63-seat facility. The Rocky Horror Show premiered there in 1973. The theatre was Grade II listed in June 1972.

Though the main auditorium and the façade were attractive, the remainder of the building provided poor facilities for both audience and performers, and the stalls and understage often flooded throughout the 20th century. By the early 1990s, the theatre had deteriorated dangerously and was threatened with closure in 1995. The Royal Court received a grant of £16.2 million from the National Lottery and the Arts Council for redevelopment, and beginning in 1996, under the artistic directorship of Stephen Daldry, it was completely rebuilt, except for the façade and the intimate auditorium. The architects for this were Haworth Tompkins.

The theatre reopened in February 2000, with the 380-seat Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, and the 85-seat studio theatre, now the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Since 1994, a new generation of playwrights debuting at the theatre has included Joe Penhall, Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Roy Williams amongst others. Since the 1990s, the Royal Court has placed an emphasis on the development and production of international plays. By 1993, the British Council had begun its support of the International Residency programme (which started in 1989 as the Royal Court International Summer School), and more recently the Genesis Foundation has also supported the production of international plays. The theatre received a 1999 International Theatre Institute award. In May 2008 The English Stage Company presented The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg at the "Contact International Theatre Festival" in Poland.

Artistic Directors have included Ian Rickson (1998–2006), Max Stafford-Clark, Stuart Burge, Robert Kidd, Nicholas Wright, Lindsay Anderson, Anthony Page, and William Gaskill. From 2007 to 2012, the theatre's Artistic Director was Dominic Cooke and the deputy artistic director was Jeremy Herrin. Vicky Featherstone, the first female artistic director, previously founding head of the National Theatre of Scotland, replaced Cooke as Artistic Director in April 2013.

Controversy over Seven Jewish Children[edit source]

Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children opened at the theatre in February 2009. Many Jewish leaders and journalists have criticised Seven Jewish Children as antisemitic, contending that it violates the rule that "a play that is critical of, and entirely populated by, characters from one community, can be defended only if it is written by a member of that community". Further, Associate Director Ramin Gray has been accused of hypocrisy, as he is reported to have stated that he would be reluctant to stage a play critical of Islam.

Michael Billington in The Guardian described the play as "a heartfelt lamentation for the future generations". The paper contended that the play, though controversial, is not antisemitic, yet Seven Jewish Children was viewed by another Guardian writer as historically inaccurate and harshly critical of Jews. Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, called the play "a libellous and despicable demonisation of Israeli parents and grandparents" and expressed fear that it would "stoke the fires of antisemitism". He added that the play is a modern blood libel drawing on old anti-Semitic myths. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic Monthly also calls the play a blood libel. Columnist Melanie Phillips wrote that the play is "an open vilification of the Jewish people... drawing upon an atavistic hatred of the Jews" and called it "Open incitement to hatred". The New York Times wrote that the play "at times paints heartless images of Israelis."

In reply, the Royal Court issued the following statement: 'Some concerns have been raised that the Royal Court's production of Seven Jewish Children, by Caryl Churchill is anti-Semitic. We categorically reject that accusation.... While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the state of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people.... In keeping with its philosophy, the Royal Court Theatre presents a multiplicity of viewpoints. The Stone, which is currently running... asks very difficult questions about the refusal of some modern Germans to accept their ancestors' complicity in Nazi atrocities. Shades, currently in our smaller studio theatre... explores issues of tolerance in the [London] Muslim community.'

The Ranelagh Chapel, Lower George Street, Sloane Square

On Lower George Street, just off the West side of Sloane Square, since the early 19th century, had stood a Presbyterian Chapel called the Ranelagh Chapel, which had been open for services since July the 2nd 1818. This Chapel, which also had a school connected to it, was built by Fuller Pocock, and although primarily a building for religious worship, it was also occasionally used for public concert performances. The Ranelagh Chapel was used for many years in this way but eventually it had a change of use when it was converted into a Theatre called the New Chelsea Theatre which opened with a Music Hall entertainment consisting of Drama, Comedy, Ballet, Farce, and Burlesque performances on the 16th of April 1870. The ERA reported on the opening of the Chelsea Theatre the day after it opened.

The New Chelsea Theatre, Lower George Street, Sloane Square

'Among the many Easter novelties we have to record the opening of fresh theatres, one of which, the New Chelsea in Sloane Square, under the management of Arthur Morgan and B. Oliver, for the first time became a candidate for popular favour yesterday evening. The crowded south western district of London not possessing anything like a Theatre nearer than the Haymarket and St James's, it occurred to the gentlemen above named that a dissenting chapel (close by the aristocratic neighbourhood of Eaton Square) which had, perhaps, been the means of converting thousands, might itself be advantageously converted into a Theatre. With this end in view, in an incredibly short time, they have turned pews into pit and galleries into boxes, raising a theatrical gallery far above, and devoting pulpit space and its surroundings to the erection of a stage where a different style of elocution is to be practised to that which was heard in the Ebenezer or Bethel out of which this place of amusement is formed.

The alterations have been well carried out, and though the house is by no means large, it is commodious, and the decorations with which it abounds are tasty. It is still in a very incomplete state, which was admitted by Mr Walter Holland in apologetic speech, in which he said that the management having pledged themselves that the Theatre should be opened on the 16th April, they resolved to keep their word, although at two o'clock that day the paint on the scenery was wet. He further added that having firmly believed that Chelsea can support a Theatre, they tried the experiment, and from week to week would supply the Drama, with a diversified programme, like that of a Music-Hall. Chelsea, moreover, he stated, owed something to the Theatres for it was through Nell Gwynn that Charles the Second built Chelsea Hospital.

What encouragement will be given to the new Theatre as it proceeds the future must tell, if Mr Holland's programme is adopted, no doubt it will have plenty of support, and the reception all the performances met with at the opening justify the belief that proclivities of this generation will lead them to extend sufficient support to it.

Drama, comedy, farce, ballet and burlesque, with a strong company, comprised the amusement on the first night. The Mathews family gave their drawing room entertainment and Mr J. H. Millburn sang some of his capital songs. The sisters Laura and Ada Fenoulhet gave the scene from the burlesque of Kenilworth wherein Leicester narrates to Amy Robsart his experiences of London life, concluding with the Pyne and Harrison duet; and a clever ventriloquist Professor Hilton created a great deal of amusement by giving specimens of his difficult art. Miss Patty Goddard and Miss Julian were also on the list; and the original drama of Mabel, the plot of which is simplicity itself, two honest people being suspected of dishonesty, and the honour being established before the curtain falls, was furnished for giving the perfect theatrical air to the bill. In this piece Messrs. Young Walter Holland, Charles Chamberlain, Harry Rivers, Ashley Charles, Nicolson, Wareham, Howard, and Fenwick, and Miss Ada Attawell acquitted themselves well; and The Spectre Bridegroom, which was the concluding piece, showed most of those gentlemen, with the addition of Mr B. Oliver, Miss Fanny Morelli and Miss Bessie Walters took equal advantage in a screaming farce. Considering that it was the first night, the proceedings went off with a minimum of hitches.' The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, April 17th 1870.

The Chelsea Theatre had a short life under this name however, and by June it had been renamed the Belgravia Theatre, which opened on the 25th of June 1870.

The Belgravia Theatre, Lower George Street, Sloane Square

The Belgravia Theatre was situated on Lower George Street, just off the West side of Sloane Square, and was a renaming of the former New Chelsea Theatre, which itself had been a conversion of a former Chapel called the Ranelagh Chapel, see above. The Belgravia Theatre opened on Saturday the 25th of June 1870 under the Management of J. Russell and East. The Theatre was not a great success however, and the ERA, when they visited the Theatre on Tuesday the 5th of July that year, only a few weeks after the Theatre opened, found the place to be almost deserted.

The ERA printed a report on the evening they visited the Belgravia in their 10th of July 1870 edition saying:- 'This Theatre was opened, under the Management of Messrs. J. Russell and East, on the 25th ult. The undertaking of these gentlemen is not securing that amount of public support which we should imagine is essential to its continuance. On Tuesday evening last, when at about half-past seven o'clock the curtain was raised, there was not a single person in the pit that we could see; there was but one row full of people in the box balcony, and there seemed to be a similar paucity of visitors in the gallery. The Managers and the majority of the performers are worthy of having more numerous patrons. We have frequently seen audiences consisting of more hundreds than there were tens of individuals present in this instance in Theatres where the performances were far inferior to those which we witnessed here, and we could not help feeling astonished that those who took part in the proceedings could throw so much heart into their efforts as they did, as well as sorry that persons of talent, such as the principal performers were should meet with such a little encouragement.' The ERA, 10th of July 1870.

This article seems to have been an accurate glimpse of things to come for the Belgravia Theatre as it never really came to very much afterwards and was not a successful enterprise for its owners. The Theatre was only open for a few months before closing down again. A newspaper cutting from the 20th of November 1870 reports on the building of the first Royal Court Theatre.By November the same year however, reports in the papers were talking of a new Theatre to be opened in Sloane Square, called the Royal Court, this was to be a conversion of the Belgravia Theatre by the respected architect Walter Emden.

The First Royal Court Theatre, Lower George Street, Sloane Square.

Work began on the conversion of the old Belgravia Theatre, formerly the Chelsea Theatre and earlier Ranelagh Chapel, on November the 3rd 1870. The Theatre was built by Thomas Jackson to the designs of the architect Walter Emden, and was finished in a little over two months. The Theatre opened on Wednesday January the 25th 1871 as the Royal Court Theatre with a production of the farce, 'Turn Him Out', and then, after an opening speech, a production of a new three-act comedy called 'Randall's Thumb,' this was written expressly for the opening of the new Theatre by W. S. Gilbert, who would later go on to find fame and unrivaled success with his partner Arthur Sullivan. Following this was a production of the comedy 'Q.E.D'.

The ERA carried a review of the new Theatre, and its opening night production in their 29th of January 1871 edition saying:- 'On Wednesday evening, 25th, 1871, was opened, with the usual ceremony, the Royal Court Theatre. It may be whispered, no doubt, in after times that the walls of the newest of our playhouses echoed with the voice of eloquent divines, warning their sober congregations to avoid the contagion of the Theatre. But the whole world moves in a circle. What was a chapel is now a Theatre, and a very pretty Theatre into the bargain. The short life of the Belgravia Theatre, which stood here, needs only a passing word. The Court Theatre is, to all intents and purposes, a new place of amusement, and it bids to be as fashionable as any of its fellows.

The Lessee and Manager, M. Litton no doubt had some very good reason for opening the new Theatre on a given date, or about a given time. One would not have been surprised if the chance playgoer, seeing the cheerless and unfinished appearance of the outside and the approaches, had suddenly darted off, determined not to risk rheumatic fever or a settled cold, by wandering through cold vault-like passages, and through corridors absolutely death-like, on account of damp mortar and perspiring walls. But it is not right to Judge by outside appearances.

The interior of the house once gained, and the doors tightly closed, a very different state of things presented itself. The audience huddled together and kept itself warm, by the time the performances were over the Theatre was fairly aired by the warmth of such a large section of humanity. The Theatre, constructed from the plans and designs of Mr. Walter Emden, the clever renovator of the Globe, fairly deserves the title "elegant." Mr. Walter Emden, the architect, and Mr. Thomas Jackson, the builder, have certainly put their heads together with some effect. People may say what they like about our acting and our play writing; at any rate we can build Theatres and decorate them with rare taste.

The prevailing tone of the Court Theatre is a charming combination of mauve colour and silver, delicately relieved with gold. The curtains are in admirable taste, being mauve satin stamped with an artistic design in gold. There is no clashing of colour. The effect is soft and very pleasant. The rich and bold carton pierre work, which adds so much to the general effect and richness of the decoration, is from the famous establishment of Messrs. White, of Great Marylebone Street, who have worked under the supervision of the architect.

The lover of bright colour and happy design should not omit to notice the frescos over the proscenium, representing incidents in the life of St. George of England, and painted by Mr. E. Gurden Dalziel. These frescos are admirably painted in the style of Mr. Marks, the harmony of warm and bold colour being particularly noticeable. With a bright act-drop, painted by Mr. Frederick Fenton, illustrating "Nell Gwynne in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, soliciting of King Charles the Second the means to found a hospital for the aged and disabled soldiers of England," the tout ensemble of the Court Theatre is open to no question.

We may take this opportunity of praising the good sense of the Management, in rigorously abolishing all fees to attendants, and pause in astonishment at the refined appearance of the "gentlemen's gentlemen," who, in blue coats, brass buttons, velvet collar; knee-breeches, black silk stockings, and buckled pumps, actually alarm the visitors by their courtesy and their prepossessing looks. It is quite clear that the Management intends to do things well, and as far as possible, the visitors to the Court Theatre will be treated with the consideration and courtesy which are extended to guests in a private house.

Quite punctual to time the curtain drew up on the old Strand farce of Turn Him Out, which introduced to the London public Mr. W. J. Hill in the character of Nicodemus Nobbs, the toy-seller, and in which a pretty young lady, Miss Foley, made her first appearance on any stage. The other characters were creditably tilled by Messrs. Mellon and Astley and Miss Lilian Harris.

The farce over, Mrs. Hermann Vezin kindly came forward, and after having received an affectionate welcome, delivered the following inaugural Address, expressly written for the occasion by Mr. John Oxenford :—

  • Aother play-house - scarce two months have past
  • Since we beheld the opening of the last;
  • Then one had started up six months before,
  • And now, oh, marvellous! we show one more.
  • The Muses of the Drama - so folks say -
  • Will again enjoy a "palmy" day.
  • Of genius, talent, wit, they are bereft;
  • Loss follows upon loss, till naught is left.
  • Stay - let us pause - yes, something they have got,
  • Which in the palmy ages they had not
  • Many fair acres, whereon proudly stand
  • Their temples, scattered broadcast o'er the land.
  • Houseless, at any rate, they cannot roam;
  • Where'er they turn they're sure to find a home.
  • One district more to-night they call their own,
  • And bring fresh lustre to the learns of Sloane.
  • Though limited for space, Thalia plans
  • Some goodly work in honour of Sir Hans;
  • Some goodly work? "But of what kind?" you ask.
  • The question sets me no perplexing task.
  • Look at your bills; you'll find the muse and we
  • Propose to give you Modern Comedy;
  • The passing manners of our day to show,
  • Reflected Veluti in Speculo.
  • Manners and feelings - 'tis not our desire
  • To mock the horrors of a house on fire;
  • To make the accidents of road or rail
  • Point with "sensation" a domestic tale.
  • Expect not, or else you will expect in vain,
  • The rolling steamboat, or the shrieking train;
  • We are not - what's the phrase? 'Tis rather mystic -
  • I have it now - we are not "realistic"
  • I'll add besides, that we are nothing loath,
  • To bring out plays of truly British growth.
  • To be original we have a chance,
  • Now we can get no more supplies from France.
  • On coming in you cast your glances round,
  • And all quite satisfactory you found;
  • The house, you will admit, is very neat,
  • Bright, smart, and handsome - in a word, complete.
  • But though 'tis new, with pleasure you will trace
  • Among our artists many a well-known face;
  • Hail some, who oft with mirth your hearts could cheer
  • Some who have drawn the not unwilling tear.
  • Some who have drawn the not unwilling tear.
  • But yet I would not be misunderstood;
  • Our worth you'll test with your own ears and eyes;
  • Proof of the pudding in the eating lies.
  • We trust that with this proof content you'll be,
  • And say, with Mr Marshall, "Q.E.D."
  • The lady was interrupted several times with cheers and applause, which were greatly increased before her final exit.

    The principal attraction of the evening was, of course, the new three-act comedy called Randall's Thumb, written expressly for the Theatre by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, an author whose work is now anticipated with considerable interest. Those who eagerly devour our periodical literature, particularly that which appears at Christmas time, must have been struck with a concisely told and palpably a dramatic sketch which appeared in "Tom Hood's Comic Annual" for 1869. It was called Randall's Thumb, and this short story is obviously the foundation of the new comedy.

    The comedy, indeed, hovers occasionally, both in the second and third acts, in the border-land of drama. The effect of the rising tide which separates two lovers from the rest of the world reminds one, of course, of the great sensation in The Turn of the Tide, while much of the business in the third act hardly justifies the remark of Mr. Oxenford, that the "passing manners of our day," or the "manners and feelings of the time," are reflected as in a glass. Notwithstanding the constant reminiscences of other plays, the new comedy will, when pruned of some redundant dialogue, be very popular. The interest is well sustained, and it is well acted. It met with a most enthusiastic reception, particularly at the end of the third act...

    The scenery, which is very pretty and effective, is by Mr. Brinewood Potts and his assistants. This was, perhaps, not a favourable occasion for producing, in addition to the new comedy, a new comedietta by Mr. Frank Marshall, called Q.E.D., but those who remained must have enjoyed a hearty laugh over the admirable acting of Miss Brennan in the character of Bridget O'Shaugnessy, a wild Irish girl, which was thoroughly good and very amusing. Dr. Quintus Epicurus Donne (Mr. Righton) is a professor of moral philosophy, who is compelled to take care of a young French lady, Mademoiselle Celestine (Miss Kate Bishop), confided to his care, but somehow is mixed up with the flirtations of his neighbour lodger, Major Spangle (Mr. Belford), carried on through the medium of the Family Herald. Bridget belongs to Spangle and Celestine to Q.E.D., but, like the twins in Mr. Harry Leigh's song, they get "completely mixed." Mr. Belford plays in his crisp and admirable style as the woman-killing Major; while Miss Kate Bishop is charming as the French demoiselle. Miss Kate Manor gives an admirable bit of character acting as a prim old landlady of strict propriety; and Mr. Righton astonishes the audience by appearing, not as an old gentleman, but with his natural face - that of a very young man. Q.E.D. is well worth seeing, and it is so well acted throughout that it cannot fail to be a success.

    The new playbill is another feature of the new Theatre. It is brightly and prettily coloured, and, besides giving the programme, contains scraps of very valuable information.' The above text in quotes is from the ERA, 29th of January 1871.

    The Present Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London.

    The Royal Court Theatre which stands on the East side of Sloane Square in London today was built to the designs of the respected Theatre Architect, Walter Emden, and opened as the Court Theatre on Monday the 24th of September 1888 with a production of Charles Thomas's new play 'Hermine' followed by Sydney Grundy's 'Mamma'. The Theatre replaced an earlier Theatre on the West side of Sloane Square which was demolished the previous year.

    The Theatre was originally commissioned by the actor John Clayton, who was co lessee of the earlier Court Theatre along with Arthur Cecil. Unfortunately Clayton died on the 27th of February 1888 whilst his new Theatre was still being built. The Pall Mall Gazette printed a report, with illustrations, on the building of the new Theatre the day after Clayton died saying:- 'We give to-day a sketch of the new Court Theatre, which Mr. Emden is building for the late Mr. Clayton. By the kindness of Mr. Emden we are able to give a drawing of the exterior of the theatre and plans of the interior. The whole of the construction will be fireproof, similar to that adopted in Terry's Theatre, with some improvements which have been made on the system since the erection of that building. There will be no columns at all in the auditorium to impede the view of the audience.

    The front in Sloane-square is in a free, simple style, and the interior will be in a treatment of the French Renaissance. The theatre will accommodate about 800 people. It will be provided with a fireproof curtain made of asbestos cloth on an entirely new principle. The proscenium opening is 22 ft. 6 in. in width. The stage will be dominated by sprinklers and hydrants, the sprinklers being on the non-automatic principle. The lighting will be by electricity, supplemented by gas in case of accident. The ventilation of the auditorium is by openings in the dome and a system of exhausts; the heated air from the stage will also be drawn off by large exhausts in the roof. The theatre will be heated by hot water.

    The building is arranged in three tiers; on the first tier the stalls and pit, on the second the dress circle and balcony, and on the third the upper boxes and gallery. This theatre will have exit accommodation beyond any that has been built, There are ten exits and entrances to the front of house, being two every seperate portion. All the dressing rooms are in a seperate building, and are to be of fireproof construction; the roof over the whole of the building is summarily constructed.' The above text in quotes is from the Pall Mall Gazette, 28th of February 1888.

    On the 5th of November 1887, whilst the new Theatre was still being built, the ERA carried a small report on the new building saying:- 'The new Court Theatre is to be erected on the new fireproof principle, and with all the most modern appliances. The theatre will have the advantage of being open on three sides, and most of the fourth side is unattached. It will also have two extra exits, there being altogether ten for the auditorium alone.

    The theatre will be next to the railway, but divided from it by an open space. Mr Clayton is negotiating for a subway from the railway direct into the theatre. The size of the house will be about that of the old Court Theatre, but it will have more stage room, and the dressing-rooms will be in a fire-proof building at the side. Mr Walter Emden is the architect.' The ERA, 5th November 1887.

    The ERA then went on to print an article about the Theatre, just before it opened, in their 22nd of September 1888 edition saying:-

  • 'The exterior of Mrs John Wood and Mr Arthur Chudleigh's new theatre in Sloane-square, which will open on Monday with Mr Sydney Grundy's adaptation of Les, Surprises du Divorce, entitled Mamma, is plain and unpretentious. The general effect of the auditorium is produced by a tasteful admixture of crimson, cream, and golden hues, and the result is peculiarly bright and pleasing. The curtain will be of green plush of a dainty shade, and the act-drop, which has been painted by Messrs W. Harford and A. Glendenning, represents a court scene in the last century.

    The dress-circle seats are particularly commodious, plenty of room being allowed between each row; and to an exit door from this part of the house an ingenious patent bolt has been affixed, which, effectually barring ingress, yields at once to pressure in case of a panic. The Prince's room, which is on this floor, and on a level with the street, so that Royalty can drive up to the very door of the apartment in its own carriage, is decorated in the Arabic style, and is one of the prettiest bits of fitting and furnishing, in the building.

    The dressing-rooms, of which there are nine, are remarkably large and commodious, and are furnished with gas and the electric light. The whole of the construction is fireproof. There are no columns in the auditorium to impede the view of the audience. The theatre will accommodate about 800 people. It is provided with a fire-proof curtain made of asbestos cloth on an entirely new principle.

    The proscenium opening is 22ft. 6in. in width. The stage will be dominated by sprinklers and hydrants, the sprinklers being on the non-automatic principle. The lighting will be by electricity supplied by engines in the cellars of the building, supplemented by gas in case of accident. The ventilation of the auditorium is by openings in the dome and a system of exhausts; the heated air from the stage will also be drawn of by large exhausts in the roof. The house will be heated by hot water.

    The building is arranged in three tiers; on the first tier the stalls and pit, on the second the dress circle and balcony, and on the third the upper boxes and gallery. There are ten exits and entrances to the front of the house, two to every separate portion. The roof is fireproof. The whole does great credit to the architect, Mr Walter Emden; to the contractors, Messrs Holiday and Greenwood; and to Messrs Marshall and Snellgrove, who have supplied the luxurious tapestry hangings and upholstery with great taste, this part of the decorations being particularly well executed.

    A praiseworthy item is the provision, for which Mr Chudleigh deserves the credit, of candle-lights in case of fire or panic. Pretty Badoura lamps, specially designed for the purpose, are hung in various parts of the building, and, so far from being eyesores, as the ordinary oil lamps would have been, are additions to the aspect of the interior. Altogether the new Court Theatre is one of the brightest and prettiest of our London playhouses.' The above text in quotes is from the ERA, 22 September 1888.

    On the Theatre's opening night, on Monday the 24th of September 1888, there was a near riot when patrons of the Pit complained of their treatment on entering the Theatre, and their subsequent lack of space when they had found their seats. The ERA reported on the incident, and the opening of the Theatre in their 29th of September edition saying:- 'When the pretty little house that Mr Walter Emden has built for Mrs John Wood and Mr Arthur Chudleigh threw open its doors for the first time at half-past seven last Monday evening, the easternmost end of that usually quiet nook Sloane-square was the scene of extraordinary bustle and excitement. A dense crowd thronged the roadway, eager to see the fun, if only from the outside, while indoors, long before the musicians appeared in their places to strike up the National Anthem, a palpitating mass of humanity not only filled every nook and corner, but packed the passages and choked the exit doorways of the building. It was, in part, not only a palpitating, but an exceedingly angry, mass. For some time the pit was a veritable pandemonium. It seems that, by a curious blunder, the pay-box had been placed at the bottom, instead of at the top, of the pit staircase, and the stream of pittites, gathering momentum in their descent, had found themselves hurled with embarrassing velocity against a wooden barrier at the bottom of the steps, with consequences that, had it not been for the timely breakage of the obstruction, might have been serious.

    Even when safely settled in their places, the people who had paid their half-crowns were far from content. They complained of want of space. Certainly, the portion of the floor alloted to them was the reverse of excessive. The ground area at the new Court is none too ample, and of this the greater part has had to be absorbed by the stalls, which are no less than one hundred and seventy in number. The chairs in this part of the house, and in the dress-circle, have been supplied by H. Lazaras and Son, are of an improved make, and are particularly comfortable. But that, of course, was the management's business, not the public's.

    If Mrs John Wood and Mr Chudleigh think they can get more people to occupy their floor at half-a-guinea a head than at half-a-crown - and, taking into consideration not only the West End situation of their theatre, but the kind of entertainment they propose to supply, there is really no reason why they should not - they have, of course, every right to map out their ground-plan as they choose. But the patrons of the pit on Monday evening apparently overlooked this commonsense aspect of the matter. Indignant shouts of "manager!" architect!" "Chudleigh!" rent the air, and were not stilled until the unfortunate actors in the curtain-raiser had gone through a good deal of their performance in dumb-show.

    When order was at length restored, and the luckless dramatic critics were able to concentrate their attention on the stage, it was found that the new first piece - everything was new on Monday night - was already well under weigh. This was Mr Charles Thomas's original play, in one act, entitled:

  • "HERMINE."
  • Marquis D'Aurigny - Mr R. Cathcart.
  • Vicomte Henri D'Aurigny - Mr Eric Lewis.
  • Pierre Brunnier - Mr Sydney Brough.
  • Sergeant Pigeot - Mr W. H. Quinton.
  • Hermine D'Aurigny - Miss Florence Wood.
  • Babette - Miss Marianne Caldwell.
  • The story of this slight comedietta, which the author locates at Courville, near Chartres - any French town would have done as well - in 1798, is one of engaging simplicity. Pierre Brunnier, a young son of the people, loves Hermine, the granddaughter of the Marquis d'Aurigny; but, sensible of the humbleness of his birth, fears to declare his love. He determines to take himself out of temptation by joining the army as a conscript, and, with this purpose, writes a letter to the mayor of the town, explaining that he is not, as has, for reasons that are neither here nor there, hitherto been supposed, above the conscription age.

    The discovery, however, that Hermine returns his love, and the entry of the Marquis, who not only forces him to confess the true state of his affections, but insists on having him for a son-in-law, induce him to change his mind, and he tears up the letter he has just written. The next moment the fragments are discovered by Henri d'Aurigny, Hermine's cousin and Pierre's jealous rival, who pieces them together, and despatches forthwith a copy of the letter to the Mayor. When Pierre finds himself suddenly ordered off to join the army, and discovers how he has been betrayed, there is, of course a pretty quarrel between the two young men. At the last moment, however, just as Pierre returns to take a last leave of Hermine, a notification arrives that he is not to be enrolled after all. A volunteer has insisted on taking his place. It is Henri - Henri brought to a better mind, and determined to atone for his treachery by leaving Hermine in undisturbed happiness with the man she loves.

    The still angry pit on Monday jeered at Mr Eric Lewis's accurate "Incroyable " costume, but this did not prevent the actor making a very creditable success of a by no means agreeable part. Mr Sydney Brough, who, despite the stormy state of the barometer at the back of the house, received a warm welcome on his return to the stage after his prolonged illness, was sufficiently frank and sympathetic as Pierre Brunnier; and Miss Florence Wood played Hermine with admirable sincerity and tact. Miss Marianne Caldwell was the most vivacious of French bonnes, while Mr R. Cathcart and Mr W. H. Quinton rendered useful service in mirror parts.

    The author of this neat little piece having been duly called before the curtain, no time was lost in getting to the main event of the evening, the production of Mr Sydney Grundy's adaptation of Les Surprise. du Divorce, entitled:

  • "MAMMA!"
  • Jack Pontiff - Mr John Hare.
  • Mr Miles Henniker - Mr Arthur Cecil.
  • Tom Shadbolt - Mr Eric Lewis
  • Captain Cochrane - Mr Charles Groves.
  • Mrs Jannaway - Mrs John Wood.
  • Diana - Miss Filippi.
  • Winifred - Miss Annie Hughes.
  • Watson - Miss Caldwell.
  • Jane - Miss M. Brough.
  • So closely does Mr Grundy follow the lines of his French original - in this respect his choice, an unusual bit of frankness in an English programme, of the word "translation" is amply justified that we need not here dwell too minutely upon the details of a plot that has already, in connection with the first production of Les Surprisei du Divorce at the Paris Vaudeville last spring and, subsequently, with its performance by M Coquelin at the Royalty, been fully described in these columns...'

    The ERA then went on to describe the piece in detail however, but finished with the following paragraphs:- 'Where could one find a prettier, more coquettish pair of young wives than the Diana of Miss Filippi and the Winifred of Miss Annie Hughes? Where a neater pair of soubrettes than Miss Caldwell and Miss Margaret Brough? We have left till last the two chief features of the cast, which are, of course, the Pontifex of Mr Hare and the Mrs Jannaway of Mrs John Wood. In following actors like M. Jolly, who played the original in Paris, and M. Coquelin, who played it in Soho, Mr Hare, of course, is travelling a little outside his usual histrionic domain, His success, however, on Monday night was instant and complete. His quiet, sarcastic skirmishes with the mother-in-law at the outset, his breathless and heated wrath when the skirmishes develop into a pitched battle, above all, his wild, his tragic despair when the almost-forgotten mother-in-law, the incubus of the old household, makes her irruption into the new, these details and many more were thought out and skilfully presented with the sure touch of an artist. As to Mrs John Wood's Mrs Jannaway, the irresistible ludicrousness of this terrible mother-in-law, tripping on to the stage to be photographed in the costume she wore twenty years before on the boards of "the Wells," is a thing to be enjoyed, not described.

    At the close of the performance, after Mr Grundy had made his bow and both Mrs John Wood and Mr Hare had been favoured with a double "call," the manageress again came forward, and in a neat, discreetly-delivered speech, thanked the audience for their reception of the piece, and her company and staff for their exertions, concluding with a promise of a new play by Mr Pinero, to be produced as soon as the popularity of Mamma! should be exhausted. This, we think, will prove to be no very early date.' The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 29th Sep 1888.

    Since it's opening in 1888 the Royal Court Theatre has undergone a number of changes to the building's fabric, some of them quite major, but has managed to still retain the feel of it's original Victorian Theatre design. In 1897 there were minor changes to the Theatre's gallery carried out by J. Kingwell Cole, and in 1904 the building gained a third floor so that a rehearsal room could be included, this was carried out by C. E. Lancaster Parkinson.

    In 1920 a forestage was added and both of the Theatre's circles were altered into the shape they still carry today by Burdwood and Dunt, but the swagged fruit and flowers which adorned them at this time were later removed in 2000. In 1934 the Theatre was converted for use as a Cinema and the original columns which supported the balcony were removed. Cinema use continued until the Theatre suffered bomb damage in 1940. The Theatre then remained derelict until it was restored in 1952 by Robert Cromie for use as a live Theatre again, with a lower seating capacity of 500.

    George Devine became artistic director of the Royal Court in 1956, and formed the English Stage Company at the Theatre, a Company who have remained in the building ever since. In 1955 the original apron stage was restored. In 1964 the Theatre was redecorated by Jocelyn Herbert. In 1969 a new 60 seat Theatre Space, called the Theatre Upstairs, was constructed in the former 1904 rehearsal room by Roderick Ham, who, in 1990 added a new rehearsal room to the Theatre.

    The most radical reconstruction of the Royal Court Theatre however, was carried out by Haworth Tompkins in 1998. The Theatre closed in 1997 and the company relocated to the Duke of York's Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre whilst the works to their own home were carried out. The works to the Royal Court in 1998 included extending the building to the rear to enlarge the backstage accommodation, and extending under Sloane Square itself to provide a restaurant for the Theatre. The Theatre Upstairs, now called the Jerwood Theatre, was also improved at this time. During the reconstruction of the main Theatre the early wooden stage machinery was removed to allow for modernisation and improvement of the main stage. However, before removal, the wooden machinery was recorded and the stage traps are now installed and in working order at the Harrogate Royal Hall.

    The newly improved and extended Royal Court Theatre reopened in February 2000, 112 years after the it was first opened in 1888. The English Stage Company says of it's achievements since first opening at the Royal Court in 1956: "After 50 years, writers, directors, actors and audiences still look to the Royal Court for the classics of the future. Plays that were once considered subversive, immoral or blasphemous are now studied in schools and performed all over the world. George Devine wanted to create 'a vital, modern theatre of experiment'. 50 years later, that theatre stands at the centre of a vigorous, renewed culture of playwriting." The Royal Court is a Grade II Listed building and currently has a capacity of 380 in the main house and 85 in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.



    Venue Access Information.

    Patrons with access requirements can purchase £15 tickets for themselves and a companion directly with the Box Office, either in person or by telephone.

    Wheelchairs – Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. There are five wheelchair spaces in the Stalls, three in the centre of row J and one at each end of row K. The two centre aisle seats in row K of the Stalls are available for transfer seating. If you wish to transfer, please inform the Box Office in advance so that we can assign you an appropriate space to store your wheelchair. Wheelchairs cannot be kept in the aisles of the auditorium. The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs can accommodate wheelchairs up to a maximum of 73cm wide.

    Wheelchairs – Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. There is always at least one wheelchair space in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. The seating plan varies from show to show so please ask for advice when booking your ticket. If you wish to transfer from a wheelchair into a seat in the auditorium, please inform the Box Office when booking tickets. The size of wheelchair that the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs can accommodate varies depending on the production, so please check before booking.

    West End Access bookings for The Ferryman (West End) can be made through the Gielgud Theatre Box Office. To book tickets please call 0344 482 5137 or email .

    Access bookings for Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour can be made through the Duke of York’s Theatre Box Office. To book tickets please call 0800 912 6971

    The Royal Court owns a wheelchair, which can be arranged for any patrons who may require assistance to access parts of the building or to travel over slightly greater distances. To arrange this, please contact the Box Office. In the unlikely event of a fire there are refuge points outside the auditorium on all levels. There are call points at all of these spaces from which the management will operate an emergency evacuation. If you have special seating requirements, please contact the Box Office directly; Email: .

    For the Hearing Impaired.

    Captioning is a way of converting the spoken word into visible text that provides deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people with access to live performances along with their family and friends. Their captioned performances are also aimed at people for whom English is not their first language. They aim to have a captioned performance for all Royal Court productions. Captioned shows are provided by STAGETEXT.

    To join their free mailing list and receive details about their Captioned, BSL Interpreted and Audio Described performances, please contact the Box Office on, or by telephone on 020 7565 5000. Click here to see the full list of captioned performances in the current season.

    The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs has an inbuilt induction loop for hearing aid users that can be used in conjunction with the T setting to assist in amplifying sound from the stage. For the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sennheiser ‘necklaces’ are available to create personal induction loops for hearing aid users. These can also be used in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs to boost amplification even further should you wish. Necklaces can be collected from the Cloakroom.

    The Box Office also has an induction loop available. Please tell a Box Office staff member if you would like to use it. As this loop is portable it is possible to arrange its use for meetings, events and hires in other areas of the building. To discuss this possibility, please send your enquiry to

    Infra Red System. For audio description or to increase the volume of the dialogue on stage, our infra-red system can be accessed using Sennheiser headsets. Both the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs and the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs are fitted with an infra-red system. To use this system please collect the Seinheiser receiving equipment from the Cloakroom on the Stalls level. Hearing Dogs. Guide and hearing dogs are welcome at the Royal Court. Please let the Box Office know when booking your ticket so that they can arrange an aisle seat or have someone at hand to take care of your dog. Some of their productions contain loud noises and startling lighting effects. If this is likely to upset your dog please ask for advice when booking your ticket.

    Facilities for blind and visually impaired people.

    Touch Tours. In addition to the audio described performance, a free touch tour of the set is available before the start of the show (usually 1 hour 30 minutes prior to the performance). This is led by the audio describers and members of Royal Court staff. The touch tour consists of descriptions of the set and an opportunity to feel the fixtures, fittings and textures of the scenery, and to meet the actors who will describe their character and costume. If you wish to attend the touch tour before the performance, please inform the Box Office who will be able to give you more information.

    Playtexts. Playtexts are available from the Bookshop from the first night of the production. These are priced at £3 and include cast and production details. Free cast sheets are available from the dispensers at the entrances to the auditoriums or from the ushers. They offer large print cast sheets for all Royal Court productions and braille cast sheets are available from Press Nights for all Jerwood Theatre Downstairs productions.


    They have created several audio tracks with detailed information about your visit to the theatre. Please click on the following links.

  • Track 1 : An Introduction.
  • Track 2 : Welcome to the Royal Court.
  • Track 3 : Audio Tour of the building.
  • Track 4 : Forthcoming Performances.
  • Track 8 : Getting to the Theatre
  • You can also click here to see the full list of audio described performances in the current season.

    Guide Dogs. Guide and hearing dogs are welcome at the Royal Court. Please let the Box Office know when booking your ticket so that we can arrange an aisle seat or have someone at hand to take care of your dog. Some of their productions contain loud noises and startling lighting effects. If this is likely to upset your dog please ask for advice when booking your ticket.

    Sight Aids. As you enter the theatre via the easy-open doors on the right-hand side of the building, the lift is located to the right of these doors. The lift is fitted with a voice commentary and takes you to all levels of the building. Their stairs have handrails with raised tactile aids to indicate which level you are approaching. Handrails are made from metal and leather to indicate different sides of each staircase.As you enter the building from street level, there are four steps up to the main entrance doors. From the foyer there are three staircases which lead to all Front of House areas:

    To Street Level.

    At the front of the foyer on the right-hand side, there is a U-shaped staircase leading downwards. The first flight of 4 steps leads you to a landing from which you can exit or enter the building on the Lower Ground floor through stair-free, easy-open doors. Their main entrance is located at the front of the building where 4 steps lead to glass doors, taking you into the Box Office foyer.

    To Circle Entrance.

    The Circle entrance doors to the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs are situated at either side of the foyer, directly behind the Box Office ticket desk.

    To Stalls and Bookshop.

    From the foyer, a flight of 16 steps leads you down to the Stalls and Bookshop. As you approach this level, you will feel 1 stud on the metal hand rail. For the Cloakroom and Stalls, turn right at the bottom of the stairs. For the staircase leading to the Bar & Kitchen, turn left at the bottom of the stairs. To access the Bookshop, turn left towards the Bar & Kitchen stairs and then right; the Bookshop is on a balcony overlooking the bar.

    To the Bar and Kitchen.

    From the Cloakroom and Stalls level, there is a staircase of 11 steps and a platform lift, which lead down to the Bar & Kitchen. There is one 1 stud at the top of the metal hand rail and 2 studs at the bottom which indicate the Bar & Kitchen level.

    To Balcony and Bar.

    At the back of the foyer on the right-hand side, behind the Box Office and past the lift, there is a long staircase leading upwards made up of eight flights of stairs (64 steps), separated by small landings. Two flights (18 steps) take you up to the Balcony of the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs and the Balcony Bar. There is 1 stud at this level. A separate L-shaped staircase of 11 steps, a landing and a further 7 steps leads to the Balcony level only and is located directly to the left of the main entrance doors.

    To the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

    At the back of the foyer on the right-hand side, behind the Box Office and past the lift, there is a long staircase leading upwards made up of eight flights of stairs (64 steps), separated by small landings. The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs is located on the floor which has 4 studs on the metal handrail. As you climb the stairs, you will feel a number of raised studs which indicate office areas for staff only. The lift can be used to access the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs once the house has opened. Alternatively, the lift will take you to the third floor landing where you can wait until the house has opened.

    The Royal Court is situated in Sloane Square, SW1W 8AS, next to Sloane Square Underground Station (District and Circle lines). They are also served by a number of bus routes. The Royal Court is also a short 15 minute walk from Victoria Bus, National Rail and Underground stations. There is a taxi rank in Sloane Square, directly opposite the theatre. The Royal Court building is fully accessible, with access on ground level next to the Sloane Square Underground station. Please note that the station itself is not accessible for wheelchair users.


    Drivers can take advantage of Q-Park’s Theatreland Parking Scheme saving 50% off off-street car parking charges for up to 24 hours. Present your Q-Park car park ticket for validation at their Box Office. The nearest Q-Park car park is in Pimlico, SW1V 4LZ (15mins walk). For more details please visit the Q-Park website. You can also take advantage of a special £6.50 online promotion at Britannia Parking’s Cheltenham Terrace location (SW3 4QX), a 5 minute walk from the Royal Court Theatre. Offer is valid from 6pm – 2am and must be pre-booked. Visit BritPark, select London – Cheltenham Terrace and enter the promotional code ROYALCOURT1 . There is one Blue Badge parking bay on Sloane Terrace, opposite 149. Available for a maximum of four hours only. Pay and Display bays are also available with an extra hour free.

    Performances of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (West End) will take place at Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4BG. Performances of The Ferryman (West End) will take place at Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, London W1D 6AR. Please note that this only applies to tickets for the West End transfer, 20 June – 7 October. The Ferryman runs at the Royal Court 24 April – 20 May.


    Location : Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS

    Transport: Rail : Victoria (National Rail) then 15 minutes. Underground: Sloan Square (District Line, Circle Line). London Buses routes : 19, 22, 319, C1, N19 and N22 stop outside.

    What's On

    Seating Plan.

    Access Line : 020 7565 5000

    Tel: 020 7565 5000