History of the Royal Theatre, Bath
Essay title: History of the Royal Theatre, Bath
In 1700, Bath had a population of 3000 and was still a provincial, walled town. People came there to take the waters as a cure for arthritis and rheumatisms. Queen Anne was amongst these visitors in 1702 and 1703, and her visit made the city popular. Throughout the 18th century, the number of visitors rapidly increased and Bath became a city of pleasure_the elite would come there to spend the summer season bathing, playing cards, arranging marriages, going to concerts or to the theatre. Master of ceremonies “Beau” Nash, who, by imposing polite manners, greatly contributed to the increasing popularity of Bath, organized all these entertainments.
By 1800 the city housed 35000 people, but it was already past its peak of popularity. During the Victorian period Bath declined and became solely a retirement place as its highest visitors moved to Brighton and Cheltenham. It was only revived in the late 1800s, when archeological discoveries and improvements in the SPA attracted new visitors.
As well as changes in Bath, the 18th and 19th centuries saw many national changes, such as the industrial revolution. All these historical events affected all social activities in Bath, and particularly the theatre. By looking at its history, we will see that there was a close link between historical influences and the development of the Bath theatre_in fact, most changes in the theatres site, building, fabric, audience or plays were directly due to historical events.
THE THEATRE FIRST COMES TO BATH
Baths first permanent theatre was built in 1705 in Parsonage Lane. Before, the Guildhall had been used as a theatre. However, in 1702-1703, Queen Anne visited the city. This affected the theatre because it made Bath popular, therefore increasing the number of visitors to the city, and to the theatre. Soon, the Guildhall became too small and the Parsonage Lane theatre was built by George Trim, the builder of Trim Street.
This theatre was more like a lecture hall_a small building, with rows of seats rising to within 4 feet of the ceiling. A single box over the entrance accommodated 4 people and the room, lit by candles, was very smoky. These unsatisfactory premises were common to most theatres of the time. For example, in Bath, the unsuccessful Kingsmead street theatre(competing with Parsonage Lane at the time)was a single room, only 50 feet long and 25 wide. In 1730 the Parsonage Lane theatre was demolished because it was too small, and to make way for part of the mineral hospital.
After Parsonage Lane theatre was demolished, plays were performed for 12 years in Simpsons Rooms, close to North Parade. There, again, the accommodation was poor_a cellar under the ballroom_and so was the quality of plays. In fact, only 25 were performed over a period of 6 years.
In 1737, the Licensing Act was passed, which forbade theatrical criticism of politics and religion. This greatly affected the types of plays performed_so far, political comedies had been popular, but the Licensing Act forbade them so they were replaced by tragedies. This change was also due, to a lesser extend, to master of ceremonies “Beau” Nashs influence8he had imposed a strict etiquette in Bath, so manners became more elegant. This change lead tragedy to find favour.
ORCHARD STREET THEATRE
By 1740 there was increasing demand for entertainment.Hippesley,an actor,had the idea to build a bigger theatre.He died but John Palmer senior,a local businessman,took his idea and built a new,improved theatre in Orchard Street.At the time,Bath was expending rapidly and many people were keen to invest in new building enterprises.This enabled John Palmer senior to finance the building of the Orchard Street theatre by selling shares to other businessmen.
This theatre was bigger than previous ones_60 feet long and 40 wide.It was typically Georgian as it followed the national architectural style of the time_there were 2 tiers of side-boxes and an upper gallery facing the pit and the stage.The auditorium was rectangular because of limited building technologies,and because,at the time,going to the theatre was also about displaying yourself,which is why boxes faced the audience more than the stage.
By 1750,however,physical characteristics of theatres were changing throughout England_The pit,previously the resort of a noisy,standing crowd,was now being furnished with benches.The tradition of allowing privileged guests to sit on the stage was also abandoned because it limited space and disturbed the actors.The national changes influenced the Bath theatre,and John Palmer senior implemented them in Orchard