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Theatre Royal celebrates 185 years on Grey Street!

A jewel in Newcastle's crown that continues to drive world-class culture into the heart of the city, the Theatre Royal will mark 185 glorious years on Grey Street this February, and we think that calls for a celebration!

Settle in, as we take a leap behind the scenes to bring you an insight into the theatre royal, its fascinating history, big performances from big names and the wonderful work they do in the community. 


Theatre Royal celebrates 185 years on Grey Street!



Granted its Royal licence by King George III during the 18th century, the Theatre Royal Newcastle originally opened on Drury Lane, just off Mosley Street in 1788, and soon established itself as one of England’s leading theatres. 

Operated by Stephen Kemble of the notorious Kemble family (they basically ran Britain’s theatre sector for decades!), the Theatre Royal became a real hit for wealthy citizens who flocked from far and wide to see the latest travelling act.                    

In February 1837, the Theatre moved to Grey Street, a flagship building in Graingertown as part of John Dobson’s famous city transformation! 

The new theatre on Grey Street was designed by Benjamin Green and opened under the management of Montague Penley on 20 February 1837, and awestruck citizens clamoured to get a view of the city’s stunning new cultural hub.     

The first production to take to the stage in 1837 was Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ preceded by a communal rendition of God Save the King! 

It features what we reckon is probably one of the finest Theatre façades in the UK, later combined with a fine 1901 auditorium by the great theatre architect, Frank Matcham, after the original interior had been destroyed by fire during a performance of Macbeth in 1899 - something that was definitely not part of the script (see, it is unlucky!)... 


A grand design 



Newcastle Theatre Royal is one of only nine Grade I-Listed theatres in England, and since opening in 1837 it has been renovated many times to keep this exquisite space glistening! 

One of the major renovation projects occurred just recently. In 2011, a six-month restoration recreated Matcham’s classic 1901 Edwardian design with reprinted wallpapers, carpets featuring the original patterns and extensive gold leaf work, period light fittings, brassware and ornamentation throughout, as well as reinstating lost tilework.

In addition to this, the famous Grey Street portico was given a new lease of life thanks to conservation measures to clean and protect its iconic structure. 

The installation of a new lighting system to show off the splendour of the main entrance was added. You should definitely check it out next time you’re passing, it’s a wonderful photo opportunity!

Did you know that Sir Ian McKellen, (you know, one of the most famous and accomplished British actors in modern memory!) has described the Theatre Royal as his favourite venue in the entire world? Don’t think we’ll disagree with the mighty and wise Gandalf! 


Training stars of the future



Not only do the Theatre Royal welcome the biggest names and best productions to the stage, but this wonderful lot also nurture the region’s brightest talent through their wonderful collaborative course with the Northern School for Drama, Project A!

A wonderful initiative designed to give back to the arts community and get local people up on stage, Project A gives students the chance to shine on the biggest stage and provides an invaluable pathway in the arts. 

Notable graduates include Rosie Bowden who starred in Macbeth, Sophie Jane Butler who appeared in Grease and Jamie Dennison. Nice work! 


A record-breaking theatre



In 2016, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s star-studded and multi-award-winning musical Mary Poppins had a spectacular run at the Theatre Royal spanning almost two months! The magical story of the world’s favourite nanny was seen by nearly 70,000 people and brought nearly £3million to the Box Office! 

A raft of blockbuster names of the stage have trodden the Theatre Royal’s famous boards! From Henry Irving to Laurence Olivier and Dame Judi Dench, as well as Hollywood greats such as Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, and Jack Lemmon, A-listers have always jumped at the chance to perform at one of the greatest theatres in the world! 

In 2021, shortly after re-opening, Theatre Royal staged not one, but two world premiere musicals here in the city! Theatre-goers were treated to a dazzling week of Bedknobs & Broomsticks, before a three week run of The Drifters Girl stole the show ahead of its West End transfer. 


What’s your favourite memory of the Theatre Royal? Get in touch via our social channels. Twitter: @NewcastleNE1, Instagram: @NewcastleNE1, Facebook: @GetIntoNewcastle

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