Granted its Royal licence by King George III, the Theatre Royal Newcastle opened on Drury Lane off Mosley Street in 1788 and soon established itself as one of England’s leading theatres.
Three months before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, in February 1837, the Theatre moved to Grey Street, a flagship building in Grainger and Dobson’s famous city plan. It features what is generally regarded as the finest Theatre façade in the UK, later combined with a fine 1901 auditorium by one of the great Theatre architects, Frank Matcham after the original interior had been destroyed by fire in 1899.
Over the centuries, many of the great names of the English stage have played at the Royal, from Keane to Irving, Olivier to Dench and the Hollywood greats Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon have also trodden the famous boards; Sir Ian McKellen has described the Theatre Royal as his favourite theatre.
The Grade I Listed Theatre today is both neo-classical monument and cultural engine, with an annual audience of 400,000 and over 400 performances each year; the finest drama, the brightest West End musicals, the cream of the comedy circuit, award winning ballet and dance, family friendly shows, sensational opera – and (we think) the best Pantomime in the country!
The New Short Histroy of the Theatre Royal book
The New Short History of the Theatre Royal. Written by popular local history author Vanessa Histon, it tells the story of the Theatre and the many great performers associated with it, from 1788 to the present day. At 76 pages a delightful and fascinating book, richly illustrated in full-colour throughout.
£6.99 in person from the Box Office (20% off for Friends when buying at the Box Office) or, for £8.39 including p&p, buy online here.
See also The Story of Theatre, a permanent exhibition area and learning space in the Gallery Foyer at the Theatre Royal, illustrating the history of theatre from its origins in Ancient Greece through to the present day.
The City Hall was opened in 1927 as part of the redevelopment which also includes the City Pool. The Harrison and Harrison Organ was added in 1928, giving Newcastle its first dedicated concert venue.
For almost 40 years, the City Hall hosted concerts by major British orchestras featuring conductors such as Sir Malcolm Sargent and soloists as Yehudi Menuhin and Kathleen Ferrier. In addition, local choirs and societies hold their annual concerts here and there were celebrity recitals and talks as well as Civic functions.
The 60′s saw the cultural explosion of pop music and the hall was soon playing host to “package tours” featuring The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Newcastle’s own “Animals”. Many shows featuring five or six acts such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Gene Pitney, The Kinks and Marianne Faithful on one bill could be seen for 10/6 (52p) or less.
The City Hall has continued to host almost every rock and pop “great” since the 60′s as well as seeing the first tours of future legends. Throughout the decades, the City Hall maintained its position as one of the best and most used 2000 seated venues in the country and one of many artists’ favourite gigs. Bruce Springsteen rates the City Hall show in 1981 as one of his three best shows and both Dire Straits and Elton John insisted on starting world tours in the Hall.
As well as music the City Hall has a tremendous reputation for comedy and has seen multiple sell out shows by the likes of Billy Connolly, Little Britain, Jimmy Carr, Al Murray, Frankie Boyle and many more.
Harrison and Harrison Organ
Essentially a Victorian development, the concert hall organ became an object of great Civic Pride in nineteenth-century England. By the end of the century many major towns and cities had been provided with large instruments.
The decision in Newcastle to build an organ of heroic proportions for its new City Hall as late as 1929 might have heralded the beginning of a new era of concert hall and organ construction.
It is clear that no expense was spared in its design and construction. It will have caused a sensation when first installed, and enjoyed an initial period of glory. But the times were against it; the Second World War curtailed public entertainment, and although it was followed by a resurgence of interest the organ scene was about to change.
With the arrival of the Royal Festival Hall organ in 1954, neo-classical principals of organ building gradually came to the fore and eventually acquired such romantic organs became deeply unfashionable. By the 1960s the City Hall instrument entered its long period of neglect.
The City Hall organ is a supreme example of this style of organ building in its most highly-developed form, and is entirely unaltered. This in itself makes it highly important, unique and is a historic artefact; above all its musical abilities lies in its musical quality, as a noble concert instrument on a grand scale.