Built in 1845, this is Manchester's oldest surviving theatre building and one of the finest examples of theatre architecture to have survived in Britain from the first half of the nineteenth century.
The Theatre Royal is Manchester's oldest surviving theatre building, listed at Grade II for its significance. Built in 1845, it is an impressive building in the Classical style and its monumental façade is one of the finest examples of theatre architecture to have survived in Britain from the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a source of inspiration for Richardson and his partners when designing the front of London’s Royal Opera House. The ceiling, although now not easily visible, has deeply coved sides and basketwork enrichment also reminiscent of the Royal Opera House. The theatre was internally remodelled in 1875 and again in 1921 but has retained its ornate plasterwork, and its stage machinery is also understood to have survived. The conversion of the building to nightclub use obscured rather than destroyed the theatre interior, which appears to be capable of restoration. More research is needed to fully understand its architectural and historical significance.
Why is this theatre at risk?
The theatre was used as a nightclub but this closed in 2009. There was a possibility that the former Library Theatre might relocate into the Theatre Royal but this was superseded by the creation of a new venue, HOME. In 2012 the building was bought by hotel developer Edwardian Hotels London for redevelopment. The developer has no immediate plans for the building and it is currently being used as storage of both theatre facilities and (more temporarily) for building materials.
Despite the theatre being within a city that already has a good and broad cultural and theatrical spread, the building is located in a entral location, in relatively good condition and could be returned to live performance use.
The hotel developer has not yet outlined its future plans for the historic building. However, Iype Abraham, Commercial Development Director at Edwardian Hotels London, released the following statement: “We are continuing to review and develop our plans for the Theatre Royal. At the heart of this process is an internal feasibility study to ensure that the theatre is sensitively maximised to its full potential and best reflects the space, location and history. Our current investment focus is the adjacent Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester hotel, which is going through a major refurbishment. In due course we will review how best to maximise the Theatre Royal alongside that work.”
In July 2019 Theatres Trust and the planning case officer at Manchester City Council arranged a visit to the building. It was noted that the hotel group has carried out some works to the building (for example the fitting of new fire and security alarms and the rigging of temporary works lights) without listed building consent. The hotel group was reminded of its duties with regards owning a listed building and the requirement to gain listed building consent for works. The works that have been carried out, while not necessarily sympathetic to the historic fabric, have not appeared to damage it and have provided the building with some additional security. Likewise, while storage certainly is not the optimum use for the building, at least this has meant that the hotel group is aware of any urgent maintenance issues.
The council has confirmed that it will be writing to the hotel group following the visit with a reminder of its obligations as owners of a listed building, including the requirement to submit for listed building consent. Theatres Trust has also requested that the owner is asked to provide protection to the fragile historic plaster finishes, in particular those around columns and at lower level / on walls and which are more prone to damage whilst the building is being used for storage. It was further recommended that a management policy be put in place to ensure that those working within the theatre building are made aware of the building’s listed status and areas of particular historic significance and / or fragility.
Theatres Trust hope to work with Edwardian Hotels London in the future to ensure that any proposals for the Theatre Royal will preserve the significance of this important building and not preclude it from being brought back into live performance use in the future.
Main photo Theatre Royal, Ian Grundy