Theatre Royal

The last remaining theatre with its design intact by architect J.T. Robinson, employer and father-in-law to Frank Matcham.

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Address
Addington Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1PW, England
Risk Rating
8 (Community Value: 3 Star Rating: 3, Risk Factor: 2 )
Architect
Remodelled by J.T. Robinson
Date of Construction
1787, remodelled in 1874
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
465 (current)

Significance

The Theatre Royal is a Grade II* listed theatre of major significance located on a promontory site in Margate. The theatre was built in 1787 and remained in use as a live theatre until 1963 with periods for chapel use during the 1840s and cinema between the wars. It was substantially remodelled in 1874 by J.T. Robinson. It fully reopened as a theatre again in 1988. The structure of the earlier building partially remains, but Robinson drastically modified the theatre by removing the old auditorium and stage, increasing the width by demolishing one side wall, and extending the span of the old roof trusses. Robinson's auditorium has been compared to a smaller version of his earlier London Old Vic auditorium of 1871. It is a delightful composition with two horseshoe balconies supported by slender iron columns along the line of their fronts, which are of pulvinated section and decorated by swags.

J.T. Robinson was surveyor to the Lord Chamberlain. Only two auditoria of J.T. Robinson design remain, this theatre and The Old Vic. With the extensive remodelling of the proscenium arch at The Old Vic, the Theatre Royal Margate is the last remaining theatre with the architect’s design intact. J.T. Robinson was the employer of and later father-in-law to Frank Matcham, who is considered by many to be the greatest theatre architect, which makes this a unique piece of theatrical heritage. The theatre has always been well supported by its local community.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The theatre has been managed by Your Leisure Kent Ltd since the Margate Theatre Royal Trust went into administration in 2012. However, this is only a temporary arrangement and was, until recently, subsidised by Thanet Council and Kent County Council. The building appeared briefly on the Theatres at Risk Register in 2012 when the future of the theatre was uncertain.

Thanet District Council is very supportive of the theatre which has been in its ownership since 2007. In 2014 it undertook a viability appraisal, which looked at ways of making the theatre financially sustainable in the long term, and identified a scheme to re-orientate the entrance of the theatre towards Hawley Square, creating much-needed front of house facilities, bar space and disabled access. The proposals also included using the adjacent 19 Hawley Square, a Grade II listed former hotel with potential for bar and restaurant facilities, as a means of helping cross-subsidise the theatre operation, which would remove the need for ongoing revenue support from both councils.

Subsequently Thanet District Council entered into a tender process to identify a new operator for both the theatre and Hawley Square who would develop proposals for refurbishment and redevelopment. Theatres Trust assisted in the process.

Current situation

A preferred partner was identified in 2016. Substantial capital funding was required to deliver the capital works project by the preferred operator. Unfortunately, a Heritage Lottery Fund bid submitted in 2017 was unsuccessful and the preferred operator has since withdrawn from the project.

Although the theatre is currently open – operated by Your Leisure – any further withdrawal of subsidy would affect its ability to remain open.

Image: Theatre Royal Margate, Theatres Trust