The last remaining theatre with its design intact by architect J.T. Robinson, employer and father-in-law of celebrated Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham.
- Addington Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1PW, England
- Risk Rating
- 8 (Community Value: 3 Star Rating: 3, Risk Factor: 2 )
- Local Authority
- Thanet District Council
- Remodelled by Jethro Thomas Robinson
- Date of Construction
- 1787, remodelled in 1874
- Grade II*
- 465 (current)
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
The Theatre Royal is a Grade II* listed theatre of major significance located on a prominent site in Margate. The theatre was built in 1787 and remained in theatre use until 1963, with periods for chapel use during the 1840s and cinema between the wars. It was substantially remodelled in 1874 by Jethro Thomas 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 sidewall, and extending the span of the old roof trusses. The auditorium has been compared to a smaller version of his earlier The Old Vic auditorium of 1871. It is a delightful space with two horseshoe balconies supported by slender iron columns along the line of their fronts, which are decorated with swags.
J.T. Robinson was surveyor to the Lord Chamberlain. Only two auditoria designed by him 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. Robinson was also 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.
Why is the theatre at risk?
Theatre Royal Margate has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2018.
Thanet District Council acquired the theatre as 'owner of last resort' in 2007, paying the debts left by the previous owners Margate Theatre Royal Trust and Castle Trust. The building was then leased back to Margate Theatre Royal Trust on a peppercorn rent until 2012 when it went into administration. At this point, we added the theatre to the Theatres at Risk Register but removed it again in 2013 when the council indicated its staunch desire to see the venue remain in active theatre use, appointing Thanet Leisureforce (subsequently Your Leisure Kent Ltd) as temporary operator and commissioning arts consultancy Bonnar Keenleyside to undertake a viability appraisal. Your Leisure Kent Ltd ceased operation from the Winter Gardens on 28 April 2022.
Thanet Council remains supportive of the theatre and throughout this time has been proactive in looking at ways to make the theatre operation self-sustaining. This has included acquiring the former Theatre Hotel at 19 Hawley Square (sited opposite the theatre) as a potential means of providing much-needed auxiliary space for the theatre. The council has also been exploring other options for providing suitable front-of-house and / or rehearsal spaces to support a broader business model.
In order to move the project to the next stage and to help shape and scope the works there is a need for an operator partner. Any scheme that comes forward will require major capital investment in the building both to realise the ambition and to carry out essential maintenance and repair work. Until these plans come to fruition, the building remains in a fragile state and now that it is closed, it is even more vulnerable to deterioration.
Theatre Royal Margate has always been well supported by its local community.
Thanet District Council is very supportive of the theatre, which has been in its ownership since 2007. In 2014, it undertook a viability appraisal that looked at ways of making the theatre financially sustainable in the long term. It 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 former Theatre Hotel at adjacent 19 Hawley Square, a Grade II listed building with potential for bar and restaurant facilities, as a means of helping cross-subsidise the theatre operation. This scheme would remove the need for ongoing revenue support.
Thanet Council had identified a preferred partner to develop proposals for the refurbishment of the theatre and 19 Hawley Square, and then to operate the theatre. Unfortunately, a 2017 Heritage Lottery Fund (now National Lottery Heritage Fund) bid to part finance the capital works essential to this ambition was unsuccessful. The council does not have the capital or the capacity to carry out the project itself and has been looking at different options to take the works forward including seeking a new operator to help shape the project. Theatres Trust has been advising the council in this process.
The area around the theatre has changed in the last few years, with the historic Gazette and Thanet Press printing works buildings both being converted into cultural uses. It has been acknowledged that while visual arts provision in Margate is booming the opportunities for participation and attendance in the performing arts is limited. It is hoped that the Theatre Royal Margate can capitalise on the regeneration of the surrounding area and become an important part of Margate’s cultural offer.
Thanet Council was successful in its Towns Fund bid and has allocated £2m of the awarded £22.2m towards the cost of making the Theatre Royal Margate fit for purpose. A steering group which includes Theatres Trust was set up for the Theatre Royal project and has been advising on the economic and business case for this element of the Towns Fund bid. The council also appointed consultants to work with a local advisory group seeking options for the meanwhile use and longer-term options for the theatre building. While there are local groups keen to use the Theatre Royal for rehearsal and occasional performance there have been difficulties in transferring provision to a new service provider and currently, the building remains vacant.
In September 2022, Thanet Council’s Business Case Summary Document for the Theatre Royal project was approved by the government. This has allowed attention to focus on necessary urgent works to the building. It has also allowed the council to start recruitment for a Project Manager to drive the project forward.
Theatres Trust will continue to support the council and its advisors in its search for a partner operator to help develop the new proposals for the Theatre Royal and which will deliver a viable and sustainable future operation for this important historic theatre.
Update April 2023
Thanet District Council will receive funding for a further project scoping that will support future funding bids through our Resilient Theatres: Resilient Communities programme. Read the full news story.
Main photo of Theatre Royal Margate by Theatres Trust. Interior photo by Ian Grundy.