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Imperial Theatre

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Important events

(detail)1876 | opening

(detail)1907 | closure

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History

In 1900 Lily Langtry bought the lease of the Imperial, which had opened in 1876 as the Royal Aquarium Theatre, a part of the immense Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden, opposite Westminster Abbey. Financed by her current paramour, Edgar Cohen, she had Verity completely reconstruct the interior. The result was a somewhat chilly and almost over-pure Empire style, contrasting strongly with Sprague's intense, all-enveloping theatricality and professionalism. Two steep balconies face a Greek temple, while on either side marble walls are dominated by a pair of superbly detailed royal boxes. Mrs Langtry was not, after all, suffering from ' côté de grandeur', her association with the King was well-known. For a command performance in 1902, the year after the theatre opened, both he and Queen Alexandra , along with the Prince and Princess of Wales, occupied these royal boxes.

In theatre-architectural terms, however, the fashion for detached boxes set by the Imperial was not a happy one. The former relationship between audience and actor was visually interrupted; it was the beginning of the problem of dissociation which became most acute in the cinema era. Despite her grand connections, Mrs Langtry had no luck with the Imperial, and the command performance was her last there. New horizons were in view, however; the era of the director who brought fresh conceptions to the theatre was beginning.

In 1903 William Poel and his Elizabethan Stage Society performed Everyman at the Imperial, and Ellen Terry presented her son Gordon Craig's revolutionary productions of The Vikings and Much Ado About Nothing. The Imperial was dismantled in 1906, and its interior was taken off to Canning Town to refurbish the old Royal Albert Music Hall, which opened as the Imperial Palace and was destroyed by fire in 1931. The enormous Central Hall, which opened in 1912, now stands on the site of the Royal Aquarium and Imperial Theatre.

 

In: Glasstone, Victor: Victorian and Edwardian Theatres: An Architectural and Social Survey. Harvard 1975 p. 112

 

Imperial Theatre, LONDON, in Tothill Street, Westminster, originally the Aquarium Theatre, part of the Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden. It opened on 15 Apr. 1876, and it was there that Phelps (q.v.) made his last appearance in 1878. On 21 Apr. 1879, under the management of Marie Litton (Mrs. Wybrow Robert¬son), the name was changed to the Imperial. It closed in 1899, and Lily Langtry (q.v.) then took over, virtually rebuilt it and reopened it on 22 Apr. 1901 with Berton's A Royal Necklace. In spite of good reviews of her acting in the dual roles of Marie Antoinette and Mile Olivia, and of the sumptuous costumes and scenery (the latter by Telbin, q.v.), the play was not a success, and in 1903 Mrs. Langtry withdrew. Ellen Terry (q.v.) then presentedlbsen's The Vikings at Helgeland, designed and directed by her son Gordon Craig (q.v.), and appeared herself as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Lewis Waller (q.v.) was at the Imperial for three years, presenting a series of romantic plays of which the most success¬ful, apart from the perennial Monsieur Beaucaire by Booth Tarkington, was Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard. The last play seen at this theatre was Dix and Sutherland's Boy O'Carrol (1906), with Martin Harvey (q.v.). The theatre was then dismantled and taken to Canning Town, where it was re-erected Imperial Palace, later a cinema wl destroyed by fire in 1931.

 

In: Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The concise Oxford companion to the theatre. 1st ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.  ISBN 0-19-281102-9. p. 262

 

 

Authors: Hartnoll Phyllis, Victor Glasstone

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