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Surrey Theatre

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Important events

(detail)4.11.1782 | opening
The Royal Circus was opened by the composer and song writer, Charles Dibdin (who coined the word "circus"),aided by Charles Hughes, a well-known equestrian performer.
(detail)1799 | fire

(detail)12.8.1805 | fire

(detail)1806 | Alteration
Rebuilt in 1806 by the Italian architect of the Old Vic, Rudolph Cabanel, it was converted into a theatre by Robert Elliston.
(detail)29.1.1865 | fire

During the last scene of the pantomime Richard Coeur de Lion, a fire began above the chandelier. The audience evacuated safely, but before the cast could leave the entire theatre was plunged into darkness, as the gas supervisor cut the gas supply to prevent an explosion. Panic ensued backstage, but the cast were led to safety through the burning scenery by the efforts of Green (acting manager), Rowella (the 'clown'), Evans (the 'pantaloon'), Vivian (the 'sprite') and others. The cast, still in their flimsy stage clothes, were conveyed to their lodgings in a fleet of cabs, provided by the police. In less than ten minutes the interior was ablaze, and the theatre was burnt down shortly after midnight.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1865/02/19/news/the-surrey-theatre-its-total-destruction-by-fire.html


(detail)26.12.1865 | opening
A new theatre was designed by John Ellis with seating for 2,161 people in four tiers.
(detail)1920 | alteration
Converted to a cinema.
(detail)1934 | demolition
It finally closed in 1924, and the building was demolished in 1934. The site is now occupied by modern flats.



Surrey Theatre was located  in Blackfriars Road, Lambeth, originally the Royal Circus, which opened on 14 Nov. 1782. It had a troubled existence and was burnt down in 1799 and again on 12 Aug. 1805. Rebuilt the following year, it became the Surrey, a name which, after one or two changes, it kept permanently from 1819 on. Taken over in 1809 by EUiston, who made it into a theatre, it evaded the Patent Act by incorporating a ballet into all its productions, even Hamlet and Macbeth. Ellistpn gave up in 1814 and the theatre continued its chequered career, sometimes as a circus, and always in low water, until Elliston came back in 1827, when he left Drury Lane.


In 1865, the theatre was burned down, but was rebuilt, reopening on 26 Dec. the same year. Nothing of importance then took place until 1881, when George Conquest, actor, playwright, and pantomimist, took over.  The house flourished until his death in 1901. It declined after this and became a cinema from 1920 to 1924, with a brief season of opera. Several attempts were made to reopen it, but there were too many restrictions in the lease and it became derelict. Eventually the land was purchased by the Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, and the building was pulled down in 1937.


In: Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The concise Oxford companion to the theatre. 1st ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.   ISBN 0-19-281102-9. p. 531



Author: Hartnoll Phyllis

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