History

Theatre Royal - Where History & Entertainment meet

The Theatre Royal is Ireland’s oldest continually operating theatre. Lovingly restored, this Victorian gem hidden within a beautiful Georgian building, is a jewel in the midst of Waterford’s Viking Triangle. The building opened in 1785 and included a playhouse and Assembly Rooms which were designed by famous Waterford architect John Roberts. The first performance on the opening evening was Shakespeare’s popular five-act comedy As You Like It. The Ball Room, which we today call The Large Room, was completed later in 1788.

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The building was upgraded to the auditorium that we see today in 1876 when the doors of the new Theatre Royal were first opened. At that time it was stated that “we have sufficient guarantee that nothing of an objectionable character will ever be presented within its walls”! And that has remained until today! In those early days Oscar Wilde lectured on America here and may even have recounted that famous anecdote that when asked at American customs if he had anything to declare his response was “only my genius”.

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In the 1900s it was used as a musical theatre, and a cinema, playing host to King Edward VII, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Harold Pinter and a host of local theatre groups.

In the 1950s it was briefly suggested that the performance area be closed and that the theatre be converted into council offices. However local dramatic groups and the general public revolted at the thought and the theatre reopened in 1958. Two years later it hosted the first ever “Waterford Festival of Light opera” which ran for over 50 years.

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In recent years the theatre has undergone extensive renovations under the direction of Artistic Director Ben Barnes. The new extension includes the addition of state of the art dressing rooms and the restoration of the 18th century wall at the rear of the stage.

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Historical Timeline

2012

A final phase of capital works sees the addition of a new lobby to the 1990’s wing, the restoration of the 18th century wall at the rear of the stage and the opening of a backstage facilities building as part of the new medieval museum, the Chorister’s Hall.

2011

The Theatre Royal converts its company structure from that of a Friendly Society to a company limited by guarantee.

2010

The Theatre Royal becomes the primary location for the Waterford Municipal Art Collection, one of the finest public art collections in the country.

2009

In October the Theatre Royal re-opened after an eighteen month closure period for a €4m makeover. The City Hall vestibule and the 1990’s wing are linked by a light filled, bow shaped crossover, a greenroom and stairwell on the audience right side is added and the auditorium and stage are completely overhauled. The famous 18th century painting of the ‘Timbertoes’ bridge spanning the Suir is screened into the tympanum over the theatre proscenium.

2007

Funding is secured from Waterford City Council and the Department of Arts Sport and Tourism to renovate the Victorian interior and carry out substantive work to the ceremonial City Hall foyer. The plans also include the incorporation of the old Civil Defence room as a greenroom for the theatre and creating a crossover between the old and new foyers which will once again open the lower bay of windows of the west wing of the City Hall to The Mall.

2006

Ben Barnes, the former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, becomes Director of the Theatre Royal.

2005

Theatre Royal receives first time revenue funding from the Arts Council to support the programming and production work of the venue.

2004

Theatre Royal becomes a member of Theatre Forum - the newly established membersh