Theatre Royal - 1800s
The Assembly Rooms and Playhouse became and remained for almost eighty years the Cultural and Social centre of the City. Famous artists from all over the world played there. The influence of the Theatre during this period is reflected in the number of famous actors born in the City. Maria Anne Campion was born in 1775 and appeared at Crowe Street Theatre, Dublin at the age of seventeen years. She went to England and played Juliet at Covent Garden Theatre. Dorothea Jordan was born in Waterford in 1762 and played at Crowe St in 1777. She became famous as Rosalind in “As you like it” and was rated as being superior to Mrs. Siddons who dominated the English theatre of the day.
In 1810 Andrew Cherry arrived with his Company of strolling players. In the Company was a twenty-one year old man, Edmund Kean, who was destined to become the greatest actor of his time. The company played Waterford for four months and Kean married an actress, Miss Chambers who came from a Waterford family. A year later while again playing Waterford, a son, Charles Kean was born in Colbeck Street. He in turn became a famous actor and married another Waterford actress Ellen Tree. Charles Kean played in Waterford in 1836. William Vincent Wallace, composer of Maritana, Lurline, Amber Witch, and many other works was born in the same house in Colbeck St. as Charles Kean.
After a century of being at the heart of Cultural life in Waterford a proposal was made in 1874 to upgrade the playhouse in the west wing of the City Hall building. Two years later the plans for the projected theatre were approved: “Waterford will soon possess one of the handsomest and best theatres in the Kingdom, capable of accommodating 1,000 persons; “it will be to a certain extent, under the control of the corporation and its officers, we have sufficient guarantee that nothing of an objectionable character will ever be presented within its walls”.
The Theatre Royal opened its doors on Easter Monday 17th April 1876. Long before seven o’clock that evening a large crowd had gathered in the Town Hall. By that time Palace Lane (Flaggy Lane) was thronged with people anxious to get a glimpse inside the new Theatre. It was raining heavily and instead of opening the box office at seven o’clock as that was the time appointed, it did not open until half past seven. By this time the crowd had further increased and several women fainted in the crush. When the ticket office finally opened pandemonium broke out and the police had to be called to restore order.
The first act to perform in the Theatre Royal was Mr. John Royston’s Comedy and Opera Bouffe. In 1881 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”. The Theatre Royal was taken over by the Corporation in 1881 after many difficulties.