At one stage in the history of the theatre in Britain and Ireland, the designation Theatre Royal or Royal Theatre was an indication that the theatre was granted a Royal Patent without which theatrical performances were illegal. There have over the years been four distinct Dublin theatres called the Theatre Royal.
The Theatre is now known as Smock Alley Theatre.
The first Theatre Royal, Dublin:
The first Theatre Royal was opened by John Ogilby in 1662 in Smock Alley. Ogilby, who was the first Irish Master of the Revels, had previously run the New Theatre in Werburgh Street. This was the first custom-built theatre in the city. It opened in 1637 but was closed by the Puritans in 1641. The Restoration of the British monarchy in 1661 enabled Ogilby to resume his position as Master of the Revels and open his new venture.
This Theatre Royal was essentially under the control of the administration in Dublin Castle and staged mainly pro-Stuart works and Shakespearean classics. In the 18th century, the theatre was managed for a time by the actor-manager Thomas Sheridan, father of playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Thomas Sheridan managed to attract major stars of the London stage, including David Garrick and the Dublin-born Peg Woffington. The theatre was knocked down and rebuilt in 1735 and closed in 1787.
The second Theatre Royal:
In 1820, Henry Harris bought a site in Hawkins Street and built the 2,000-seater Albany New Theatre on it at a cost of £50,000, designed by architect Samuel Beazley. This theatre opened in January of the following year. In August, George IV attended a performance at the Albany and, as a consequence, a patent was granted. The name of the theatre was changed to the "Theatre Royal" to reflect its status as a patent theatre. The building work was not completed at the time of opening and early audience figures were so low that a number of side seating boxes were boarded up. In 1830, Harris retired from the theatre and a Mr Calcraft took on the lease.
This theatre attracted a number of famous performers, including Paganini, Jenny Lind, Tyrone Power and Barry Sullivan. By 1851, the theatre was experiencing financial problems and closed briefly. It reopened in December under John Harris, who had been manager of the rival Queen's Theatre. The first production under Harris was a play by Dion Boucicault. Boucicault and his wife were to make their first Dublin personal appearances in the Royal in 1861 in his The Colleen Bawn. This theatre burned to the ground on February 9, 1880.
The third Theatre Royal:
The third Theatre Royal opened on December 13, 1897 by the actor-manager Frederick Mouillot with the assistance of a group of Dublin businessmen. The theatre was designed by Frank Matcham and built on the site of the Leinster Hall theatre, which in turn had been built on the site of the second Theatre Royal. It had seating for an audience of 2,011 people.
This new theatre found itself in competition with the Gaiety Theatre, which prompted Mouillot to try to attract as many big name stars and companies as possible. At first, the theatre was noted for its opera and musical comedy productions. On April 28, 1904, Edward VII attended a state performance at the theatre.
Mouillot died in 1911 and one of his partners, David Tellford took over the running of the theatre. As musical comedy went out of fashion in the early years of the 20th century, the Royal started to stage music hall shows on a regular basis. In one such show in 1906, a young Charlie Chaplin performed as part of an act called The Eight Lancashire Lads. In its final years, the Theatre was also used as a cinema. It closed on March 3, 1934 and demolished soon after.
The fourth Theatre Royal:
The fourth Theatre Royal opened on September 23, 1935 in Hawkins Street. It was a large art deco building designed for an audience of 3,700 people seated and 300 standing, and was intended for use as both theatre and cinema. It also housed the Regal Rooms Restaurant. The theatre had a resident 25-piece orchestra under the direction of Jimmy Campbell and a troupe of singer-dancers, the Royalettes. From the beginning, the sheer size of the building made it difficult for the Royal to remain economically viable. The policy adopted at first to confront this problem was to book big-name stars from overseas to fill the building. These included Gracie Fields, George Formby, Max Wall, Max Miller and Jimmy Durante. However these shows rarely made a profit.
In 1936, the Royal was acquired by Patrick Wall and Louis Elliman, who also owned the Gaiety. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Wall and Elliman were forced to keep the two theatres going with native talent only. This led to the emergence of a raft of Irish acts who were to provide the mainstay of the Royal's output for the remainder of its existence. These included such Irish household names as Jimmy O'Dea, Harry O'Donovan, Maureen Potter, Danny Cummins, ((Mike Nolan)), Alice Dalgarno, Noel Purcell, MicheŠl MacLiammoir, Cecil Sheridan, Jack Cruise and Patricia Cahill. In July 1951 Judy Garland appeared for a series of sold out performances and was received with tremendous ovations. The legendary singer sang from her dressing room window to hundreds of people who were unable to get tickets and critics dubbed her "America's Colleen" She drew the largest crowds up until that time and was only surpassed by the visits to Ireland of United States President John F. Kennedy and the Pope in the 1960s. Popular Irish American entertainer Carmel Quinn also made her singing debut here during the early 1950s. Under pressure from rising overheads and the increasing popularity of the cinema and the introduction of television, the fourth Theatre Royal, Dublin closed its doors on June 30, 1962.
Smock Alley Theatre:
The Gaiety School of Acting is currently managing a 110 seat black box space on the former site of the Theatre Royal. They are working alongside Temple Bar Cultural Trust and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to reinstate Smock Alley Theatre to its former glory.