The History Behind the Theatre Royal
Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is a unique building, but it’s not just unique to Bury St Edmunds, or indeed Suffolk, or in fact the United Kingdom. We are very proudly the only working Regency Theatre left in the world, and by opening in October 1819 we just about managed to squeeze ourselves into the Regency Period which is where our USP comes from!
The Theatre’s designer William Wilkins was an architect of national significance having also designed Downing College, Cambridge and the National Gallery, London. The Theatre was one of 6 other venues on what was called the ‘Norwich Circuit’ and every few months William Wilkins would employ a troupe of comedians and performers to tour to the Norwich Circuit Theatres and perform their acts. This meant that the Theatre was only open for a few days every year and so the audience numbers were incredible as everyone clamoured to have some fun. Nowadays, its safe for 359 people per performance but in days gone by, numbers of over 900 have been recorded as having taken in the entertainment.
The Theatre faced several ups and downs throughout the years and was open and closed many times. It also went through several owners, most notably being bought by Greene King in 1920 who still own the building today. However, the curtain seemed to fall permanently in 1925 after which it was used as a barrel store for the brewery. The place turned into an absolute wreck; holes in the ceiling, the stage had disappeared and the boxes were barely visible. At one point the building was being considered to be pulled down entirely. Luckily, the good people of Bury St Edmunds decided to band together and rescue the rather sad looking theatre. They worked hard to fundraise the £37,000 to reopen and in 1965 actors, comedians and dancers took to the stage once more and we’ve been performing ever since.
In 1975, the theatre was placed on the National Trust’s portfolio of buildings, the only working theatre to be in their catalogue. Tours of the building generally take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday but its best to double check with the Box Office before you visit. You can call them on 01284 769505 and they are always very happy to have a chat about tours and what we have on throughout our season.
It would be lovely to welcome you to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds soon!
The Theatre Royal is a 5 minute walk from The Angel Hotel, and present a vibrant, year-round programme of drama, music, dance and comedy, featuring many of this country’s leading companies and performers.
Find out more on their website - www.theatreroyal.org