1777 – David Morris & George Coleman
David Morris & George Coleman : the 99 year lease
In 1777 the theatre changed hands once again, purchased by George Colman the Elder, who set about on further renovations. Originally, the Little Theatre in the Hay was built right on the street, so that the audience entered through cramped corridors, barely wide enough for two to walk abreast. What is more, once inside, they remained just feet from the racket of the wild Haymarket street, clearly audible to all within.
So, in 1777, Colman built a small lobby between the road and the auditorium to block out the noise, and inside, he constructed three flat walls of three tiers of boxes, along with the orchestra pit and a gallery at the back. Despite the relative grandeur of this new layout, theatre going was still a raucous business, and the regular ‘patrons of the pit’ continued to hurl their missiles, usually oranges or other rotten fruits, at the actors on stage.
George Colman however, was a dignified character. A playwright and friend of David Garrick, he staged Oliver Goldsmith’s first two plays at the ‘Little Theatre in the Hay’, which included ‘She Stoops to Conquer’, and employed some of the most prominent actors of the day.
At his death he was succeeded by his son, known as Colman the Younger, also a dramatist, who wrote many plays for the Theatre. But Coleman the Younger was not blessed with his father’s business head and landed quickly in the Debtors Prison. From here, he continued to run the theatre, leaving frequently for dinner with friends, returning later to his suite.
After several years, Coleman handed the reigns of power to David Morris, with whom he’d endured a stormy partnership. Their union was fraught and frequently descended into rows, one of which caused a riot in the theatre.
But flying solo, Morris proved himself a firm and capable ruling hand under whose ownership, the theatre obtained a 99 year Lease from the Crown for the sum of £356 nine and six pence. A new era began for the Theatre Royal, marked by yet another renovation…
Did you know? The Theatre Royal Haymarket Archive documents the fascinating history of the theatre. To find out more, click here