Theatre Royal Haymarket

1879 – Bancroft and Beerbohm Tree

Squire & Marie Bancroft and Herbert Beerbohm Tree : the proscenium arch

In 1879, Squire and Marie Bancroft took the lease, altering the layout of the theatre once again. Doing away with the pink marble, they built a magnificent proscenium arch in the form of a gold frame and did away with the pit, to install the stalls as we know them today. The alterations caused uproar among the regular ‘patrons of the pit’, but in time they were placated, not least by the introduction of a new bar.

The Bancrofts also introduced matinees, which remained for five strong years, until the theatre was taken in hand by the great Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

A leading light in the London theatre scene, the larger than life Beerbohm Tree attracted glittering, fashionable audiences to his Opening Nights. One of the great actor/managers of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, all who met him fell under his spell. All but for George Bernard Shaw, at the time a critic, who had less than flattering words to impart about his acting prowess.

These were wonderful days at the Haymarket, with audiences littered with the likes of Shaw and Oscar Wilde, swanning through the halls backstage, sparring with Beerbohm Tree, insisting on having cardboard tickets printed just for him.

Two of Wilde’s most famous plays premiered at the Haymarket during this time, ‘A Woman of No Importance’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’, and Wilde, much in attendance, was a lively presence in the Royal Box.

Taking for himself the role of ‘Falstaff’, Tree also brought Shakespeare back to the Haymarket, along with George Du Maurier’s ‘Trilby’ in which he saw himself as the ugly, evilhypnotist ‘Svengali’. He and Du Maurier cast the unknown young Dorothea Baird as the heroine ‘Trilby’, to huge success, making Tree a fortune.

After 10 years in spectacular management, Tree moved across the road, knocked down Vanbrugh’s old Theatre and built Her Majesty’s Theatre, moving in as the owner, the star, the director and producer, even living in the theatre.

Did you know? The Theatre Royal Haymarket Archive documents the fascinating history of the theatre. To find out more, click here

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