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Key dates, names and places in London’s Theatreland, 1660-2004




17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20-21st Century

The 18th Century

1705

9th April: The Queen’s Theatre (later to become Her Majesty’s) is built on the Haymarket as a home for Betterton’s newly-formed company. It is designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh and managed by Congreve. During the following two centuries, the theatre will become known as the home of Italian opera

Sir John Vanbrugh
Sir John Vanbrugh
1720

The Little Theatre is built on the Haymarket, almost opposite the Queen’s Theatre. It will later be renamed the Haymarket.

1732

Covent Garden Theatre opens on Bow street, designed by Edward Shepherd and initially called the Theatre Royal. Its first performance is Congreve’s The Way of the World’.

1737

Prime Minister Robert Walpole, concerned about growing political satire in the theatre, brings in The Licensing Act which restricts the right to produce plays to the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres. The act also states that the Lord Chamberlain must in future vet any script before a performance is allowed.

Managers of other theatres continue to produce entertainments with music, arguing that these do not count as plays – and bringing in the distinction between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ theatre.

Scene from Vanbrugh's The Provoked Husband
Scene from Vanbrugh's The Provoked Husband
1747

The celebrated actor David Garrick takes over the management of Drury Lane. With a company including Peg Woffington, Charles Macklin and Kitty Clive, and a repertoire focusing heavily on Shakespeare, the theatre becomes a huge financial and popular success. As manager, Garrick brings in a more naturalistic style of acting, and ends the tradition of allowing audience members to sit on the stage.

David Garrick
David Garrick
1765

A theatre is built on the site of an old music house on Rosebery Avenue by Thomas Rosoman. This playhouse will become Sadlers Wells

1766

The Little Theatre, Haymarket, obtains a patent to perform plays in the summer months, when the Drury Lane and Covent gardens are closed. The theatre renames itself ‘Theatre Royal in the Haymarket.’

1774

Philip Astley, an ex light-horseman, sets up an open-air amphitheatre on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, for equestrian displays. This will become Astley’s Amphitheatre, home of huge extravaganzas including staged battles

1788

John Philip Kemble, new manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, introduces live animals and aquatic effects to the stage for the first time.

Kemble as Romeo
Kemble as Romeo
1791

The Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, is rebuilt after being destroyed by fire.

1795

The Lyceum Theatre (first called the English Opera House) is built on Wellington Street, next to the site of an earlier theatre which had replaced the Lyceum Academy for the Society of Artists.

The 'English Opera House'
The ‘English Opera House’
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