CHESTER historian David Ellis remembers the city’s other playhouse, the Royalty Theatre, which provided entertainment for more than 80 years.
David writes: “Many people in Chester will remember the Royalty Theatre, which was built on the site of the Prince of Wales Theatre on City Road, which had seen better days.”
The Royalty opened on Boxing Day 1882 . The first production to be seen on the 27-foot stage was Aladdin, written by stage manager John Bannister.
David describes the theatre as being designed in the Elizabethan and Queen Anne style with two ornate wooden balconies shaped in swan’s neck curves. Two statues graced the side walls representing music and drama.
David goes on: “In 1900 the theatre was purchased from James (Jas) Carter by Milton Bode. Bode ran the 1,000-seat venue until it was taken over by Edmund Keyes.
“It closed for extensive alterations on February 4, 1957 and reopened on July 8 that year with a production of Meet Mr Callaghan.
“Dennis Critchley joined the Royalty team in the 1950s as manager. He directed many of the productions, and occasionally performed. In the 1960s, following her father’s death, Ursula Keyes took control. Ironically, the last pantomime was Aladdin starring Miki and Griff, a popular duo of the time.”
Other famous names to play at the Royalty included a young upcoming Liverpool band – The Beatles.
David said the Royalty was converted into a cabaret club called the Theatre Royalty club which also played host to bingo, wrestling and skateboarding.
He is sad that Chester no longer has a theatre.
He said: “It is sad that a city that once boasted having several cinemas and the resplendent Royalty no longer has a venue for staging touring productions.
“The Gateway was a fine replacement for the much-loved Royalty, playing host to famous names and staging many fine plays and musicals.
“As the Northgate development is some way off it would make sense to make full use of the building. Hats off to Tip Top Productions. They are using part of the theatre and are helping keep alive live entertainment in Chester.”
Not all of the Royalty is lost to Chester. In January 2002 Roger Shone, a cinema and theatre enthusiast, with a couple of friends, Chris and Robin Smith, saved the plasterwork that decorated the arch- shaped proscenium. Roger also salvaged other items including the statues and a 1930s Strand Electric spotlight.