Theatre Royal - 1900s

1904 saw a high pro­le visit of King Edward VII. In 1882 a bye-law was passed “prohibiting smoking in any part of the house subject to a ­fine of £2 which will be rigorously enforced. It was also decided that anybody guilty of “foul or fi­lthy conduct” in the gallery would be subjected to a penalty of £5 and also be criminally prosecuted. It was run as a musical theatre up to 1906.

Percy French and John McCormack performed here during this time as did The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The lease was then granted to Mr. John Collins, Borough Constable and in 1910 a licence was granted for Cinematograph performances until his widow Bridget Collins relinquished the lease in 1917. For over 30 years it was conducted as a cinema and theatre by Mr. Lawrence Breen and his brother Martin. In the 19th and 20th century the parade of performers and legendary companies continued in the regenerated Victorian theatre. In the early twentieth century the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company who specialised in Gilbert and Sullivan, played regularly here as did F. R. Benson’s Shakespeare Company, Elster Grimes, Moody Manners, Carl Rosa and the Italian Opera Companies.

The Buffalo Bill Cody Show came to town and, it was reputed, shot the lights out at the end of their show! After independence an increasing number of Irish touring companies, albeit mostly with standard British repertoire, began to visit the Theatre Royal. Lord Longford’s company, Anew Mc Master, Edwards and Mac Liamoir, the storied Abbey Theatre, Ronnie Ibbs and Louis D’Alton.

The great British Nobel Prize Winning playwright, Harold Pinter acted with Anew McMaster and toured Ireland playing theatres throughout the land including this one. In his memoir of Mc Master, Pinter said that “Ireland wasn’t golden always, but it was golden sometimes, and in 1950 it was, all in all, a golden age for me and others”.

In 1955 the theatre ran into ­financial diffi­culties that comes with the territory of running a performing arts venue and the then City Manager, who shall remain nameless, determined that the theatre should close and be converted into City offi­ces. The Waterford public had not only enjoyed the wide variety of professional touring work which came through the Royal but this had spawned local amateur companies like the Wallace Operatic Society named after Waterford composer William Vincent Wallace, the Grand Opera Society, the De La Salle Musical Society, the Waterford Dramatic Society and others. These societies and the general theatre going public were in revolt at the idea of closing the theatre and a public meeting was held in early 1956 out of which the Theatre Royal Society was born. On the back of a well-supported fund raising campaign the theatre was saved for that and for future generations.

The theatre reopened in March 1958 with the premiere performance of a play about the patriot, Roger Casement which was performed by the celebrated Irish actor Cyril Cusack and his touring company. Cusack said on the opening night with reference to the dispute which had been won by the people “In serving our Irish theatre we endeavour to preserve the spirit of art and liberty for all our citizens. This is why it is our privilege to be called on to re-open the Theatre Royal as a national provincial centre of drama with the premiere of a play concerned with the spirit of liberty”.

Since then the Theatre Royal is also known as The People’s Theatre and was home to the following societies:

  • Festival of Light Opera
  • Feile na Scoileanna
  • Tops of the Town
  • Old Tyme Music Society
  • The Waterford Pantomime Society
  • Waterford Dramatic Ballet Companies