Theatre Royal Wakefield Celebrating 120 Years
The theatre opened in 1894 as the Wakefield Opera House, and was built for a price of £13,000.
Theatre Royal Wakefield, the jewel in Wakefield’s crown, was the design and vision of famous architect Frank Matcham.
Matcham was born on 22 November 1854 in a small village in Devon. He did his architectural apprenticeship and then went on to work in Wakefield and the surrounding area on a number of different occasions.
In 1893 Matcham starting to work on the design for Theatre Royal Wakefield, and the following year the theatre opened to the public on 15 October 1894.
Theatre Royal Wakefield is one of the smallest remaining Matcham theatre auditoriums; it is a shining example of his work and demonstrates his incredible ability to deliver a beautiful theatrical environment within a very tight space! Matcham made what were groundbreaking changes, as he dispensed with the idea of public boxes flanking the theatre stage and utilised the concept of boxes at the rear of the dress circle seating area.
The auditorium displays all the artistic elements of a Matcham composition of workmanship; he expected a high standard of work and used various skilled practitioners with whom he worked on a regular basis to ensure his standards were maintained.
Photo: R.G Pearson
Did you know?
• Theatre Royal Wakefield seating capacity in the auditorium
is significantly smaller than many of its Matcham
• Matcham was well known for reusing a useful piece of an
older building – at Theatre Royal Wakefield he reused part
of the rear stage wall.
• The theatre was built with a special ventilation system
which used the building's architecture to circulate warm or
• During recent investigations under the stage a medieval
well was discovered which pre-dates the first theatre on this
site. Constructed of local stone and still full to the top with
ground water it would appear that Matcham had excavated
to the absolute limit of the water table in order to accommodate
all the elaborate Victorian substage machinery.
Theatre Royal Wakefield was built along the traditional lines of the 19th century, whereby different seating and ancillary areas within the building were segregated from other areas, responding to the social strata of the time. It was not for instance possible within a Matcham theatre for audiences to move between different areas. This impacted on the way the foyers were arranged, although now guests can move about freely and therefore need to navigate around staircases, arches and corridors - all part of the Victorian theatre experience!