Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Adelphi Theatre, Moor Street, Birmingham

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Adelphi Theatre, Moor Street, Birmingham

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The name Adelphi was but one of many which this unfortunate house bore during the six years of its existence. Moor Street, now smothered by the Queensway Ring Road, was a working-class district where artisans of many callings lived and worked. Samuel Briggs, a local builder with a stone and marble works at 329 Bradford Street, (1) bought land and property near the junction between Moor Street and Masshouse Lane from the governors of the Free Grammar School, and there he opened an Equestrian Exhibition Room on 26 December 1857 at a cost of 3,000 [pounds sterling]. It was built either adjacent to or behind William Taylor's steam engine works at number 66 (2) and Briggs may very well have been responsible for the construction. The theatre's existence was so short that it failed to be included in any of the Ordnance Survey maps.

Circus entertainments were popular in mid-Victorian times and either toured with tent accommodation or were housed in permanent buildings, although few remained as amphitheatres for any length of time. One built in Bradford Street during 1838 became a Baptist Chapel in 1848 and Tonks' Colosseum, situated inside the Bingley Hall, did not survive even that long. (3) The Tower Circus in Hurst Street (1899) became the Tivoli music hall in the same year before being redesigned as the present Hippodrome. Business at Moor Street should have been buoyant since there was no permanent opposition. The New Street Theatre Royal exhibited drama while Day's Crystal Palace (later the Empire) in Smallbrook Street and Holder's (later the Gaiety) in Coleshill Street were music halls. The Broad Street concert hall became the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1863 at the time of the marriage of the Prince, later King Edward VII. There was a Gallery of Illustration adjacent to the Theatre Royal and little else. Moor Street had the circus market to itself apart from frequent visiting tented companies.

Tantalisingly little information exists about the amphitheatre except that it was an immense circular brick building modelled on a Parisienne Cirque Franconi although it is not clear which one. An illustration of the Champs Elysees Franconi Circus (circa 1840s) shows certain features which are recognisable in the descriptions of the Moor Street house but without a visible proscenium. A small shallow stage may have been part of the furniture, as was common with other British circuses, although there is no hard evidence for this apart from the fact that a performance of The Miser of Baghdad was given as part of the inaugural programme. (4) The press suggested that more 'arrangement' should be infused into the piece and that it be acted 'con amore', for there was an abundance of good material in the play. (5) It has to be stated that recognisable dramatic titles did not feature in any of the press reviews until the building became a theatre, apart from those pantomimes with a strong equestrian content. Later circuses designed by Frank Matcham for Bolton, Brighton, Glasgow, London and Manchester did incorporate stages, (6) and if there was a stage the most likely location for the band would have been immediately in front: otherwise a podium above a beast The Shildon auditorium was constructed to an unusual format in that the circle did not overhang the stalls. The Birmingham Adelphi was probably similarly built but with a row of boxes where the vertical boards are placed between the two levels. These boxes were removed in 1863 allowing a backward extension of the pit and a forward extension of the gallery and so it is likely to have looked somewhat like that in the photograph only larger. entrance would be the most likely place. The Moor Street Amphitheatre was reported as being well lighted and ventilated, capable of holding 3,500 people in the pit, boxes and gallery. (7) This figure was variable due to the fact that benches rather than individual chairs were used. Press information published during the time the building was open suggests that no part of the auditorium overhung any other. …

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