The opening of the new Theatre Royal is a great step forward for the city and is very welcome in these tough times. Theatre and cinema can take people’s minds off the recession. Back in the Thirties it was a form of escapism and we certainly do need to get away from the constant diet of bad news these days.
The foyer is magnificent and the standard of building work by Clancy Construction of Tipperary in blending the old and new, from Georgian style at the back to Victorian at the front, works well. The stage area may be a little smaller but the extra seating space is very welcome as it had become uncomfortable. Maybe in earlier times people had shorter legs!
While there have been some issues related to costs of renting the theatre, as would be expected with a more modern facility, it is a vast improvement and heralds in a new future for the theatre. Waterford has been fortunate in having Ben Barnes, a former Abbey Director, in Waterford and his attention to detail has led to marvellous job. Top class artists will now be attracted to Waterford. Wexford has also got a new theatre so the South East is now coming up in the world of theatre and the arts. This should also help tourism interests.
In the past, the Light Opera Festival attracted many visitors and while the era of musicals may not be as strong today, a return of a theatrical festival will yield dividends in terms of visitors to Waterford. The theatre could also boost weekend visitors coming to Waterford and seeking some entertainment. A tourism related show like the Waterford Show which was very successful some years ago could also be revived. Full marks are due to the City Manager, Michael Walsh, for getting behind the project and securing the finance for it.
Minister Martin Cullen was unable to attend the event but Pat Moylan, Chairperson of the Arts Council, stood in for him very well and reflected on the theatre‘s popularity in Waterford. Musicals, we were told, became popular in places like Waterford and Dublin as a result of the military bands and brass bands that were in towns. They used to perform for the public and when music halls became popular in England, they spread to cities in Ireland in the nineteenth century.
The Theatre royal was built in 1876. It became the home of music and drama in that period. Before the Theatre Royal there were the Georgian Assembly Rooms where music was performed on the same site beside City Hall from 1784.
William Vincent Wallace, Waterford’s most famous composer, would have known that old theatre before he went on his world travels and ended up in New York and London. His famous musical ‘Maritana’ was performed in London’s Drury Lane in 1845 and this was recalled in a special showing of ‘Wallace, Balfe (the Dubliner, who composed the Bohemian Girl) and Mr. Bunn’. Acclaimed Irish playwright, Bernard Farrell, wrote a unique play that was performed in the new theatre and reflected the great egos of the two composers.
Ben Barnes, theatre director, frequently referred to the people’s theatre and how popular theatre is in Waterford among ordinary people and is not confined to elites as it is in other places. The restoration of the theatre has been a great success thanks to city hall finance and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Best wishes to the new team under manager Mary Boland.
Former Theatre Royal manager, the late Larry Fanning, was kindly remembered and there was sadness that he did not survive to see this great change coming to fruition. He would have been rightly proud. Well done also to everyone involved in theatre and keeping this great tradition alive at a time of great change. The people of Waterford should go and get to a show soon and revel in the fantastic new theatre that we have.