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Literary Locations #23: Theatre Royal

John Baird
Thu 11 Apr, 2019

This week’s location, The Theatre Royal, has been a Nottingham landmark since 1865, and it has many a literary link. Here are a few of them.

One of the world’s first global stars was the pioneering 19th Century French actress Sarah Bernhardt, and it was at the Theatre Royal that she captured the hearts and minds of the Nottingham audience. DH Lawrence brought her back in his novel Sons and Lovers.

One evening of that week Sarah Bernhardt was at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, giving “La Dame aux Camélias.” Paul wanted to see this old and famous actress, and he asked Clara to accompany him.

In Lawrence’s book, Paul Morel and Clara do indeed see Bernhardt at the Royal but Paul’s a little preoccupied with his date to fully appreciate the performance.

When Baroness Orczy struggled to find a publisher for her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, she rewrote it as a play. This was first performed at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal in 1903. This led to the novel’s publication in 1905, a book of influence on the mystery genre, arguably creating the ‘masked hero’ prototype: often a person of wealth with an alter ego who operates in the shadows.

In 1952 Agatha Christie attended the opening of what would become the longest running theatrical production The Mousetrap. The play was first performed at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, with its first Detective Sergeant Trotter played by Richard Attenborough. The production opened here because Nottingham was regarded as a lucky city to launch new plays.

Michael Caine once starred at the Theatre, in Willis Hall’s play The Long And The Short And The Tall. There was a time when Willis Hall lived in Nottingham. Michael Caine had been the understudy to Peter O’Toole but took his lead after O’Toole flew off to play Lawrence of Arabia.

Bringing it up-to-date, former Nottingham writer JM Barrie’s Peter Pan provided the theatre with it most recent panto. Critics spoke highly of its star Joe Pasquale (as Smee) and John ‘Boycie’ Challis played Captain Hook. It wasn’t the first time Peter Pan had been here. In 1996, 2003 and 2007 Barrie’s play hit our stage, with such luminaries as Leslie Grantham and David Hasselhoff treading the boards.

Here’s some of the Theatre Royal’s upcoming Literary Listings:

In April

9th-13th There’s an adaptation of Henry James’ 1898 horror novella The Turn of the Screw. Tim Luscombe’s adaptation, Turn of the Screw, stars Janet Dibley and Maggie McCarthy.

“I don’t save or shield them. It’s as bad as I feared – they’re lost”


29th As part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival: The Third Stage; A Right Royal Performance. Cathy Grindrod (poet and former Derbyshire Poet Laureate) and Henry Normal (poet, BAFTA winning screenwriter, TV and Film Producer) join The Royal Writers – members of the 55+ writing groups at Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall – in a poetic extravaganza.


In May

3rd As part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival: The Third Stage; Peace, Love & Potatoes, John Hegley brings his show to the town, as he explains:

“In Nottingham, in early May

I’ll be on, fairly late in the day:

with a verse and a quip,

and with seats that can tip

in the Circle, after the play.”


20-25th An adaption of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel The Girl on the Train is here in May, with Samantha Womack as Rachel Watson, longing for a different life as she watches the ‘perfect couple’ through the train window.


27-28th Zog, from the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Large in size, and keen in nature, Zog is so eager to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school, where dragons learn all the things that dragons need to know. Zog tries so very hard, perhaps too hard, and he bumps, burns and roars his way through years one, two and three.


In June

17-22nd Discover why Agatha Christie’s The Mousetraphas kept people guessing for so long, becoming the longest running show of any kind in the history of theatre.

Gwyneth Strong (Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses) will perform as Mrs Boyle.


This post is tagged in

DH Lawrence JM Barrie Theatre Royal

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