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A galaxy of stars gather to celebrate 200th year of Brighton's Theatre Royal
It has hosted all the greats from Laurence Olivier to Ingrid Bergman and Richard Burton. But now it is time for Brighton's Theatre Royal to bask in its own limelight.
Celebrities, actors, directors and writers assembled from across the country yesterday to wish the 200-year-old venue a happy birthday.
They attended the launch party for a series of events to mark the bicentenary of the Theatre Royal, in New Road.
Theatre Royal chief executive Julien Boast said: "This theatre was built in an incredible amount of time - about eight to ten months - and it opened with Charles Kemble playing Hamlet.
"He was a megastar of those days and ever since then we have had megastars.
"The Theatre Royal is known as the Actors' Theatre and it has a pedigree which is unique to the history of theatre.
"This building is a theatre of firsts. It was rumoured to have the first gas lighting, it has a fantastic relationship with London whereby shows that are going to London begin in here and it is a first stop for shows that are coming out of London.
"It also has a great tradition of seat slamming.
In the Killing of Sister George the audience just slammed their seats and walked out and it has been a tradition that has carried on through this theatre."
Mr Boast said Ellen Nye Chart, who ran the theatre after her husband, Henry Nye Chart, died, also made it ahead of its day. "Ellen Nye Chart bought social inclusion into the hearts of people by giving free performances to the workhouse.
"If you thought the Sixties was the decade for pioneering social inclusion, Ellen Nye Chart was doing it a century before by making people who had a horrible existence love the theatre."
Film footage of former theatre manager Anne Travers recounting her memories of the theatre was shown.
Her interview was recorded as part of the 200 Stories for 200 Years project, being run in conjunction with The Argus and BBC Southern Counties Radio to document people's recollections of the venue.
Mrs Travers, 77, of Portland Road, Hove, worked at the theatre for 26 years, starting as a chocolate seller and eventually becoming theatre manager. She said Ingrid Bergman was one of the nicest people she ever met and recalled how one of Lauren Bacall's agents requested no orange flowers for her dressing room.
Also at yesterday's launch, there were previews of the spring season with a performance from three of the Tap Dog dance cast and Peter Egan and Philip Franks made an appearance to publicise The Hound of the Baskervilles, in which they are due to appear in March.
Mark Baldwin, artistic director, of Rambert Dance Company, said: "Our dance company is 80 years old and we share a great history together.
"We have been coming to this theatre since 1939 and we will be bringing another premier here in February with a French-Canadian and his production Anatomica.
"Happy birthday Theatre Royal and may your heritage continue to grow and be wonderful in the future."
Stephen Unwin, director of English Touring Theatre, said bringing visiting companies to the Theatre Royal was a delight. He said: "In modern-day theatre and film, people forget the centrality of the actor standing on the stage but this theatre brings it back to the skill of the actor, the human being, and the contact the actor has with the audience.
"We travel around the country to many different theatres and there are not that many which have that quality.
"A theatre is much more than the dimensions of a building, it is the people that work in the theatre.
"People at the Theatre Royal still care about real theatre and that makes you feel like you have come home when you come here.
"The audience here is pretty frightening, very discerning and the seats get slammed, but it is a very good audience in a fantastic town."
Nicholas Parsons, of Sale of the Century, Just a Minute and The Rocky Horror Show, said the Theatre Royal was a special place to work as an actor.
He said: "It is impossible to say when you are in a theatre like this how much it means to you and how much you enjoy it and the nostalgia that floods back.
"I must have acted at this theatre about 15 or 16 times and there is nothing like walking back into it.
"This is one of the theatres I consider to be home. I've had more interesting experiences here than anywhere else.
"This theatre is not only special to Brighton, it is very special to me."
Wendy Craig, another regular to appear on stage at the Theatre Royal, said: "I have been performing in this theatre since I was young. The first time was about 22 years ago and the last one I did was The Importance of Being Earnest about two years ago. It is a place where I have had a lot of opening nights and that can be quite scary because there is a real force of fright when you get reviewed by papers like The Argus and you wonder whether they'll like it and whether the audience will be critical. But you also have the exhilaration and excitement of it and that's what I associate with performing here.
"It is a very special theatre and very beautiful - it has such an ambiance about it."
Susan Hampshire, best known for her television work including The Forsyte Saga said: "One of the most exciting things is being in the dressing room and knowing it has been used by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davies, and then you go on to the stage and think it is quite extraordinary that all these people have walked on those boards. What is special about Georgian theatres is that the acoustics are superb and you feel as though the audience is wrapped around you. The construction is beautiful.
"This theatre is an inspiration because it has such a great history and Brighton is such a magical place.
"I love the dressing rooms and the way that when you come in the stage door you go down through a rickety old tunnel. I just love the fact that it is not new and Brighton's lucky to have such a wonderful theatre."
Veteran actress Dora Bryan's memories included a backstage bar for performers called The Single Gulp, which was run by a woman called Lilly.
She said: "It is just a lovely old theatre and everyone who comes here loves it and so do I."
Su Pollard, of Hi Di Hi fame, said: "I know it sounds funny but I love the smell of this theatre. It is an interesting place and so old.
"I think I must have been on stage here at least once a year for 34 years and it's great to come back - it's like a home from home."
Celebrations continue through the year building up to the theatre's official birthday on June 27, when there will be a street party in New Road.
Before then, there will be world premieres, new productions, exhibitions and specially commissioned shows.
To see more pictures of the Theatre Royal Brighton's launch party, click here