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3:41pm Thursday 22nd February 2007 in News
Henry Nye Chart
Born in 1821, Henry Nye Chart initially worked as an actor and actually appeared in Brighton on several occasions before he took over as manager in 1854.
While his talent as a performer, according to reports of the time, may have been somewhat mediocre, he proved himself an inspired and inspirational manager, freeing Theatre Royal Brighton from the constant threat of financial ruin that characterised its first half-century.
It was an era when theatre in general did not enjoy the most respectable of reputations and Theatre Royal Brighton was no exception, with the front colonnade reportedly frequented by prostitutes and a gin palace rumoured to have been situated nearby.
Yet Nye Chart, recognised as a man of strong moral fibre, managed to establish Theatre Royal Brighton as a playhouse worthy of genuine respect.
He also raised the standard of the work performed, putting together a talented resident company to support the visiting London stars.
And, following his purchase of the theatre in 1866, it was Nye Chart who enlisted architect Charles James Phipps to carry out the most significant refurbishment in the building's history, many features of which are in evidence to this day.
In 1867 he married Ellen Elizabeth Rollason, a member of his company, who began to take on an increasingly managerial role.
Upon his death in 1876, he left everything he owned to his wife - who would quickly prove herself an even more spectacular leader for Theatre Royal Brighton.
Ellen Nye Chart A former actress, who appeared in Brighton in a number of leading roles, Ellen Elizabeth Rollason took on a more behind-the-scenes role following her marriage to then manager, Henry Nye Chart.
Upon his death in 1876, she assumed sole management of Theatre Royal Brighton, beginning an era of unprecedented innovation for the theatre and its programming.
It was Mrs Nye Chart who first extended the season to cover the entire year and she too who phased out the resident "stock" company, replacing it with far superior touring productions.
It was also Mrs Nye Chart who established the matinee and then, famously, the so-called "flying matinee", whereby an entire London show - complete with props, scenery and costumes - would decamp to Brighton for an afternoon performance before jumping back on the train for another performance, back in the capital, at 8pm.
This wonderfully original concept allowed Brighton theatregoers to see countless plays which could otherwise have been beyond their reach, and brought to town a number of first-rate stars.
The annual pantomime, now such a key part of Theatre Royal Brighton's annual programme, was another creation of Mrs Nye Chart, whose hugely popular productions ran from Boxing Day until the start of February.
Amazingly, in an era where the strong class divides of society at large were nowhere more evident than in the theatre, she made a point every year of inviting the inmates and staff of Brighton Workhouse to come to a free performance of the pantomime, a gesture which was typical of her public-mindedness - an extremely enthusiastic letter of thanks from all at the Workhouse, right, can be seen on display in the theatre to this day.
Yet for all her generosity, she was also a shrewd businesswoman, turning Theatre Royal Brighton into a highly profitable business, and setting up Brighton Theatre Royal Limited, thus securing the future of the theatre.
When she died in 1892, her funeral was one of the grandest ever seen in the town, and Theatre Royal Brighton had become one of the best-known provincial theatres in England.
John Baxter Somerville If the Nye Charts dominated Theatre Royal Brighton's first century, then the key player of the first part of its second century was John Baxter Somerville, described by current Chief Executive Julien Boast as, "The god of this building, besides Mrs Nye Chart".
Formerly a solicitor, Baxter Somerville - or JB as he was usually known - took over as manager in 1936, after the Depression had left the theatre in crisis.
Yet he managed to turn things around, considerably raising the standard of performance in the process, with a series of first-rate London productions in the latter half of the Thirties.
The outbreak of the Second World War failed to close Theatre Royal Brighton for more than a single week, and JB even survived the declaration of South-East England as a restricted zone in 1940, during which the theatre came within a few days of permanent closure.
After the war, the fortunes of Theatre Royal Brighton rose steadily until JB had turned the venue into a veritable who's who of contemporary stars.
The period from the late Forties until JB's death in 1963 was a true golden age, with Brighton first nights said to have attained the same kudos of West End premieres.
Anne Travers, later Manager of Theatre Royal Brighton, believes she is the only one of JB's associates still alive.
She fondly recalls a "fascinating and eccentric" man about whom no one ever had a bad word to say.
"He wasn't the most practical man," she laughs, "but he did really did love theatres. It was his passion.
"I saw him go round this theatre and just touch a chair or something, because he loved the place. He didn't even care if there wasn't a profit, although he knew what productions would please. He knew all the stars of the time, and everybody liked him.
He was a lovely man."