The architectural changes to Theatre Royal Brighton throughout its 200-year life tell only half the story.

In a sense, its history is reflected even more strongly through the various people who played a significant part in its development, both on and off the stage.

When the theatre opened in 1807, the first play was a production of Hamlet starring Charles Kemble, a leading star of his day, and his wife Maria Theresa de Camp.

The Kembles performed regularly over the following decade, joined by acclaimed actors including Charles Matthews and Sarah Siddons, as well as the singer Madame Catalani.

Charles Mayne Young, William Farren, William Macready and the clown Joey Grimaldi were also among the most significant early performers, but far and away the biggest name among Theatre Royal Brighton's early actors was Edmund Kean.

The most famous and revered actor of his era, he appeared at Theatre Royal Brighton on multiple occasions from 1814, with a string of Shakespearean roles including Othello, Macbeth and Richard III, as well as a memorable part as Sir Giles Overreach in A New Way to Pay Old Debts.

Incidentally, Kean's life is remembered as part of Theatre Royal Brighton's 200th birthday celebrations, with a performance of Sartre's play of the same name, starring the great Sir Antony Sher.

Kean's first appearance coincided with the arrival of Thomas Trotter, the theatre's only early manager of any note, who managed to attract the likes of the Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta, as well as Mrs Fitzherbert and the Dukes of York, Clarence and Cumberland.

Unfortunately, however, Trotter left after only five years and the theatre was once again run by a string of less than successful managers, more than one of whom disappeared in the middle of the night due to financial disaster.

It was in these difficult circumstances, following 50 years of extreme economic instability, that the arrival as manager of Henry Nye Chart in 1854 was so significant.

As well as enjoying its first taste of prosperity, Theatre Royal Brighton at last came to be viewed as a respectable institution by local people.

Artistically, Nye Chart's tenure was equally successful. The programme started to expand to include opera and ballet, with famous dancers such as Taglioni and Cerrito and opera singers Jenny Lind and Frederick Lablache joining actors Charles Kean, Madame Vestris, Dion Boucicault and William Macready.

Nye Chart improved things still further with a combination of contemporary and classical plays, the permanent stock company augmented by visiting London stars including Boucicault, Charles Mathews, Samuel Phelps, JL Toole and Amy Sedgewick.

The bar was raised still higher in 1876 when Henry Nye Chart was succeeded as manager by his wife - surely the single most important figure in the history of Theatre Royal Brighton.

She made a number of groundbreaking changes, among the most significant being her decision to abandon the use of stock companies.

Until this point, the theatre had not used touring companies. Instead, the tradition was for London stars to tour regional theatres and perform with each theatre's resident "stock"

company - the artistic standards of which could be variable, to put it politely.

Mrs Nye Chart abandoned this in the 1880s, inviting entire companies to Theatre Royal Brighton, including the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, the Carl Rosa Opera Company, the Italian Opera Company, the English Opera Company and Frank Benson's Shakespeare Company.

A second major initiative was the introduction to Theatre Royal Brighton of matinee performances, in particular her trademark "flying matinees" (see page 28).

This gave Brighton audiences access to some of the hottest London shows, including the first performance on these shores of The Doll's House by Ibsen, and brought to Brighton bigname actors such as Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Wilson Barrett, Charles Wyndham, Janet Achurch and Mary Moore.

Other stars who appeared during Mrs Nye Chart's time at Theatre Royal Brighton included Julia Neilsen, Fred Terry, John Hare, Madge Kendal, Ellen Terry and Lily Langtry.

Henry Irving, the first theatrical Knight, appeared in 1877, with Anthony Quayle, who would also go on to receive a knighthood, performing in 1885.

Mrs Nye Chart's third pioneering move was the establishment of an annual Christmas pantomime extravaganza, which enjoyed long and popular runs from Boxing Day until the start of February.

By inviting the staff and inmates of Brighton Workhouse to attend a performance for free each year, she proved herself a true philanthropist as well as shrewd businesswoman.

By the time of her death in 1892, Theatre Royal Brighton had become a highly respected playhouse with a strong programme that continued to the turn of the century and beyond.

Oscar Wilde's first four plays, for instance, all appeared in their original productions, as well as works by JM Barrie and Bernard Shaw, and standard classics such as Shakespeare, Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith.

There were also appearances from George Alexander, Irene Vanburgh, Ben Greet, Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Matheson Lang, Arthur Bourchier and Mrs Patrick Campbell, as well as Sarah Bernhardt, known as "the Divine Sarah"

and possibly the most famous actress of her time.

The year 1900 also saw the first performance from John Martin Harvey, appearing in The Only Way, his most famous role.

The acclaimed actor would go on to appear at Theatre Royal Brighton repeatedly throughout his distinguished four-decade career, earning himself a knighthood in the process.

The years up to and during the First World War were not particularly noteworthy in theatrical terms, characterised primarily by light comedies and operettas, although there was an appearance by the Russian dancers of the Maryinski Theatre and regular visits by D'Oyly Carte, Carl Rosa and the Harrison Frewin Opera Companies.

The Twenties, however, were a strong period for Theatre Royal Brighton, with stand-out performances including Gracie Fields in The Show's the Thing and In Other Words starring George Robey.

The following decade began well too, with visits from such luminaries as Sir John Martin-Harvey, George du Maurier, Marie Tempest, Sybil Thorndike, Ruth Draper and Fay Compton.

The Depression, however, came as a major blow, particularly for theatres given the new threat posed by cinema and even more so for Theatre Royal Brighton which faced competition from other local theatres, including the recently opened Hippodrome.

So the appearance of John Baxter Somerville, the theatre's third truly inspired manager, came at a crucial time for Theatre Royal Brighton.

Taking over in 1936, Baxter Somerville would slowly but surely revive Theatre Royal Brighton's fortunes to the point where it became regarded as one of the most important theatres in the country.

He quickly brought to the theatre actors such as Donald Wolfit in Cyrano de Bergerac and Diana Wynyard, Rex Harrison and Anton Walbrook in Noel Coward's Design for Living.

John Baxter Somerville's 1939 production of The Importance of Being Ernest has, in particular, attained nearlegendary status, thanks to its extremely strong cast of Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Margaret Rutherford and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies.

Remarkably, the Second World War heralded a period of considerable success for Theatre Royal Brighton, since the closure of many London theatres meant many top companies were keen to tour.

Glyndebourne Opera's first touring production and the Vic-Wells Ballet with Margot Fonteyn were just two of their stand-out shows during the period, while Ballet Rambert began its ongoing relationship with Theatre Royal Brighton with its first performance there in 1939.

Famed songwriter and musical genius Ivor Novello appeared in his own play, Second Helping, while Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Lilian Hellmann, Lady Juliet Duff, Cecil Beaton, Rex Harrison, Lady Margaret Drumond-Hay and Lilli Palmer also graced the stage.

Post-war, things only improved, with a tremendously strong programme featuring almost every significant British actor of the era.

1949, for instance, saw the original production of TS Eliot's The Cocktail Party with Alec Guinness and Robert Flemyng, Paul Scofield in the first production of Terence Rattigan's Adventure Story, The Lady's Not for Burning with John Gielgud and Claire Bloom, The Seagull with Mai Zetterling, Paul Scofield and Isobel Jeans, and Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft in The Heiress.

By 1950, John Baxter Somerville noted with justifiable pride that "the proportion of new shows is higher than ever and that Brighton premieres are rapidly attaining the fame of West End first nights". Top stars of the day continued to appear throughout the decade.

Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, Richard Burton, Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud, Noel Coward, Dirk Bogarde, Kenneth More, Alfred Lunt, M i c h a e l Horden, Lynn Fontanne, Edith Evans, Robert Helpmann, Sean Connery, Peter Sellers and Michael and Vanessa Redgrave were just some of the stars who trod the boards.

At the end of the decade, Queen Elizabeth II made the first of several visits to Theatre Royal Brighton, though not of course, in the spotlight - she came to watch William Cooper's The Prince Gengi in 1959.

It was during this period that the lavish productions of HM Tennant were performed, a highpoint in terms of production values as former manager Anne Travers recalls: "I remember a piece set in New York which featured a bellboy - and they actually flew in the correct buttons from New York because, although the ones they had looked the same, they weren't exactly identical.

"Or if the set called for a Regency chair, you got the real antique, not something a carpenter had made.

"Money really was no object.

"Their productions were faultless and their actors were the very, very best."

Following John Baxter Somerville's death in 1963, Melville Gillam took over, bringing in a similarly glamorous roll-call of stars, among them Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Ian McKellen, Marcel Marceau, Edward Woodward, Deborah Kerr, Ingrid Bergman, Judi Dench, Edward Fox, Janet Suzman and Glenda Jackson, not to mention visits from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

From Peter O'Toole and Lauren Bacall to Sidney James and Rowan Atkinson, a wide range of stars continued to appear throughout the following decade, with Marlene Dietrich, Omar Sharif, Mia Farrow, Robert Lindsay, Joan Collins, Bruce Forsyth and Barbara Windsor.

In 1984, London impresario David Land bought the theatre from previous owner Louis I Michaels.

Responsible, among many other achievements, for discovering Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, it is rumoured that Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was composed on the piano that now sits backstage at Theatre Royal Brighton.

David and his son Brook ran the theatre for a decade and a half, with stars of the calibre of Charlton Heston, Helena Bonham Carter and even Phil Collins and Elvis Costello bringing back a sparkling glamour to the venue which recalled its previous heydays.

A leading and very well respected figure in the entertainment industry, David Land was appointed Deputy Chairman of the international Robert Stigwood Organisation and involved in the many worldwide recording, stage and film productions of that company.

He was a founder member of the famous Young Vic Theatre and was chairman from 1983-1992.

David Land was also a much-loved local personality within the city, who breathed new life and energy into the cultural landscape of Brighton and Hove and beyond.

Among many accolades he received during his lifetime was an honorary degree given by the University of Sussex. More importantly he is very fondly remembered for the amazing productions he brought to Theatre Royal Brighton.

He and his family loved the theatre and were an immensely important part of its history.

In 1999, the theatre was purchased by ATG, bringing a wealth of experience and national prestige to the venue, always privately owned up to that point.

Today, under Chief Executive Julien Boast, Theatre Royal Brighton continues to present first-rate stars, with internationally-renowned performers such as Antony Sher and Rambert Dance Company appearing as part of the current anniversary programme.