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Dicing with the Dangerous Lord


Behind the Scenes

London's Two Theatre Royals
Dicing with the Dangerous Lord, Venetia worked in the repertory company for the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

There were two Theatre Royals in London during the Regency era, one in Covent Garden and the other in Drury Lane. Both were blighted by fire.

Covent Garden destroyed by fire
It took just three hours on the morning of the 20 September 1808 for fire to devastate the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Not only did the blaze destroy the seventy six year old theatre, but it also claimed twenty three lives, Handel’s organ and some of his manuscripts. Many of Handel’s operas were written to be performed at Covent Garden and he opened his first season of operas there.

The fire is said to have been started by the ignited wadding of a pistol fired as part of the play, Pizarro, a romantic tragedy by the famous Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

As if the loss of lives, theatre, and livelihood were not bad enough, it soon transpired that the theatre was inadequately insured and so a huge amount of money had to be raised for the rebuild.

Drury Lane lost in blaze
Only a few months later, on the night of 24 February, 1809, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was lost in a similar enormous blaze. The Drury Lane theatre was owned by Sheridan at the time, and there is a story that he sat in the nearby Piazza Coffee House, calmly drinking a glass of wine while his theatre burned.

Covent Garden Theatre Royal, 1827

When his stoicism was remarked upon by a friend, Sheridan is said to have replied that ‘a man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.’

Auditorium of Covent Garden's Theatre Royal, 1809

Rebuilt from the ashes
So within the space of just a few months London had lost two of its major theatres. But it was certainly a time of great resourcefulness and, amazingly, Covent Garden was rebuilt by (Sir) Robert Smirke, in only ten months, opening again to the public in September 1809, in time for Venetia to be treading the boards for her story in November 1810. Drury Lane took a little longer in rebuilding, reopening its doors late in 1812.

And again!
Covent Garden was again destroyed by fire on 5 March 1856 but was rebuilt by E. M. Barry as the Royal Italian Opera House in 1857-8. It has since been extensively reconstructed to become the Royal Opera House that it is today.

Thus, Drury Lane is the site of London’s current Theatre Royal while Covent Garden became the current Royal Opera House.

Mr Kemble – Venetia’s employer at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

A player-manager
John Philip Kemble, fifty-three years old, was the player manager in charge of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden at the time of Venetia and Linwood’s story. He owned a sixth share of the theatre and took over in the role of manager in 1803.

He should have been a priest!
Kemble was born into a theatrical family in Prescot, in the north west of England, in February 1757, the second in a family of six children. As a boy he was educated at a Catholic Seminary and college but acting was in his blood and, instead of entering the priesthood, he left to join a theatre company.

His sister was the famous actress Sarah Siddons
His father was also a player manager of a touring company and his brothers and sisters were all successful actors, especially his older sister Sarah Siddons, who was probably the most famous dramatic actress of her time.

First Tier Layout of Covent Garden's Theatre Royal including the Green Room and Venetia's Dressing Room

Heroic roles
An actor of much critical acclaim, Kemble worked his way up and made his debut at Drury Lane aged twenty-six in the part of Hamlet and went on to success in many Shakespearian and other classical English heroic roles.

Drury Lane AND Covent Garden
He married a widowed actress in 1787 and was appointed player manager of the Drury Lane theatre in 1788, working there in that capacity for a good number of years, until a disagreement with Drury Lane’s owner, Sheridan, resulted in him resigning and taking up the same post at Covent Garden.

'Of noble countenance'
Kemble was frequently described as being of ‘noble countenance’ and was reported as being tall and imposing with a dignified and intense demeanour. All of which no doubt helped his austere and classical acting style.

Bows out to Switzerland
In 1817 he retired from the stage to live in a villa in Switzerland, where he died on 26 February 1823, aged sixty.

Plan of Regency London showing Covent Garden

Venetia and Alice's homes near Covent Garden
The map on the left-hand-side shows the Covent Garden area at the time of
Dicing with the Dangerous Lord, specifically the relative locations of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden itself,Venetia's house in King Street, and Alice's house in Hart Street.

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