Vanbrugh - Public Life - London - The Haymarket Theatre

The Haymarket Theatre

In 1703, Vanbrugh started buying land and signing backers for the construction of a new theatre in Haymarket, designed by himself and managed by Vanbrugh along with Thomas Betterton. Vanbrugh and his associate William Congreve. It was intended for the use of an actors' cooperative (see The Provoked Wife below) and hoped to improve the chances of legitimate theatre in London. Theatre was under threat from more colourful types of entertainment such as opera, juggling, pantomime (introduced by John Rich), animal acts, travelling dance troupes, and famous visiting Italian singers. They also hoped to make a profit, and Vanbrugh optimistically bought up the actors' company, making himself sole owner. He was now bound to pay salaries to the actors and, as it turned out, to manage the theatre, a notorious tightrope act for which he had no experience. The often repeated rumour that the acoustics of the building Vanbrugh had designed were bad is exaggerated (see Milhous), but the more practical Congreve had become anxious to extricate himself from the project, and Vanbrugh was left spreading himself extremely thin, running a theatre and simultaneously overseeing the building of Blenheim, a project which after June 1705 often took him out of town.

Unsurprisingly under these circumstances, Vanbrugh's management of the Queen's Theatre in Haymarket showed "numerous signs of confusion, inefficiency, missed opportunities, and bad judgment". Having burned his fingers on theatre management, Vanbrugh too extricated himself, expensively, by selling the business in 1708, though without ever collecting much of the putative price. He had put a lot of money, his own and borrowed, into the theatre company, which he was never to recover. It was noted as remarkable by contemporaries that he continued to pay the actors' salaries fully and promptly while they were working for him, just as he always paid the workmen he had hired for construction work; shirking such responsibilities was close to being standard practice in early 18th century England. Vanbrugh himself never seems to have pursued those who owed him money, and throughout his life his finances can at best be described as precarious.

Read more about this topic:  Vanbrugh, Public Life, London

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