Miss Kelly’s Theatre was a small London theatre situated at 73 Dean Street, Soho, which opened in 1840 and ran for nearly a hundred years. Charles Dickens staged a production here in 1845.
Miss Kelly’s Theatre opened on 26 May, 1840 as Miss Kelly’s Theatre and Dramatic School, designed by the architect Samuel Beazley. The famous Drury Lane actress Fanny Kelly built the theatre in her own back garden and that of her adjoining neighbour.
The theatre’s opening was ill-fated, hampered by technical and logistical difficulties. The first season of the opening year lasted just five nights and the theatre was little used for the rest of the decade. It changed its name twice and was used by an opera company, amateur drama companies and for French pieces. In 1861, it was renamed the New Royalty Theatre, and the next year it was enlarged from 200 seats to about 650.
The Royalty closed on the 25 November 1938 after losing its license.
Charles Dickens and Miss Kelly’s Theatre.
Earlier in the year, Dickens had remarked on a desire with his best friend John Forster, to put on a play. They selected a revised version of Jonson’s play and for weeks Dickens organised management of the play.
The cast Dickens brought together were a close inner circle of friends with a love of the theatre. These included his brother Frederick, the editor of Punch Mark Lemon , the playwright Gilbert a Beckett, the writer John Forster as Kitely, George Cruikshank as Cob, George Cattermole as Wellbred and the playwright and author Henry Mayhew, who played the role of Knowell. Dickens acted as stage manager and director as well as playing the part of the swaggering soldier Captain Bobadil.
Amongst Dickens’s friends that attended that night were Robert Browning, John Payne Collier and the poet Alfred Tennyson.
The production was successful enough to be repeated three or four times over subsequent years as benefit performances.
The theatre was damaged during World War II and finally demolished in 1953. An office block now stands on the site at 72-74 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3JG.
Further Reading (external sites).