Astley's Amphitheatre

Definition

Theater

  • A London theater famous in the 18th and 19th centuries forits exhibitions of horsemanship and equestrian dramas. PhilipAstley (1742 - 1814), a horse trainer and former cavalry officer,opened it in 1769, with his charger Gibraltar. Astley also built 19similar amphitheatres throughout Britain, Ireland, and France, includingthe Astley amphitheatre in Paris (1782).

    His original wooden building on Westminster bridge Road hadan unroofed stage until 1784. The venue burned down four times in47 years, first in 1794, after which it reopened as the Royal GroveAmphitheatre, and for a second time in 1803, after which it reopenedas the Royal Amphitheatre of Arts.

    In 1825 a former equestrian performer, Andrew Ducrow (1793 - 1842),became joint owner despite being illiterate, and he added melodramato the bill. Two more destructive fires followed in 1830 and 1841,after which William Batty reopened it as Batty's Amphitheatre. Thenext manager, William Cookes, turned Shakespeare's Richard IIIinto an equestrian drama, even creating a leading role for Richard'shorse, White Surrey.

    Dion Boucicault took over in 1863 and renamed the venue theTheatre Royal, Westminster, presenting premieres of his own playsand works by Sir Walter Scott with little success. The following yearE. T. Smith restored the name of Astley's and the US actress AdahIsaacs Menken played there in the highly successful equestriandrama Mazeppa, an adaptation of Lord Byron's poem, in whichshe appeared "in a state of virtual nudity when bound to theback of the wild horse".

    In 1871 the circus proprietors John and George Sanger assumedcontrol, enlarged the venue, and renamed it Sanger's Grand NationalAmphitheatre. By 1893 the building was closed after being declaredunsafe; it was demolished two years later.

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