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The Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street by Mike Connolly

Article by Mike Connolly ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners used to recite this ‘question and answer’ refrain in one of his famous monologues. So many embarrassing questions from the little woman always answered by long suffering Jem with the inevitable response, “Will I ever forget it?”

So, do you remember the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street? And I hope like Jem you’ll never forget it…for all the right reasons.

Over a period of three hundred years it was the third theatre to bear the name Royal in its original title; this meant the theatre had been granted a Royal warrant. But all that was a long time ago. To get back to the Royal that some of you may remember, let me remind you of a few of the local stars and acts that graced the boards over the years.

The official opening was performed by Sean Lemass on 23 September 1935 who was welcomed to the theatre by Count John Mc Cormack and Mr. Alfie Byrne, this was followed by a gala performance with music supplied by the Number One Army Band. The occasion also introduced Alban Chambers playing the Giant Compton Organ and a man who would become forever associated with the music of the Royal, Jimmy Campbell and his orchestra.

The Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street opened its doors to the public on 25 September 1935, decorated in the Art Deco style it was large and had a seating capacity of 3,700 and standing room for an additional 700. The original intention was to bring big name International Stars to Ireland and fill it by virtue of their pulling power.

Stars like Judy Garland performed there to capacity audiences; she was so popular that the place was a sell-out and she performed from one of the windows to the disappointed patrons in the street below, who had to be turned away. Bob Hope the comedian also did a stint at the Royal, at that time he was very popular sharing the spotlight with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in the Road series of comedy films.

Another big star to thread the boards of the theatre was Danny Kaye and his show was a huge success. Towards the end of the evening he asked the audience would they like him to continue, to which there was a loud yes; he sat on the edge of the stage and continued for about another thirty minutes. So when the delighted audience left the theatre they discovered they would have to walk home or get a taxi as the CIE buses had all finished for the night.

Unfortunately it was large place to fill which obviously would eventually lead to its demise twenty-seven years later on 30 June 1962. But during its tenure it brought much laughter and gaiety to Dublin audiences down through the hungry years of World War II. At that time one of its boasts being “It’s cheaper to come to the Royal than light a fire”.

Does anyone remember Jack Doyle, the six foot five Irishman known as the ‘Gorgeous Gael’ who once graced the boards of the Royal singing with his then wife Movita? They would divorce in 1944 and she would go on to marry Marlon Brando. Doyle, a native of Cobh County Cork, made a name for himself as a boxer – first with the British Army and later in America – and then as a singer. Incredibly handsome, he was a great hit with the ladies and at one time courted Delphine Dodge, heiress to the Dodge motor company. It was rumoured that her family did not approve of the relationship and hired some heavies to scare off Jack whom they considered a gold–digger.

The war years saw an end to many of the International acts and the theatre was turned over to local talent, many of whom cut their performing teeth on the boards at the Royal.

Okay, some names from the past to stir your memory. At one time the Royal had a mixed programme on offer with movies and a stage show as part of the same bill. Then there was Tommy Dando playing the mighty Organ which came up fully illuminated out of the orchestra pit. His signature tune was “Keep Your Sunny Side Up, Up” and he’d continue with a medley which the audience were invited to sing along and follow the bouncing ball as it highlighted the lyrics.

The stage show was introduced by the Royal Orchestra which was conducted by Jimmy Campbell, who had a very distinctive slicked down hairstyle which gave him the nickname of Jimmy with the patent leather hair.

Then would appear “The Royalettes” a group of young leggie dancers in skimpy outfits; they were trained by two ladies that I, in my young innocence considered to have very exotic names, Alice Dalgarno and Babs De Monte. They are names which after all these years still roll off the tongue.

The main acts featured people like Noel Purcell, Maureen Potter, Harry Bailey, Danny Cummins and Jack Cruise. During his act Jack used to wear a large oversized cap and became John Joe Ma Hockey from Ballyslapadash-a Muckerry, with suitable stories.

I also remember a female singer named Peggy Dell with a very distinctive deep husky voice who accompanied herself on the piano. At one stage as well as performing at the Royal she also used to do a gig at the Metropole Silver Grill in O’Connell Street; here you could partake of a dinner with all the trimmings of silver service and candles while you listened to Peggy doing her thing.

Then we had Cecil Sheridan who always played a dame in the Christmas pantos and for some peculiar reason the Principal Boy usually a Prince Charming of some description was always played by a leggy young woman; even as a kid I found that hard to fathom.

Quiz shows were another popular feature of the line up with the role of quizmaster usually filled by Eddie Byrne, at this stage I don’t recall what the prizes were but there was never any shortage of contestants wanting to have a go.

At one stage a number of Spanish dancers came to Dublin and with their high heels tight dresses and castanets added a much needed exotic air to a usually damp Dublin. In one of her skits, the legendary Maureen Potter had a parody which went like this:

“I do me Spanish dancing in a pub, adjacent to, the Royal…the Theatre Royal.”

Which was very topical at the time.

Like Jem, I’m sure you will remember the good old days at the Royal,

(c) Mike Connolly

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Michael Connolly was born, raised and educated in Dublin, Ireland. Following a varied sales career which included selling printing and office equipment, he came to Johannesburg thirty years ago. He has travelled extensively in Europe, the Middle East and North America; interests include writing, art, travel, literature, history, architecture, sailing and walking. Read more about Mike at : www.connollyscomments.com
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