The Drury Lane Theatre, Saint John’s first exclusive theatre venue, opened on February 3, 1809. Also known as the Theatre in Drury Lane and the Saint John Theatre, the idea originated from Major George O’Malley and the 101st Regiment’s garrison officers stationed at Fort Howe in January 1809. Wishing to continue the British tradition of garrison theatre, they sparked enthusiasm for a theatre across the city, resulting in rapid construction.
Located in York Point, a fashionable district of Saint John, Drury Lane Theatre was constructed out of the shell of an older building on the corner of Union Street and Drury Lane. Now known as Red Rose Corner, the district also housed Lawrence’s on Union Street, which held gala balls. Upon completion, the 56-by-26-foot auditorium had a green room for rehearsals, boxes, a pit and gallery, as well as several other rooms for workshops, storage, and meetings. The stage was small, but it had a proscenium arch and a narrow apron .
The performing company, “His Majesty’s Servants,” comprised officers and civilians. Opening night featured Joseph Holman’s Abroad and at Home and Isaac Jackman’s All the World’s a Stage, which were well-received by the audience. The theatre experienced a busy season, with ten different productions, primarily farces and comedies.
Drury Lane’s ticket prices were higher than other venues in Saint John, but it attracted the city’s upper classes and intellectual elite. When the 101st Regiment was sent to the West Indies in July 1809, Drury Lane lost its primary performers, leading to the building, wardrobe, and props being sold in November. The new owner was required to maintain the building as a theatre, but there is little evidence of performances until 1815.
In 1815 and 1816, Neville Parker and James Lyster assembled a company to perform at Drury Lane, with tickets priced similarly to before. Most productions were comedies, with Love À-la-Mode being particularly popular. The 1816 season was brief, and after only two known programs, the theatre was sold again in July 1816, with no stipulation for it to remain a theatre. Consequently, actors in the city moved to other venues, and Drury Lane Theatre faded into history.
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