Category Archives: Theatre Royal

‘They’re behind you!” No they’re not. They’re beside you. That’s, of course, if you’re sitting at the bar in Mulligan’s front lounge, number 9 Poolbeg Street. So, what are THEY? They are eight silk programmes from the Theatre Royal dating from the turn of the century 1899/1900. The first Theatre Royal lasted from 1821-1880 (burnt to the ground); the second Theatre Royal stood from 1897-1934 (demolished) and the third Theatre Royal was in use from 1935-1962 (demolished). Stage anecdotes from the three Theatres Royal that stood on Hawkins Street follow with dates signifying which one they refer to. Mulligan’s was known as the unofficial theatre bar because of its proximity to the theatres all of which stood on the same site.

Women should really know better!

The exhibit of old Theatre Royal playbills in Mulligan’s includes one for Peter Pan. The performance comprised most of the cast from the original production in London. While the play received rave reviews in Dublin, one theatre-goer had other things on his mind or rather on his back.

The potential murder weapon


This is a transcript of a letter sent by a Dublin Playgoer who believed a woman had tried to kill him while he was attending a performance of the play.

Was he talking through his hat? Should the play have been renamed Peter Pin? Do we have an absence of man laughter in the face of dubious manslaughter?

Now read on…

(Freeman’s Journal, 5 April, 1907)

Sir–Might I ask the courtesy of your columns as a means of warning the selfish, stupid, or callously indifferent against a most dangerous practice now not uncommon in Dublin theatres.

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I attended the Wednesday matinee of the delightful ‘Peter Pan’ at the Theatre Royal, and arrived just after the play had begun when the house was in darkness. Taking my seat in the Parterre, I was almost instantly sensible of a sharp pain at the base of both lungs. I sat straight in my seat for a moment and the pain ceased; leaning back, it occurred again, and was repeated some four times. I endeavoured to stand up, but found my coat was caught and, in an effort to release it, it was torn in two places and my hand slightly lacerated.

Two known uses for a hat pin. One to keep one's hat in place, the other to fend off an over zealous lover.
Two known uses for a hat pin. One to keep one’s hat in place, the other to fend off an over zealous lover.

I then discovered that a person occupying a seat immediately behind had, as a means of disposing of her hat pins, thrust them through the back of the seat before her- the one which I had booked and that the pins projected on my side three or four inches quite sufficient to enable them to reach the lungs, if not the heart, of the person occupying the seat.

Had I thrown myself back heavily in the seat this would probably have occurred and the stupid offender might probably have had the opportunity of explaining the death to the City Coroner. I do not know if the offender can be traced, and whether the law will give redress, but I intend to try, for it is a public duty to punish a person so blindly indifferent to the safety of others.

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I may add that I got the pins withdrawn only on calling the attention of an attendant to the unjustifiable and outrageous conduct of the offender.

When the lights were turned up I saw that several ladies had fastened their hats to the back of the seats in front of them with their hat pins although I am, of course, unable to say whether this was done in a similarly dangerous way.


Men place their hats under the seat, why not women? If they cannot be trusted to take them into a theatre without becoming a common danger, the sooner they are deprived of them at the doors the better

Yours truly,


Boer War reaches Mulligan’s

While some in Mulligan’s might describe arguments among regulars as the bore wars, there is an older connection between the pub and the confrontation that prompts this play on words.

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One of the playbills held behind glass in the front lounge announces a performance on 14 December 1899 ‘for the benefit of widows and orphans of Irish soldiers killed in South Africa’.

The play, The Colleen Bawn, starred H. Somerville Arnold, a promising young actor who suffered ill-health and died young.

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H. Somerville Arnold

Wyndham – a nose for Irishness

Sir Charles Wyndham (1837-1919) was one of the greatest actors and theatre managers of his generation. Born in Liverpool, he was educated at the College of Surgeons and the Peter Street Anatomical School, Dublin. Wyndham’s Theatre in London was opened by him in 1899.

After appearing in Cyrano de Bergerac at the Theatre Royal which stood opposite Mulligan’s he made an extraordinary claim of what was required to play the role. (See quotes below).

The actor-manager Charles Wyndham

One of the playbills encased behind a glass panel in Mulligan’s front lounge gives details of the cast and command performance of the play.  The performance was given in aid of the ‘Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society’.

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Advertisement from the Freeman’s Journal, 8 March, 1900

At the end of the performance, Wyndham mentioned Ireland and his association with it in an address to the audience:

It requires no great stretch of imagination for me to think that in the gallantry, the chivalry, the love of fun, and dare-devilment of the Gascon Cadets, you recognise a likeness to yourselves. For myself, I feel that the very best exponent of ‘Cyrano’ himself, endowed as he is with all these attributes, would always be an Irishman.

It is therefore, with regret for the moment that I have to admit that Ireland is not my native country, and that I have not been endowed with the privilege – confined to one or two statesmen and several poets – of being born in more countries than one. I console myself however, with a remembrance and a hope.

I remember that I spent two years as a student in your capital, and I hope that, profiting by this experience, I may be able, with perseverance, to school myself in time into thinking myself and Irishman; then, and not till then, can I approximately do justice to Cyrano.

Dr Faust and Mulligan’s


The ‘curse’ of Faust has found its way on to the walls of Mulligan’s pub. First, however, a little more about the ‘spell’…

We have all heard that the Shakespeare play, Macbeth, is supposed to be cursed. During rehearsals, actors, who believe in such things, avoid saying the name of the play referring to it as ‘The Scottish Play’. It is the same before and during intervals, even the lines are not repeated. If an actor speaks the name ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre prior to a performance, he or she is required to leave the theatre building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in.

The story of Faust, who sells his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, carries a similar burden.

Hector Berlioz

The story by Goethe formed the basis of an opera by Berlioz. Its first performance at the Opera-Comique, Paris, on 6 December 1846, did not meet with critical acclaim; the public was apathetic, and two performances (and a cancelled third) rendered a financial setback for Berlioz: ‘Nothing in my career as an artist wounded me more deeply than this unexpected indifference’, he remembered.

Berlioz’s bad luck extended to his love life. He became smitten with an Irish actress Harriet Smithson, a Shakespearean leading lady from Ennis in County Clare, but she wasn’t interested.

Charles Gounod

The story was used as the theme for an opera by Charles Gounod who also met bad luck. His Faust was rejected by the Paris Opera, on the grounds that it was not sufficiently ‘showy’, and its appearance at the Théatre-Lyrique was delayed for a year because another interpretation of the drama was playing elsewhere in the city. When it was eventually staged, the manager of opera house decided to cast his wife as Marguerite and insisted on various changes during production, including cutting several numbers.

Gounod’s Faust was not initially well received.

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Terry Gilliam

The misfortune surfaces in our own times. Four years ago, it was announced that Terry Gilliam was to direct Faust (Berlioz) at the National Opera in London. This is how one writer greeted the announcement:

 We love Terry Gilliam, we really do. It’s just that every announcement of a new project from the unlucky filmmaker comes with a virtual guarantee that something awful is about to happen (flash floods and herniated discs on the set of his aborted The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the death of Heath Ledger during the production of Doctor Parnassus, etc.). Now the Guardian says Gilliam will direct the English National Opera’s production of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust next summer.


And so to the silk playbills mounted on the wall in Mulligan’s front lounge. One refers to a production of Faust (Gounod) at the Theatre Royal on Thursday, 3 May, 1906.

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Newspaper advertisement of the production of Faust at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. Similar details of the production are to be found on the silk playbill displayed in Mulligan’s

The Irish Independent opened its review of the production by telling readers that during the opera the safety curtain fell on Faust’s head – ‘it caught him lightly on the back, and both he and Mephistopheles only escaped a nasty knock by their agility’.

Irish Independent, 5 May, 1906.

The same reviewer was unimpressed saying that the opera was ‘obviously too ambitious’ for the cast. Of the singer in the lead role, the newspaper commented: Mr Patrick O’Shea has been heard to greater advantage than as ‘Faust’ last night.’

Live broadcast in Dublin in 1883? Yes, it’s true!

In the centre of this photograph can be seen the mount in which eight silk theatre programmes are set. They are well over a century old and each has a tale to tell
In the centre of this photograph can be seen the mount in which eight silk theatre programmes are set. They are well over a century old and each has a tale to tell

On the 1st and 2nd of May, 1883, just seven years after  Alexander Graham Bell secured patent for the telephone, people in Dublin decided to give the new-fangled contraption a go.

An actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell speaking into an early model telephone.

A connection was set up between the Gaiety Theatre and a charity bazaar at the Coombe hospital to all visitors so they could hear a live opera.

Barton McGuckin (1852-1913) tenor, who was born in Dublin and whose performances in Italy, London and the United States were received rapturously.

One of the singers, whose voices was heard over the telephone, was Barton McGuckin whose name appears on the programme in the top right of the mount at Mulligan’s lounge bar. (This programme refers to a different performance, Faust, at the Theatre Royal).

The Freeman’s Journal reported on the event in its edition of 24 April, 1883:

The different airs , choruses and the music from the orchestra were distinctly audible while the noisy gods (people in the audience) …were also to be clearly heard.