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Managers & Theaters

Managers & Theaters

During this period, there were two major theater companies: the Betterton Company organized by Thomas Betterton at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre and The United Company organized by Christopher Rich at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

The two companies competed for the better reputation, and tensions were high because Thomas Betterton originally revolted against Christopher Rich in order to create his company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  There is even one report by Colley Cibber in which he says that Drury Lane planned to perform Hamlet on a Monday after learning that the Betterton Company would be performing it that Tuesday, causing the latter to need to change plays.

Betterton was praised for having older, more talented, and better-known actors; however, his company faced several setbacks such as the death of one of its actors and financial struggles.  Christopher Rich’s Company began to improve over time with the addition of younger actors with great potential, and they were successful in obtaining popular plays such as Oroonoko, Love’s Last Shift and The Relapse.

Christopher Rich, Drury Lane
Thomas Betterton, Lincoln's Inn Fields Theater

Drury Lane Interior

Interior depiction of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Christopher Rich of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Christopher Rich, a former lawyer, purchased shares of the Drury Lane theater on 24 March, 1688 and took the position of theater manager. The written materials relating accounts of his managing style are largely inconsistent and polarizing. Cibber criticized    Rich for his greed and manipulation in his An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber. On the other hand certain playwrights who came to Rich with their works delivered praise for his even-handed treatment.

Christopher Rich's career reflects the ambivalence of these records as his business actions are arguably questionable in morality. He attempted to force his actors to sign away a portion of their pay from benefit nights while cutting away at their normal wages. He emptied the theater of every meaningful item in order to prevent its usage during the order of silence issued by the Lord Chamberlain in order to prevent anyone else from putting on performances. 

Eventually he was ousted from ownership of the theater and attempted to reassert himself as a manager by creating a theater at Portugal Row. Before he could see the project to completion, Christopher Rich died on November 4, 1714, leaving the new theater in the hands of his sons. 

Thomas Betterton of Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre

In 1695 Thomas Betterton started his own acting troupe, which he called the Betterton Company.  Betterton and a few other notable actors including Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle broke away from the United Company after tensions rose between Betterton and Christopher Rich, who wanted to use younger actors for the majority of the lead roles.  The Betterton Company converted an old, unused tennis court into the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre.  The theater was first utilized by the Betterton Company for William Congreve’s comedy Love for Love, which was first performed in April of 1695.  As a manager, Betterton was known for choosing new plays, and he wanted to try new elements such as new stage machinery, music, and dance in order to offer something new and original to his performances (Milhous).  As a result, the company struggled with financial problems in addition to actors quitting and dying.

The Betterton Company had success with new comedies such as The Provok’d Wife by John Vanbrugh and The Anatomist by Edward Ravenscroft, but ultimately the company did not last long, and by 1705, Betterton and the others had moved to Haymarket Theatre.