The
RE Theatre
The RE Theatre is the roof that stands above the other in the centre of the picture.  

When the RE were on board the Thames City in 1859, one of the ways they passed the time was with the creation of the "Theatre Royale" - an amateur theatrical company.  Captain Luard made available popular London farces, one-acts and plays for the use of the Men. The Officers and the Men used popular existing plays, performing all the roles and making and painting the scenery, among them the British farce Box and Cox.

These plays were so well received that before the Men landed in British Columbia, a subscription had been started by them for the Building of an RE Theatre for the Detachment Troupe.

The Men, busy with the clearing and building of the Camp, still found time and money to complete the work on the Theatre and at the completion of the RE work year in late October as the weather precluded any more exterior work, the RE went into Winter quarters and the rehearsals began.

They officially opened their Theatre with a Ball on the 26th of December, 1859.

"...On Monday, the Non-commissioned officers gave a Ball at the theatre, that they have erected by private subscription amongst themselves, which went off very well, to which most of the inhabitants received an invitation..."

- 7th January, 1860 - The Weekly British Colonist

This appears to be the first review of the RE Dramatic Club in BC.

ROYAL THEATRE

The members of the Dramatic club of the Royal Engineers gave two performances in this theatre on the evenings of the 25th and 26th of January. On both occasions the house was filled to excess, the citizens having availed themselves of the almost general invitation extended by the members of the club to attend. The performances passed off to the entire satisfaction of the audience, the performers having acquitted themselves of their various roles in a very successful and creditable manner, showing a decided improvement on their first entertainment. Friday evening's programme concluded with Ethiopian minstrelsy, and, although their first attempt at anything of this kind, created a great deal of laughter by their conundrums, jokes, lectures, etc., after which the audience dispersed highly pleased with the evening's amusements.

- 2nd February, 1860 - The New Westminster Times

Each year, as the work ended due to door weather, the RE Dramatic Club would head into rehearsals and would then give a Season's worth of performances.

Theatre Royal

At this institution on Friday evening the 8th Inst., the Dramatic club of the Royal Engineers gave one of their theatrical entertainments. The house was filled both with civilians and soldiers . The performances commenced by the presentation of the romantic drama in two acts entitled "Ben Bolt". The principal characters in this piece were Ben Bolt, Ivan Ironlink and Reuben Rags, sustained respectively by Messrs. Osment, Rylatt and Woodcock. The latter gentleman as Reuben Rags was highly amusing , and received from the audience his due need of applause. He adds to his other accomplishments that of comic singer, and is quite a favorite with the audience generally, frequently setting them in a broad grin by his ludicrous representations. The former gentlemen played their roles very successfully, showing that considerable attention and study had been bestowed on the parts. Between the pieces a number of songs and glees were sung by several of the members of the Glee club, followed by a dance, by Mr. Colston. The evening's amusements closed with the laughable farce of "Box and Cox". Captain Luard in the character of Box and lt. palmer in that of Cox, were decidedly entertaining and played with a good deal of spirit throughout the piece, giving the impression on the minds of the audience of their possessing a very fair conception of the play. Doctor Seddall as Mrs. Bouncer was rather in the background, having very little room for displaying himself to advantage. He however, acquitted himself in the character assigned to him very well. It is hoped he will have something more prominent where he will in fact have more room to spread himself. We cannot close these remarks without expressing our thanks to the club for not having forgotten us in issuing the invitations.

-13th February, 1861 - The British Columbian

In March 1861 Lady Franklin and her niece Miss Cracroft visited the Royal Engineer's camp at New Westminster.  During their visit the acting contingent of the Royal Engineers put on two plays, "Ben Bolt and "Sent to the Tower."  Miss Cracroft recorded a description of the evening in her journal:

"The most amusing thing was the women, men in disguise of course, with, as it happened, the gruffest voices you can imagine!  Ben Bolt's Lady love covered up his whiskers with long black curls, but not withstanding was certainly no type of feminine grace.  The other woman was a wife & mother and wore a cap - moreover she was not apostrophized by a love, as in the other case.  I fancy these men do all the female parts, having shaved their moustaches for the purpose!  The scenes are all painted by one of the soldiers & very well they are done, especially the drop scene, an Italian view.  The orchestra numbered seven instruments & very well they played.  At the end of the first piece some of them slipped out, as they were the singers.  They first gave us "Here in Cokol Grot" which they sung beautifully, without accompaniment.  The curtain fell & a hornpipe began & on the curtain rising again, Mr. Hankin bounded on the stage in a full sailor's costume (all white and blue), flung down his hat, folded his arms, & danced his hornpipe BEAUTIFULLY.  You can imagine the reception he got from the astonished audience."

--Sappers: the Royal Engineers in British Columbia, by Beth Hill, p. 89. 

A review of the performance given for Lady Franklin.

Royal Engineer's Dramatic Club

This popular Club gave a special entertainment on Saturday night in honor of lady Franklin. The Theatre was crowded, and the performance went off well. We have not room to criticise the different parts, but would mention the names of Woodcock, Turnbull, Colston, Rylatt and Franklin, as having aquitted themselves with great credit.

-21st March, 1861 - The British Columbian

 

The British Columbia, December 5th 1861

The Royal Engineer Theatre - This Theatre was opened on Monday evening last for the FIRST time this season with the Drama by Geo. Almar, Esq., entitled "The Charcoal Burner or The Dropping Well of Knatesborough" and the favorite Commedietta, entitled "Advice to Husbands".  We regret that our small space does not admit of giving detailed description of the performance but we think only give utterance to the general sentiment of all who were present, when we say that all the characters were well sustained, and all the performance, as a whole, highly credible to all concerned.  Several songs and Glees were sung during the evening, the rendering of which were exceedingly good and elicited loud and frequent encores.  The building itself is fitted up in a style which will bear a favorable comparison with any similar institution on the Pacific coast, without any exception; and when we consider the expense to which the Royal Engineers must have gone in thus fitting up their theatre, we think they are entitled to the highest praise.  There was a large audience present, at least one half were civilians, and who must see themselves under the debt of obligation to the Engineers for thus providing the means of an occasional evenings intellectual amusement, during the winter season.

To give an idea of the size of the RE Theatre, this article in The British Columbian from the 2nd of December 1862 might serve as an illustration.

R.E. THEATRE-- This pretty little Theatre was opened for the season on Friday evening.  The attendance was very large --  touching 400 persons -- and the performance was a complete success.  The farce was especially well played.  We regret our inability to avail ourselves of the kind invitation to be present, but have been informed by a number of gentlemen that much of the playing was superior to anything they had ever witnessed by Amateurs.  The Royal Engineers certainly deserve much credit for their unceasing and most successful endeavors to amuse the people of this city, and we look forward to many a pleasant evening in the R.E. Theatre during the long winter evenings.

 

British Columbia - 13th Dec 1862

Dramatic - The second Dramatic entertainment of the season was given last evening by the Royal Engineers' Club.  The beautiful drama entitled "Don Caesar De Bazan" was most successfully played to a very good house.  The leading characters were very well sustained.

    As Don Caesar, Corporal Howse was most successful, carrying the audience with him all through.  Serjeant Osmet made a capital Charles II of Spain, and was exceedingly well dressed.  J. Turnbull took the character of the old Marquis de Rotondo for which he was splendidly dressed, and which he delineated in the most happy manner.

    The more prominent character of Don Jose (the King's Minister) was very well rendered throughout by W. Deas, and C. Sinnett made a most charming Lazarillo. The ladies - perhaps we ought to have mentioned them first - Serjeant Rylatt, as Maritana, and J. Meade as Countess de Rotondo, performed their parts very creditably.

    A number of songs and a farce entitled "Cool as a cucumber" closed the evening's entertainment.

 

Royal Engineers Theatre

On Wednesday evening the members of the Royal Engineers' Club gave a dramatic performance for the benefit of the Royal Columbian Hospital Fund, on which occasion the pieces performed were Douglas Jerrold's Domestic Drama of "The Rent Day" and Poole's amusing farce "Deaf as a Post".

The Rent Day is too well known to need much description. It may suffice to recall its features to those not present if we say that the interest centres in the endeavours of Martin Reywood (W. Deas) to keep the farm of his forefathers from the grip of the unjust steward, Old Crumbs ( W. Harvey) of his absentee landlord. There are various complications introduced, owing to the discovery made by two highwaymen that the steward is an "ex-minion of the moon" for whose apprehension there is a reward of 50 Pounds. Owing to the power they consequently possess over Crumbs, they obtain permission to enter the Squire's house, where they propose to rob a guest. The guest is saved from their attempt on his property by the courage and devotion of Rachel Heywood, Martin's wife (R.M. Rylatt) and proves to be the absentee landlord himself, Squire Grantley.Of course, with so powerful a Deus ex machina, everything is easy. Martin keeps his farm, the unjust steward is dismissed, the highwaymen punished, and, as the old fairy tales conclude, everybody lives happy ever afterwards. We would particularly notice the acting of R.M. Rylatt as Rachel, W. Deas, W. Harvey, and H. Dransfield, whose drolleries in the character of Bullfrog, an appraiser and creature of Old Crumbs, were very amusing and well rendered.

The plot of the farce is very simple. Tristram Sappy (J. Woodcock) is engaged to be married to Miss Sophy Walton. This young lady, as is not uncommon to young ladies, we believe, prefers a lover of her own choosing. Captain Templeton (J. Turnbull) to the husband of her father's selection. Thus favored the captain introduces himself at the inn where Sappy is entertaining at supper his future wife and her father, and by pretending to be "deaf as a post" induces an amusing series of mistakes, the ill consequences of which fall on the head of the ill-fated Sappy. He effects a compromise with the author of the mischief, and resigns his fiancee to the fortunate Captain. Sally Mags (R.M. Rylatt) chambermaid at the inn, delivered her sneers at Sappy and his meanness in the matter of fees to chambermaids, with great relish and effect. The appearance of R. Colston in the interlude, dressed as a ballet girl, created perhaps more laughter than anything else in the evening. There is so much caricature in the mere fact of a man being dressed in the short gauzy skirts of a fille be ballet, that the real excellencies of his dancing may not have been quite appreciated.

-21st March, 1863 - From The British Colonist.

 

Royal Engineers' Theatre

The Dramatic Company of the Royal Engineers Club gave their last entertainment on Wednesday evening, forming the ninth of the series with which we have been amused during the winter season.

On this occasion were presented "The Sergeant's Wife" and "The Artful Dodge". The former is of the style which Mr. Wilkie Collins delights to terrify us with. An old house in the centre of France is the scene of operations, where Dennis (W. Deas) and his confederate rob and murder any unsuspecting travelers who may fall in their way. The particular attempt at murder with which the audience is concerned of course fails, owing to a rescue at the last moment. Lisette (R.M.Rylatt) played her part with great care and skill, but it must have been difficult to struggle with the natural weakness of the play.

The farce of The Artful Dodge was more successful, as it deserved to be. The Hon. Frederick Fitz-Fudge (R.M.Rylatt) was so well played that it gives cause for regret that so good an actor should be forced by the exigencies of the Company to assume women's parts, the difficulties of which are necessarily great. J. Woodcock, as Demosthenes Dodge was as funny as usual, reasoning so ably and clearly on the social advantages of dodging, ie., swindling, that we feared for a moment the moral perceptions of the audience might be blunted. The author, Mr. E.L. Blanchard, is a well known burlesque and pantomime writer, accordingly the dialogue bristles with puns, which were generally well delivered. We would, however, venture to suggest to Mr. Hughes for his next appearance that he should eat his breakfast, and not send it away un-tasted as he did. By doing so he certainly destroyed the vraisemblance of the part, and failed to give complete effect to some of the turns in the dialogue.

In dismissing this notice we must tender one word of thanks to the RE Club for the amusement they have afforded us and our fellow citizens during the winter; amusement that would be acceptable anywhere, and is particularly so in a town like ours - at present too small to encourage the continued presence of any professional caterers for the public.

- 2nd May, 1863 - From The British Columbian

 

 

 

 

Royal Engineers Club and Library -

 All persons having any claims on the R.E. Club or Library, are requested to send them to the Secretary as soon as possible. 

G. WILLIAMS
Secretary

R.E. Camp, New Westminister, October 13, 1863

--The British Columbian

 

The Drama

We sincerely regret having been prevented attending the entertainment given by the Royal Engineers' Club at their Theatre on Tuesday evening, especially as we understand it is designed to be the closing performance. We learn that the audience was very large, and indicated the utmost satisfaction. The piece played upon this occasion was, "The Farmer's Story, or the Broken Heart", followed by two farces, entitled, "A Pleasant Neighbour", and "Two Heads are better than one."

We only very imperfectly give utterance to public sentiment when we say that this community generally feel deeply indebted to the RE Club for the numerous entertainments given during their stay in this place. At very great expense in time and money, to themselves they have spared no pains to afford rational amusement; and so general have been their invitations to the citizens that their beautiful little Theatre might almost be said to have been thrown open to the public. The proficiency, too, to which these amateurs have attained is really something wonderful. We have witnessed many of their performances with far greater satisfaction than those of professional players. We shall miss them sadly during the approaching winter nights.

-24th October, 1863 - The British Columbian.

 

The Royal Engineers’ Theatre is the third building from the right with the chimney in the centre of the roof.
Photograph courtesy the New Westminster Museum Archives

For more on the theatrical endeavours of the Royal Engineers please see

The Royal Engineers, 1858–1863: Theatrical Entertainment for and by the Enlisted Men
by
Patrick B. O’Neill
found at
http://www.utpjournals.com/product/ctr/101/101_Oneill.html