Royal Gallery of Illustration
The Royal Gallery of Illustration was a performance venue located at 14 Regent Street near Waterloo place in London, in what was formerly the home of John Nash, designer of Regent Street, Regent's Park, and other urban improvements undertaken at the commission of George IV. From 1855 to 1867, it presented the entertainments of Thomas German-Reed and his wife, Priscilla, a theatrical couple who specialized in brief, humorous musical sketches and impersonations aimed at a "respectable" middle- to upper-class audience. It was also home to a wide variety of other entertainments, including numerous moving panoramas, dioramas, and lectures.
Under the German-Reeds, the entertainments presented at the Gallery usually consisted of one or two brief comic operas designed for a small number of characters (due to the small size of the Gallery's stage). These eventually became "Mr. And Mrs. German Reeds Entertainments". They called the establishment, euphemistically, the "Gallery of Illustration," rather than a theatre, and the pieces were called "entertainments" or "illustrations", eschewing the words "music hall", "play", "extravaganza", "melodrama" or "burlesque", in order to avoid the poor reputation among the British public of musical theatres. Reed himself composed the music for many of these pieces, and often appeared in them, along with Mrs. German Reed. Reed experimented with what he called opera di camera - small chamber operas by young composers. There was nothing else like this establishment in London. The Gallery rapidly achieved popularity.
The Gallery was an intimate 500-seat theatre and, according to contemporary accounts, was "one of the most popular and fashionable places of recreation in the Metropolis." The accompaniment consisted of piano, harmonium and sometimes a harp. But the German Reeds were able to attract fine young composers such as Molloy, Clay, Sullivan, and Cellier, the best scenic designers for their tiny stage, and the best young writers from Punch and Fun magazines. At first, the entertainments utilized a cast of three, but by the mid-1860s, they had expanded to pieces with a cast of four. Often the pieces' plots involved mistaken identities and disguises.
In 1857, the Gallery hosted a command performance before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens's play The Frozen Deep. It was also home to some of the earliest productions of W. S. Gilbert, including No Cards, Ages Ago, Our Island Home, A Sensation Novel, and Happy Arcadia. Reed also mounted the first professional production of Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand's Cox and Box and commissioned a second opera from the pair, The Contrabandista. Fanny Holland appeared in scores of the entertainments beginning in 1869 and, except for two years, continuously thereafter until 1895. Many of the entertainments were written by her husband, Arthur Law.
The address is presently the site of an office tower.