Royal Command Performance
For the annual Royal Variety Performance performed in Britain for the benefit of the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund, see Royal Variety Performance
Royal Variety Performance
The Royal Variety Performance is a gala evening held annually in the United Kingdom, which is attended by senior members of the British Royal Family, usually the reigning monarch. In more recent years Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince of Wales have alternately attended the performance...

A Royal Command Performance in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 is any performance by actors or musicians that occurs at the direction or request of a reigning monarch.

Early history

As long as there has been a monarchy, kings and queens have maintained minstrels and jesters to entertain their courts, and these performances could be called "command performances". The history of the command performance as we recognise it today dates back at least to the time of Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, during whose reign the first permanent theatre was built. In addition, Elizabeth built her own theatre where she could watch plays performed by her own company of players. This was formed in 1583 by Edmund Tilney
Edmund Tylney
Sir Edmund Tilney  or Tylney was a courtier best known now as Master of the Revels to Queen Elizabeth and King James. He was responsible for the censorship of drama in England. He was also instrumental in the development of English drama of the Elizabethan period...

, the then Master of the Revels
Master of the Revels
The Master of the Revels was a position within the English, and later the British, royal household heading the "Revels Office" or "Office of the Revels" that originally had responsibilities for overseeing royal festivities, known as revels, and later also became responsible for stage censorship,...

, and was known as Queen Elizabeth's Men
Queen Elizabeth's Men
Queen Elizabeth's Men was a playing company or troupe of actors in English Renaissance theatre. Formed in 1583 at the express command of Queen Elizabeth, it was the dominant acting company for the rest of the 1580s, as the Admiral's Men and the Lord Chamberlain's Men would be in the decade that...


Later British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 monarchs continued the tradition of sponsoring their own theatrical companies until the dissolution of the monarchy, with its subsequent abolition of the theatre, during the Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

. The restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 of the monarchy following the death of Cromwell also resulted in the restoration of the relationship between the monarch and theatre.

Modern British command performances

At the beginning of Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

's reign in 1837 the command performance was an established part of Britain’s theatrical life. The first Royal Command Performance as we know it today is generally accepted to have been that staged at Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a medieval castle and royal residence in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, notable for its long association with the British royal family and its architecture. The original castle was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I it...

 on 28 December 1848 by order of Queen Victoria. The play was The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a tragic comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic...

, and the cast included Mr and Mrs Charles Kean
Charles Kean
Charles John Kean , was born at Waterford, Ireland, the son of the actor Edmund Kean.After preparatory education at Worplesdon and at Greenford, near Harrow, he was sent to Eton College, where he remained three years...

, Mr and Mrs Keeley, Henry Lowe, Leigh Murray and Alfred Wigan
Alfred Wigan
Alfred Sydney Wigan was an actor-manager who took part in the first Royal Command Performance before Queen Victoria on 28 December 1848....

. From then on, command performances were frequently staged, often calling upon the leading actors from the London theatres and their supporting casts, until the death of Prince Albert in December 1861.

There were no further command performances until they recommenced on 4 October 1881 with a production of Burnand
Francis Burnand
Sir Francis Cowley Burnand , often credited as F. C. Burnand, was an English comic writer and dramatist....

's The Colonel
The Colonel (play)
The Colonel is a farce in three acts by F. C. Burnand based on Jean François Bayard's Le mari à la campagne, first produced in 1844 and produced in London in 1849 by Morris Barnett as The Serious Family....

. Queen Victoria called for a command performance of W. S. Gilbert
W. S. Gilbert
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S...

's play Sweethearts
Sweethearts (play)
Sweethearts is a comic play billed as a "dramatic contrast" in two acts by W. S. Gilbert. The play tells a sentimental and ironic story of the differing recollections of a man and a woman about their last meeting together before being separated and reunited after 30 years.It was first produced on...

(together with Uncle's Will) on 1 February 1887, starring Mr
William Hunter Kendal
William Hunter Kendal was an English actor and theatre manager. He and his wife Madge starred at the Haymarket in Shakespearian revivals and the old English comedies beginning in the 1860s. In the 1870s, they starred in a series of "fairy comedies" by W. S. Gilbert and in many plays on the West...

 and Mrs Kendal
Madge Kendal
Dame Madge Kendal GBE , born as Margaret Shafto Robertson, was an English actress of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, best known for her roles in Shakespeare and English comedies. Together with her husband, W. H...

. The great Shakespearean actors Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

 and Ellen Terry
Ellen Terry
Dame Ellen Terry, GBE was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Among the members of her famous family is her great nephew, John Gielgud....

 performed for the Queen in 1889 and 1893. In 1891, the Queen enjoyed two performances by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas. The company performed nearly year-round in the UK and sometimes toured in Europe, North America and elsewhere, from the 1870s until it closed in 1982. It was revived in 1988 and...

 of Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 operas, namely The Gondoliers
The Gondoliers
The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances , closing on 30 June 1891...

on 6 March 1891 at Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a medieval castle and royal residence in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, notable for its long association with the British royal family and its architecture. The original castle was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I it...

 and The Mikado
The Mikado
The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations...

on 4 September 1891 at Balmoral
Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle is a large estate house in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is located near the village of Crathie, west of Ballater and east of Braemar. Balmoral has been one of the residences of the British Royal Family since 1852, when it was purchased by Queen Victoria and her...

. Performances of operas by the Royal Opera Company
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...

 and the Carl Rosa Opera Company
Carl Rosa Opera Company
The Carl Rosa Opera Company was founded in 1873 by Carl August Nicholas Rosa, a German-born musical impresario, to present opera in English in London and the British provinces. The company survived Rosa's death in 1889, and continued to present opera in English on tour until 1960, when it was...

 were given on several occasions in the 1890s for Victoria.

On July 21 1896 the first Royal Command Film Performance was held at Marlborough House
Marlborough House
Marlborough House is a mansion in Westminster, London, in Pall Mall just east of St James's Palace. It was built for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the favourite and confidante of Queen Anne. The Duchess wanted her new house to be "strong, plain and convenient and good"...

. The film showed the Prince of Wales
Edward VII of the United Kingdom
Edward VII was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910...

 and Princess Alexandra
Alexandra of Denmark
Alexandra of Denmark was the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom...

 visiting the Cardiff Exhibition. When Birt Acres
Birt Acres
Birt Acres was a photographer and film pioneer.Born in Richmond, Virginia to English parents, he invented the first British 35 mm moving picture camera, the first daylight loading home movie camera and projector, Birtac, was the first travelling newsreel reporter in international film history and...

, the cinematographer
A cinematographer is one photographing with a motion picture camera . The title is generally equivalent to director of photography , used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image...

, requested permission to show the film to the general public the Prince asked to see it himself before agreeing. The film was screened before forty royal guests in a specially erected marquee along with a collection of other short films.

King Edward VII called for several performances per year. These included Quality Street
Quality Street (play)
Quality Street is a comedy in four acts by J. M. Barrie, written before his more famous work Peter Pan. The story is about two sisters who start a school "for genteel children"....

by the company of husband and wife stars Ellaline Terriss
Ellaline Terriss
Ellaline Terriss, born Ellaline Lewin , was a popular English actress and singer, best known for her performances in Edwardian musical comedies...

 and Seymour Hicks
Seymour Hicks
Sir Arthur Seymour Hicks , better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, theatre manager and producer. He married the actress Ellaline Terriss in 1893...

 and plays by Sir Charles Wyndham's company and Arthur Bourchier
Arthur Bourchier
Arthur Bourchier was an English actor and theatre manager. He married and later divorced the actress Violet Vanbrugh....

's company. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Herbert Beerbohm Tree
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was an English actor and theatre manager.Tree began performing in the 1870s. By 1887, he was managing the Haymarket Theatre, winning praise for adventurous programming and lavish productions, and starring in many of its productions. In 1899, he helped fund the...

's company played for both Victoria and Edward during their respective reigns.

On 27 June 1911 a Great 'Gala' performance was given by the theatrical profession at His Majesty's Theatre
Her Majesty's Theatre
Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre, in Haymarket, City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre...

 in London in celebration of the coronation of King George V
George V of the United Kingdom
George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War until his death in 1936....

. The proceeds from this event were used to found the 'King George's Pension Fund for Actors and Actresses'. From 1913, it was decided to make this a regular annual 'all-star' event to continue contributing to the fund. The 1913 show was a production of the Dion Boucicault
Dion Boucicault
Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot , commonly known as Dion Boucicault, was an Irish actor and playwright famed for his melodramas. By the later part of the 19th century, Boucicault had become known on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most successful actor-playwright-managers then in the...

 comedy London Assurance
London Assurance
London Assurance is a five-act comedy by Dion Boucicault. It was the second play that he wrote, but his first to be produced. Its first production, from March 4, 1841 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden was Boucicault's first major success...

at St James's Theatre
St James's Theatre
The St James's Theatre was a 1,200-seat theatre located in King Street, at Duke Street, St James's, London. The elaborate theatre was designed with a neo-classical exterior and a Louis XIV style interior by Samuel Beazley and built by the partnership of Peto & Grissell for the tenor and theatre...

 on 27 June 1913 and raised £1,093.

External links

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