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LEGEND OF THE LOST – Chowringhee Theatre

Chowringhee Theatre Calcutta

Once upon a time there was an imposing building on the corner of Theatre Street and Lower Chowringhee Road. The total space between Chowringee Road and Elysiam Row (Now Lord Sinha Road) was completely occupied by the said building of the historical Chowringee Theatre. It had a beautiful dome on its crown. The adjacent house to the north of the building was known as Ballards’ Place.

Ballard's Building Calcutta
Ballard’s Building Calcutta

Fund required for the construction and the interior fittings of the hall were arranged by a circle of gentlemen subscribing among  themselves the shares of Rs. 100 each. This circle included some theatre-lover English men and a small section of elite Bengalis, who donated generously to raise the necessary fund. Since it was founded in this manner, it was also popularly known as the ‘Subscription Theatre’. It is from this Theatre that the adjacent road got its name.

The Chowringhee Theatre (1813 to 1839) was the principal theatrical venue in the city. It was formally inaugurated on the 25th November, 1813 with a remarkable tragedy named ‘Castle Spectre’. With time several other dramas were also staged here from time to time. Interestingly, the female actors at the theatre were all professional artists, but male roles were played by amateurs. One of such male actors was William Princep, whose memoirs described his theatrical work in details, both as an actor and a set designer. The greatest female actor of the age, Mrs. Esther Leach, made her debut at this Theatre on 27 July 1836, aged only 17.

Image of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, who strongly resembled Esther Leach
Image of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, who strongly resembled Esther Leach

But, the Theatre was constantly staggering due to acute financial crisis. In 1835, Prince Dwarakanath Thakur purchased it and made some drastic renovations. But that could not change the destiny of the Chowringhee Theatre. Unfortunately, in 1839, it was completely consumed by fire.  Practically there ended the story of the Chowringhhe Theate. After the drastic fire, it was never revamped and play acting was never resumed.  However, the Theatre and Mrs. Leach share a St. Xavier’s connection.  After the Chowringhee Theatre was burnt down, Mrs. Leach, with the help of Mr. Stocqueler (editor of the Englishman) and Lord Auckland, raised funds and founded the Sans Souci Theatre at 10 Park Street.

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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