Magnificent Manoel Theatre – Valletta’s Little Jewel
Don’t be deceived by Manoel Theatre’s plain facade. The interior is absolutely gorgeous! It reminds me a bit of St John’s Co-Cathedral, looks like nothing from the outside, but mind blowing from the inside.
I’ve been planning to visit Manoel Theatre in Valletta since February! It took me that long because the opening hours are only Monday to Friday from 10am – 12pm. This makes it almost impossible to visit if you have a day to day job. But it’s great to have the option to visit the theatre without actually attending a play.
And what’s the story of Manoel Theatre? What can you expect to see? And is it worth the 5eur entrance fee? Keep on reading and I’ll let you know. 🙂
Maltese buildings in general, being it a church, a palazzo or a theatre have very similar architecture. Very severe and ordinary exteriors, but outstanding interiors and Manoel Thetre is not different. The Theatre was built by the Knights of St John in 1731. It was Grandmaster Antonio Manuel de Vilhena, who ordered the construction and after whom the Theatre is named. It is situated on Old Theatre Street, Valletta.
What’s also interesting is the fact that Manoel Theatre was never closed or touched during the war! That’s why it is reputed to be the third oldest theatre in Europe in constant use as an indoor public theatre. It is also the oldest theatre in the Commonwealth! Were you aware that this theatre was such a gem? Well I had no idea!
When I walked into the Theatre I was quite shocked to see how small the Theatre actually is! All the photos I saw online made it look so much bigger! It almost feels like someone’s private theatre not a National Theatre. Since there was a rehearsal going on when I visited I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the actual stage.
Originally Manoel Theatre was built with 37 stone boxes. Actually the whole theatre was all in stone. The floor was made with stone slabs and stone benches. The proscenium arch that you can see above did not exist. Neither did the parterre boxes on stage or the Gallery.
When the British came to Malta the interior of the Theatre completely changed. Apart from the fact that wood was introduced in the interior, there were major changes in the design, even in the shape of the Theatre itself. Let’s just mention few examples.
The Parterre Boxes in the auditorium were removed. The top floor was added so was the Proscenium Arch (that was mentioned above). An isle and two side passages were introduced. Will all these changes, made throughout the 19th century, the theatre changed its shape from U-shape to a horse-shoe style.
Here is a detail of the middle box in the first tier, which is reserved for the President. The other two boxes at its side are known for the Minister of Culture and the Prime Minister.
If you are wondering how many people can this theatre accommodate, here are some numbers. The capacity of the theatre is 550 (if I compare it to the Czech National Theatre it’s half the amount). There are 60 seats in the parterre, 150 seats in the auditorium, side boxes take 4 persons each and centre boxes 7 or 8. The Gallery can seat 84 spectators.
During your self-guided tour you can also visit some boxes on the first floor. This gives you a great overview of the theatre and an idea what it would be like to watch a performance or an opera here. When you are in one of those boxes, notice the mirror. There was a time when it was more important to be seen than to see. All the mirrors are facing the entrance to the theatre and also to see the VIP boxes.
Manoel Theatre wasn’t always as glorious as it is now. Especially between 1866 and 1873 the theatre fell into total disuse and became known as a doss house. People used to sleep in these boxes and pay a penny a night! Why, you might wonder. Well, the reason was the Royal Opera House that used to stand just next to the New Parliament Building in Valletta. Crowds were drawn to the newly-finished, much larger Opera House.
When visiting the Theatre, don’t forget to look up! The ceiling as magnificent as the entire Theatre. You can notice three shades of ‘celeste’, the colour of the sky. There was a time when you could actually see the sky through the ceiling! How is that possible? Well in between 1920s and 1950s they used to open the part of the ceiling where now is the chandelier. During that same period the theatre was used as a cinema. In December 1960 Manoel Theatre was yet again reopened as a theatre and since then the Theatre Seasons runs between October and May.
So let me conclude with some facts. If you would like to visit Manoel Theatre, the standard opening hours are Monday to Friday from 10am – 12pm. The entrance fee is 5eur and it is a self-guided tour. It may take about 20-30min to walk around, take some pictures and just take in all the beauty. If you fancy to attend one of the performances, the prices start from 10eur to 40eur. The opears are usually more expensive, about 60eur a ticket. I’m personally going to see the Sleeping Beauty – The Panto of Your Dreams this December. Oh I cannot wait! 🙂