Red Bull proprietor Christopher Beeston made the entrepreneurial move of emulating the King’s Men at Blackfriars, and built an exclusive indoor hall theatre in Drury Lane (the first in the West End of London) aimed at the well-to-do playgoing audience. But on the Shrove Tuesday holiday of 1617, when the apprentices who frequented the Red Bull performances found out that Beeston was moving Anna’s Men and their plays to the pricy new Cockpit theatre, they riotously attacked the building, burning and half demolishing it before peace officers intervened, during which one of the apprentices was shot dead. After extensive repairs Beeston reopened the Cockpit (hereafter also known as the Phoenix for being instantly reborn from the flames), and it went on with considerable success as the only serious rival to the Blackfriars until 1629, when the indoor hall theatre stakes rose with the building of the Salisbury Court just below the Strand on the City’s western border. This episode demonstrates one aspect of the changing nature of London theatre, as issues of financial ambition, audience allegiance, and a shifting but growing repertory of playing nevertheless went on to engage those who it seems could not do without a theatrical entertainment industry now firmly part of the capital’s recreational existence.
In this later Jacobean period and all through the Caroline years the two Beeston theatres had very different reputations. The elite indoor Cockpit attracted a different level of society from those who frequented what was now being called a citizen playhouse, the Red Bull. Yet these two theatres shared plays, players and playwrights throughout the reign of King Charles.
After a long plague-ridden closure of 1625, the Cockpit/Phoenix reopened with a new playing company, now called Queen Henrietta’s Men, after Charles’s new queen. Reports tell that in August 1628 the king’s favourite the Duke of Buckingham went there to see a performance of Thomas Heywood’s The Rape of Lucrece. Although this might not establish the playhouse as being of the same standing as the Blackfriars, the fact that Buckingham chose to be seen at Beeston’s theatre is noteworthy. As Charles’s right-hand man, who in 1624 had accompanied him on that desperately foolish and secret journey to Madrid to meet Charles’s promised wife, the Infanta of Spain, Buckingham was one of the most powerful men in England. Later in 1628 he was assassinated by an aggrieved ex-army officer. His visit marked the Cockpit / Phoenix as one of the leading venues of current theatrical and social activity.
Although Beeston’s indoor theatre did well in competition with its glamorous rival the Blackfriars, there is evidence for Caroline playing companies quite frequently moving between indoor and outdoor venues. Red Bull plays were actually printed with a fictionally heightened status as Cockpit/Phoenix plays. Despite continuing outbreaks of plague, all playhouses did good business, and the gap between the indoor and outdoor theatres may not have been as pronounced as many of the gentry seem to have thought. Furthermore, the Shakespearean period did not see a complete end of boy players as is commonly thought. The new Children of the Revels played for a while at the third of the indoor venues, and another new boy company arrived in the later Caroline era. In 1637 Beeston, who may initially have thought boys would be easier to manage than experienced adult players, ejected his adult company and in their place installed the so-called ‘Beeston’s Boys’ at the Cockpit. This company in reality featured six adult actors, unlike the earlier all-boy companies from the reigns of Elizabeth and James.