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July 7, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 531 Nostalgia

Echoes from the past – Britain’s seaside theatres from the 1920’s fading away

Britain’s seaside theatres from the 1920’s, neglected and with shrinking audiences

Brighton Hippodrome is an old gem in the ancient centre of Brighton, built in 1901, but for the last decade, it has stood empty. Campaigners have shown up to restore it as a performance venue, but the challenges have been multiplying.

The venue has been out of use since 2007 when it was last time used as a bingo hall. From its construction in 1897, this treasured site has hosted a variety of theater shows, an ice rink, circus acts, vaudeville shows and also rock bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

It has a flamboyantly decorated interior, a large auditorium, and Rococo ornaments – have survived thus far, however, in July 2010, its owner has said a restoration project to make use of the venue as live music scene would cost £9 million.

The façade of the Brighton Hippodrome from the northwest

Since 2011, numerous plans have been proposed to convert the building for alternative uses, but it has all failed. The building is listed type for its architectural and historical significance, though.

The Grand Theatre of Blackpool locally dubbed as “The Grand” is one more example of struggle. It was designed by eminent Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham and was opened in 1894. It has cost £20,000 to build it at that time and the venue initially hosted circus acts.

It was once designated as the “prettiest theatre in the land“, one of the first venues to use an innovative ‘cantilever’ design to support the tiers, with that, reducing the usage of usual pillars and enabling clear views of the stage from all angles of the auditorium.

This venue successfully worked through WWI and on through the 1930s when it was purposed also as a cinema outside the summer tourist season. It has remained open during WWII too, but the post-war rise in popularity of television was according to some, a reason why the interest in theatre generally shrank – making the popularity of it dwindle as the 1960s were through.

Blackpool Grand Theatre in Blackpool, England, photo credit

Plans for demolition of this historic venue were well in place in 1972, but luckily the building was listed and saved by a group of people who assured it to sustain. Since then, the Grand was used as a bingo hall for three years, and after renovations, it has reopened as a theatre in 1981. It had staged an Old Vic performance of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice  featuring Timothy West and Prunella Scales. That same year, the theatre’s return was affirmed when a Royal Variety Performance had been staged and attended also by Prince Charles.

The Grand is currently known to host tribute artists, including “Neil Diamond”, “Elton John”, “Robbie Williams” and “Adele”. While this one was saved out of trouble, there is one such seaside theater that did not.

In Scarborough, North Yorkshire, locals have been angered since 2016 when the local council has considered replacing its prized 1920s theatre for a theme park. The Futurist Theatre though not the best-looking building on the seafront, is still notable for its historic and architectural significance.

Futurist Theatre, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England, photo credit

It was the first cinema with clear sight lines and was very influential in later cinema design. Externally, there is a classical design to fit in with neighboring buildings, and internally it is art deco, so historically it is of great significance and should be saved,” has stated Debi Silver for The Guardian, the person behind a campaign that was launched to keep the venue – Save the Futurist.

In 2016, the vote of the Scarborough Borough Council to bring up the devastating decision of demolition was postponed, thanks to the local opposition, but sadly, on 9 January 2017, this council has voted yes, by the narrowest of margins, 22 – 21. The decision was controversial, in the least. Many locals would have preferred the Futurist to be saved, possibly restored and modernized.

In the winter of 2011, the Futurist managed to attract over 16,000 people during eight sell-out performances of “Calendar Girls” produced by David Pugh, photo credit

As a venue, the Futurist opened first in 1921 as a cinema hall and it has retained such role until 1968 when the stage had been extended to permit live performances as well. The Beatles would perform here, too, twice, in 1963 and 1964. With a capacity to welcome 2,155 guests, outside of London , this is the fifth largest theater in England. Its glorious past, however, was concluded in 2014 as the operator of the venue had the lease expired. The fate of it is now uncertain, however, the interests have been shown reportedly from the Flamingoland group.

Few more seaside theaters in Britain might face something similar, such as the listed Palace Theatre in Plymouth. In 2015, it seemed that this decaying art nouveau theatre was saved for sure as leasing was granted for it to a youth charity group, for 35 years. However, that decision has been followed by a series of withdrawals by local patrons amid charges of mismanagement as The Guardian had also reported, which has eventually called into question the viability of the whole arrangement.

We also thought to remind you that the first film projection took place in Berlin, Germany, in 1895.


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