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The Playhouse Theatre, Comberton Hill, Kidderminster

Formerly - The Wooden Theatre Royal / Opera House / New Opera House / Royal Cinema Deluxe

The Playhouse, Kidderminster in 1951 - From a Programme for the Playhouse Theatre November 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Above - The Playhouse, Kidderminster in 1951 - From a Programme for the Playhouse Theatre November 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Programme Cover for 'The Merry Widow' with the George Edwardes' Company 'Direct from Daly's Theatre, London,' at the Opera House, Kidderminster in November 1916 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The Playhouse, Kidderminster opened on the 18th of November 1946 and was a conversion from the former Opera House.

The Opera House was built by Messrs John Dallow and Company of Blackheath, and designed by Messrs Owen and Ward of Birmingham, and opened on the 5th of October 1903 with a production of 'Floradora.' The Opera House was itself built on the site of a former Wooden Theatre known as the Theatre Royal.

Right - Programme Cover for 'The Merry Widow' with the George Edwardes' Company 'Direct from Daly's Theatre, London,' at the Opera House, Kidderminster in November 1916 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

The Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 1,500, opened on November the 16th 1891 with a production of Shakespear's 'Hamlet.' However, this Theatre only survived for twelve years before it was sold for £250 to be replaced by the Opera House in 1903.

The Opera House was used as a Cinema for part of its history, called the Royal Cinema Deluxe, but theatre was revived in 1926. However, this was to be short lived and the Opera House eventually became a wartime food store in 1939.

 

The New Opera House and Royal Cinema Deluxe, Kidderminster in 1931 - From a Programme for the Playhouse Theatre November 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Above - The New Opera House and Royal Cinema Deluxe, Kidderminster in 1931 - From a Programme for the Playhouse Theatre November 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection

The Nonentities Society at The Playhouse

Programme Cover for 'The Rosary' at the Kidderminster Opera House and Cinema De Luxe - Date Unknown - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.In 1945 the Nonentities Society bought the old Opera House for £6,000 and set about rebuilding the Theatre which they achieved in just 18 months and opened it on the 18th of November 1946 as the Playhouse.

The Nonentities Society were in occupation of the Playhouse for the next 22 years but sadly they were forced to sell the Theatre when it was compulsory purchased in 1968 to make way for a large traffic island on the ring-road The Theatre was subsequently demolished in 1969. Eventually the Nonentities Society found a temporary home at St. Oswald's Hall, Broadwaters, but now reside in their own purpose built Theatre called The Rose Theatre.

Right - Programme Cover for 'The Rosary' at the Kidderminster Opera House and Cinema De Luxe - Date Unknown - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

There now follows some extracts from the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951, which was produced to celebrate the fifth year of its opening by the Nonentities Society:

 

The Playhouse...

The Souvenir Programme Cover, celebrating five years of the Nonentities Society at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection. THE PLAYHOUSE is not one of those old theatres about which linger the ghosts and recollections of Victorian or yet earlier times, nor have the feet of Kemble, Kean, or the great Irving ever trod its stage. Built 43 years ago, its early memories are all Edwardian, and yet it was only the latest of a long line of theatres of varying degrees of permanency dating back at least to 1780, and all standing on or near the Station Hill site.

Seating Plan for the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection. Right - The Souvenir Programme Cover, celebrating five years of the Nonentities Society at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

The immediate predecessor of the New Opera House, as it was first called, was a wooden structure known as - The Theatre Royal," which, ending with "The New Mephisto" in May, 1903, was ignominiously sold for £250 and translated elsewhere. But the town had not long to wait, for in the summer of the same year the present theatre, phoenix-iike, began to rise, and by October stood revealed.

Left - A Seating Plan for the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Built by Messrs. John Dallow and Company, of Blackheath, and designed by Messrs. Owen and Ward, of Birmingham, it was fit both by gas and electricity, had seats of crimson plush, and carpets specially woven on Kidderminster looms, with a drop cloth that showed a view of Stourport Bridge; in fact it was, in the words of the Chief Constable of the time, - as good a little theatre as I have ever seen.

 

The Auditorium of the Playhouse, Kidderminster - From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Above - The Auditorium of the Playhouse, Kidderminster - From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

In the presence of Sir Frederick Godson, M.P. for Kiddeminster, and his Liberal opponent, Mr. Barnard, the theatre was opened as befits an Opera House with the musical play, - Floradora presented by a Ben Greet Company. No doubt the speeches, bouquets, and prologue in 18th century couplets, all added to the gaiety of the occasion. "TheMariners of England" with the story of Nelson and Trafalgar stirred the hearts of those who returned the following week.

The Foyer of the Playhouse, Kidderminster From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.And so the venture started: but shadows of its future fate loom early across its destiny.

In 1905 Edison and Barnum's Electric Animated Pictures, with scenes from the Russo-Japanese War steal across the stage, to creep in again two years later. There are other signs of change too. In March, 1909, a company arrives at 1.45 p.m., on a flying motor car tour, for one night only. By 1911, the Cinema is really here, taking turn by turn with the legitimate drama.

Right - The Foyer of the Playhouse, Kidderminster From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

 

The Opera House, Kidderminster whilst in use as a Wood Store in 1939. From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.In March, 1926, under Sir Arthur Carlton, the old Opera House renews its early youth and sprouts the verandah still to be seen on its two sides: a new curtain is designed-impressionist of course; the stage revealing, as ever, ' the body of the time his form and pressure.' But alas! its days as a theatre are numbered and it passes rapidly to its decline. Converted to a picture house in 1931, it finally ceases to amuse at all, and becomes eventually a mere storehouse, dark, lifeless, and abandoned to its dust.

Left - The Opera House, Kidderminster whilst in use as a Wood Store in 1939. From the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

It is from such sad neglect that Mr. Rose and the Nonentities, with the threefold aid of state, town, and townsfolk, seek once more to raise it.

Yet we must not emphasise the decline and forget the joy of living, for, each in his day and generation, have many graceful players trod these boards, and taken to the road again among them -Edmund Tearle, Frank Cellier, George Robey, Violet Vanbrugh, H. B. Irving, Leslie Henson, Vesta Tilley, Albert Chevalier, Stella Patrick Campbell, Jose Collins, Harry Tate, Frank Benson, F. Forbes Robertson, Bransby Williams and Pavlova. Shakespeare and Shaw, Jones and Pinero, Houghton and Coward, have all had their say and gone. Nor must we forget the swelling opera, the bright musical Comedy, and the gay revue, so much beloved of Kidderminster.

All this is the worthy heritage of the past-and now-rechristened, refreshed and renewed-ring up again the Curtain', M.T.H.C.

 

The Playhouse Past Present and Future

Programme for 'Lady of the Night' at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in May 1947 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.Though only fifty years old, the Playhouse-or the New Opera House as it was first called-comes of a long line of theatres on the same site. Tradition says that Sarah Siddons played here: but H. B. Irving, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Vesta Tilley, Forbes-Robertson and Sir Frank Benson, certainly did; and within recent memory Pavlova, Harry Tate, Jose Collins and many more. Animated pictures cast their first shadows in 1905. In 1926 drama made a come-back under Sir Arthur Carlton, but the day of the Picture Palace had arrived, and soon the Opera House became derelict, ending up as a wartime store.

Right - Programme for 'Lady of the Night' at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in May 1947 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Programme for Ballet Rambert at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in January 1950 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.For years everyone urged everyone else to acquire this white elephant, and oddly enough a London combine was about to open negotiations, when the Nonentities Society announced to a startled audience that they had bought it for £6,000. A minor miracle of de-requisitioning and rebuilding was accomplished in eighteen months. A last-minute insistence by the magistrates on steel and still more steel almost wrecked the time schedule, but punctually to the chosen day, November 18th, 1946, Sir Barry Jackson declared the Playhouse open. At the last moment, police regulations deprived the theatre of coat-hanging space; perhaps as well, for it was a bitterly cold night, and no amount of stoking could keep out the draught.

Left - Programme for Ballet Rambert at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in January 1950 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Repertory Programme for 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll' at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in Feb / March 1960 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.But the Playhouse was open, and open it has remained for five years of constant struggle, borrowing and repaying, with never a penny in reserve, fighting with its back to the wall, against apathy and abuse. In the end it has won through. The £19,000 which the theatre cost to buy, restore and equip, should, by the Fifth Anniversary Night, have been paid off to the last penny and in half the time that was originally planned.

Right - Repertory Programme for 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll' at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster in Feb / March 1960 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

Programme for 'Babes in the Wood' in December 1967 / January 1968, one of the annual Pantomimes at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.The stars of these five years are mostly in the making; promising young artists who have won their spurs here, and are now winning laurels at the Old Vic and other leading theatres. But there have been acknowledged stars too; names like Sybil Thorndike Eileen Herlie, Walter Midgley, to set beside the giants of the Edwardian days.

Left - Programme for 'Babes in the Wood' in December 1967 / January 1968, one of the annual Pantomimes at the Playhouse Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

What of the future? The Screen, in home or hall, depends upon the living theatre for its artistes. The Playhouse will go on, loved and abused, to carry out its next five year plan of perfecting its workshop; cradling talent of all kinds; and making its unique contribution, that of amateurs and professionals working side by side, to the World of Theatre.

The Above text is from the Playhouse Souvenir Programme of November the 19th 1951 - Courtesy The Margaret & Brian Knight Collection.

 

The Rose Theatre, Chester Road North, Broadwaters, Kidderminster

The Rose Theatre was built for the Nonentities Society who had formerly occupied the Playhouse until its demolition. It is named after Kenneth Rose who was chairman of the Society and sadly died shortly after hearing that he had won the Lands Tribunal case against the loss of the Playhouse Theatre, which had been compulsory purchased in 1968 to make way for a large traffic island on the ring-road.

The Rose Theatre consists of a modern fully equipped theatre, with seating for 181 people and a smaller studio Theatre that has a capacity of up to 60 people. The Rose Theatre is run as a charitable trust by the Nonentities Society who produce amateur and professional productions all year round.

You may like to visit the Rose Theatre's own Website here...

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me here...

 

The Empire Theatre, The Horsefair,Kidderminster

The Empire Theatre in the Horsefair, Kidderminster opened in July of 1922 as a Cinema with stage facilities and was home to Variety shows and film presentations, sometimes at the same time (see posters below). The Theatre ran successfully until September the 20th 1958.

Two posters for 'Pictures and Variety' at the Empire Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy Christopher Harris

Above - Two posters for 'Pictures and Variety' at the Empire Theatre, Kidderminster - Courtesy Christopher Harris whose Grandmother Marie Sinclair, "That Brilliant Soprano" is featured on the Bills.

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The Oxford Amphitheater, Green Man Yard, Kidderminster

The Oxford Amphitheater in Green Man Yard, next to the Green Man public house, opened in 1868 but had a short history and was closed by the authorities because of drinking of alcohol in the building out of hours.

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Eagle Music Hall, Mill Street, Kidderminster

Later - The Theatre Royal

The Eagle Music Hall in Mill Street was converted into the Theatre Royal in 1867.

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Westley & Pott's, Coventry Street, Kidderminster

Westley & Pott's in Coventry Street, Kidderminster was opened in 1836.

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The New Theatre, Worcester Street, Kidderminster

The New Theatre in Worcester Street, Kidderminster was opened in 1852 and was a rebuild of an earlier temporary Theatre on the same site which was built by a Mr. Moore in 1850.

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Cinemas in Kidderminster

The Warehouse Cinema, Green Street, Kidderminster

The Warehouse Cinema in Green Street, Kidderminster is a three screen modern Cinema built on two floors which opened on the 15th of April 2006, and is a conversion from a former derelict carpet warehouse.

You may like to visit the Website of the Warehouse Cinema here...

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The Electric Theatre, Mill Street, Kidderminster

Later - The Grand Theatre

The Electric Theatre in Mill Street, Kidderminster opened on March the 26th 1910.

The Theatre was refurbished in 1915 and reopened in December that year as the Grand Theatre.

The Grand was the first Cinema in Kidderminster to show 'Talkies' and began the experiment on the 12th of September 12th 1929. The Futurist Cinema followed suite a week later on the 16th of September 1929.

The Grand Theatre closed on February the 7th 1959.

A visitor to the site, Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd, writes:- 'In my time Bob Gudgeon was manager of the Grand and somehow, I'm advised, combined these duties with employment as a factory worker with a Mill Street carpet manufacturer.' - Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd.

If you have any more information or images for this Cinema that you are willing to share please Contact me here...

 

The Hippodrome, Mill Street, Kidderminster

Later - The Royal Bijou Theatre

The Hippodrome Theatre in Mill Street, Kidderminster opened on the 25th of April 1910.

The Theatre was later renamed the Royal Bijou Theatre and reopened on the 6th of February 1911 with continuous performance but closed in March of the following year.

If you have any more information or images for this Cinema that you are willing to share please Contact me here...

 

The Futurist Cinema, Vicar Street, Kidderminster

The Futurist Cinema, in Vicar Street, Kidderminster opened on the 21st of October 1912.

The Cinema closed on the 23rd of June 1962.

A visitor to the site, Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd, writes: - 'The Futurist had a very long carpet-walk to the box-office in majestic fashion. After the buying of seats, the purchaser was swiftly brought to earth whether seated upstairs or down. I used to park my bicycle at the rear of the cinema that necessitated a walk along a pier above the stinking river Stour – running in many a different colour depending on a carpet manufacturers’ die-house. Kidderminster was the world’s carpet town. The Futurist's manager was a Mr. Lloyd, who resided in Lea Bank Avenue and I was at school with his son Keith. I am still in touch with the latter.' - Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd.

If you have any more information or images for this Cinema that you are willing to share please Contact me here...

 

The Central Cinema, Oxford Street, Kidderminster

Later - ABC

The Central Cinema in Kidderminster's Oxford street was built for Independent Kidderminster Central Cinema Ltd., and designed by the architectural company of Webb and Gray. The auditorium was on two levels, Stalls and Circle, with a 40 foot proscenium. The Cinema was considered to be the town's finest cinema and had a Christie 3 Manual / 10 Ranks organ with raising platform which cost £2,617 to install. The Theatre opened on the 5th of October 1931 with a seating capacity of 1,250.

The Cinema was bought by The Associated British Cinemas group (ABC) in November of 1935 but it wasn't renamed the ABC until the 27th of January 1964. The ABC closed as a single screen Cinema on the 19th of February 1972.

The Cinema was then converted by turning the former Stalls into a Bingo Hall called the Alpha Bingo Club, and the former Circle was converted into a smaller 484 seat Cinema. The organ was removed at this time and the whole of the new complex opened on the 1st of June 1972.

Sadly the whole building was closed on the 1st of May 1982, and then, after much vandalisation over the following years, the building was demolished in December 1984.

A visitor to the site, Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd, has kindly sent in some information on this and other Theatres in Kidderminster saying:- 'As a man in his 78th year, my memory of Kidderminster, my birth-town, remains pre-eminent in my teenage years of circa 1950. In this era, Kidderminster boasted of four cinemas plus the theatre on Station/Comberton Hill known as the Playhouse. In rising order of opulence they were: the Empire situated in the Horsefair, the Grand in Mill Street, the Futurist in Vicar Street, and the Central in Oxford Street.

Bob Gudgeon was manager of the Grand and somehow, I'm advised, combined these duties with employment as a factory worker with a Mill Street carpet manufacturer. Futurist manager was a Mr. Lloyd, who resided in Lea Bank Avenue and I was at school with his son Keith. I am still in touch with the latter.

I was a member of the Central Cinema's ABC Minors in 1950. I sat in the circle: Block 13. In those days, the Central's normal admission charge was: Circle; three shillings and sixpence, 17.5 new pence, and downstairs; two shillings and sixpence, 12.5 new pence. The Saturday morning ABC Minor's showing was excellent value at a ''tanner'' - 2.5 old pence when 240 pence equalled the pound sterling with the 'A' film, the 'B' film, the continuing cowboy/Western film ''We'll head 'em off at the pass''! Pearl & Dean adverts, forthcoming attractions, news items, and a sing-along accompanied by ''Uncle'' (who-ever) seated at the three-manual Christie pipe-organ. Those were the days! The organ at the Central was apparently removed in about 1958 and was broken down.' - Geoffrey Arnold Lloyd 2014.

If you have any more information or images for this Cinema that you are willing to share please Contact me here.

 

Arthur Lloyd and his Company performed in Kidderminster in 1872 whilst on their 'Two Hours Genuine Fun' tour.

Some of the information on this page for Kidderminster's Theatres and Cinemas was gleaned from 'Kidderminster since 1800' by Ken Tomkinson & George Hall, published by the authors in 1975.

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: