The Haymarket Theatre was built in 1973 to supersede the Phoenix Theatre. It was built as part of the Haymarket Shopping Centre above shops on the first floor at one end of the shopping complex, and in fact immediately opposite what had been the Palace Theatre on Belgrave Gate.
Right - The opening season programme for the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, which included 'The Recruiting Officer', Economic Necessity', and 'Cabaret' - Courtesy David Garratt.
The Architects were Stephen George and Dick Bryant of the City Architects department, both of whom were responsible for the Phoenix Theatre, and Peter Forbes of the Building Design Partnership, architects of the Haymarket Shopping Centre.
The Theatre was on the first floor and so was accessed at street level from Belgrave Gate by an open flight of steps rising 18 feet to first floor level. Direct access was from the first floor shopping centre, and also at Balcony level from the adjacent car park built on top of the shops.
The Theatre had large foyer's at Stalls and Balcony levels interconnected by an internal staircase. The tiled floor of the lower foyer was a continuation of the tiled paving of the shopping centre with tiles of a decidedly lavatorial type used extensively on the walls.
The auditorium sat 750 people in a wide fan shape, close to the stage. The stalls seating was well stepped giving a good clear view of the vast stage. The Balcony, although very steeply angled sat people in a clever system of five straight blocks at different levels yet all interconnecting.
Left - The auditorium of the Haymarket, Leicester when it first opened - From 'Tabs' December 1973 - Courtesy David Garratt.
There was virtually no auditorium ceiling, just a couple of baffle board, beyond and around which the trunking and pipes being clearly visible in the roof void. The colour scheme was very bland, being pale oatmeal for seats, walls, and house curtain. The side walls of the auditorium converged at the stage to form a proscenium opening, but the stage area was so large, that really the walls framed this open void.
It was a Theatre built with a large London dimensioned stage, capable of staging grand Opera, or Ballet, but having too small a seating capacity to make it viable for such shows. The stage was very low, and projected into the auditorium, giving a three sided projection.
Right - The auditorium of the Haymarket, Leicester when it first opened - From 'Tabs' December 1973 - Courtesy David Garratt.
There were also fore stage entrances as part of the auditorium walls each side of the stage. The Theatre had a large fly tower which was built out into the auditorium being shaped exactly as the three sided fore stage, so could fly scenery down stage over the fore stage area. The steel corrugated safety curtain was three sided, also shaped to fit the edge of the fore stage. Under the fore stage was a large orchestra pit and under the stage an area for stage traps etc.
Backstage there was a large paint and workshop on stage right together with dressing rooms, offices, and a rehearsal space, which later was converted into a Studio Theatre seating 120 people.
Left - A plan of the Haymarket, Leicester at Level 3 from 'Tabs' December 1973 - Courtesy David Garratt.
The Theatre's early production directors were Robin Midgley and Michael Bogdanov.
The Haymarket Theatre was officially opened by Sir Ralph Richardson.
The Theatre was very lucky early on to have Robert Mandell as Musical Director, enabling the Haymarket to develop, and become famous for it's stage Musicals, many of which transferred to London, and Broadway. The Theatre also mounted musicals in collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh, such as 'My Fair Lady', and 'Oklahoma'.
Musicals of note were:- 'Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat', produced several times at the Haymarket, in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, and 1985. Maynard Williams was in the leading role in London and then Leicester in the 70s, he was a local lad who had attended school in Kibworth, Leicestershire and is the son of actor Bill Maynard, a local TV celebrity who still lives in Leicestershire. The show became a great favourite with audiences and was developed at the Haymarket from it's first shorter schools version into the full blown musical we know today.
'The Boy Friend' (1976) Directed by Alexander Dore with the late Miriam Karlin, from the Rag Trade TV series, in the leading role. The show also featured a young Elaine Page.
'Oliver' (1977) Directed by Robin Midgley featuring Roy Hudd. A remounting of the original London production using Sean Kenny's revolving set.
'My Fair Lady' (1978) Directed by Robin Midgley featuring Tony Briton, Liz Robertson, Peter Bayliss and Anna Neagle.
'Oklahoma' (1979) Directed by James Hammerstein featuring John Diedrich. Christina Mathews and Alfred Molina.
Left - A plan of the Haymarket, Leicester at Level 4 from 'Tabs' December 1973 - Courtesy David Garratt.
'Gypsy' (1981) Directed by Roger Redfarn featuring Fiona Fullerton and Noele Gordon.
'Me and My girl' (1984) Directed by Mike Ockrent featuring Robert Lindsay, Emma Thompson, and Frank Thornton. This Musical went directly into the Adelphi Theatre London from the Haymarket and on to Broadway, and also toured Britain.
'High Society' (1986) Directed by Richard Eyre, featuring Trevor Eve, Natasha Richardson, and Stephen Rae.
'On Your Toes' (2002) Directed by Paul Kerryson, featuring Adam Cooper, Linzi Hateley. Kathryn Evans, Marguerite Porter and Irek Mukhamedov.
Notable plays were:- 'A Midsummer Nights Dream'. (1976) Directed by Robin Midgley and featuring Mia Farrow the American film actress.
'Rain' (1977) by John Colton and Clarence Randolph. Directed by Bob Carlton, and featuring Carol Baker, the American film actress.
'The Dresser' (1981) by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Robin Lefevre, featuring Joss Ackland.
Right - The Haymarket Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt.
'Macbeth' (1984) Directed by Nancy Meckler and featuring Bernard Hill and Julie Walters.
'The Entertainer' (1986) Directed by Robin Lefevre featuring Frank Middlemass, Peter Bowles, and Sylvia Syms.
'M Butterfly' (1989) by David H. Wang. Directed by John Dexter, and featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins.
'A Dolls House' (1989) by Henrik Ibsen. Directed by Nick Ward and featuring Daniel Massey.
'The Destiny of Me' ( 1993) by Larry Kramer. Directed by and featuring Simon Callow.
Left - The stage door of the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt .
Chris Ellis was the lighting designer at the Haymarket for many years
and is still active today, one of his shows 'Hot Stuff' was reprised
at the new Curve Theatre in
Leicester 20 years after being premiered at the Haymarket Theatre.
The Theatre reputably has a Ghost. A small Edwardian boy dressed in a Sailor suit has been seen several times, normally during rehearsal. Before the Theatre was built a child once drowned in a well on the land and the ghost has been named as his.
The Theatre had a brief closure in 2003 to 2004 due to financial problems. The last production in 2006 was 'The Wizard of Oz' featuring Helena Blackman and Ceri Dupree. It then closed and was decommissioned, whilst 'Curve' it's replacement was being built.
Above - A selection of programmes for past productions at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt
The Haymarket Theatre then stood empty for many years. The City Council had plans to reopen the venue in the summer of 2011, converting it into a £6.5 million Youth Centre catering for 13 to 19 year-olds. It was to have a climbing wall situated in what was the stage and fly tower area, with a skateboard and BMX track. The plans also included a sports area, recording studio, together with dance and aerobics rooms, library, research centre and disco. A grant from the Government of £5 million had been pledged, but Leicester's City Council said they could not afford to share in the running costs. Thus the project was abandoned and the Theatre stood awaiting it's fate for a number more years.
A sad ending for a Theatre which brought many starry productions to Leicester with high national regard.
The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article and its accompanying images are © David Garratt 2011. Some show information was also supplied by David Moore.
Right - A backstage tour around the Leicester Haymarket Theatre by Curve2Theatre in 2008.
In April 2017 a consortium are seeking to reopen the Haymarket Theatre having been handed the keys by Leicester City Council, and have signed a 30 year lease. The Theatre is being refitted to restore the building to it's former glory over the next 6 months. The plan is for it to become a performance, music and comedy venue hopefully reopening Autumn 2017. The Theatre will also be used to host E-Sports computer game tournaments, plus functions. The plan also envisages being able to offer training for people seeking to enter the theatre industry.
Leicester City Council which is locked into a 99 year lease for the 1970's built theatre, is bankrolling a 3 Million pound restoration, but hopes this will then save £180,000 a year cost for service charges, maintenance and security costs. The aim is that the consortium will take on the full costs associated with the building in the fourth year of it's lease and pay £40,000 per year to the Leicester City Council.
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