Theatres and Halls in Stockport, Greater Manchester
Formerly the Temperance Hall
Above - The former Temperance Hall, later the People's Opera House, Stockport in a photograph taken in 1887, a year before the Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1888 - From the Theatre's Jubilee Programme June 6th, 1938.
The People's Opera House was a Music Hall which stood on the same site on St. Peter's Street, Stockport as the later Theatre Royal which people may still remember today. The history of the site and the various Theatres which have graced it are covered in detail chronologically below.
Before being a home for Music Hall and Theatre however, the site in St. Peter's Street was originally home to a Temperance Hall. This was eventually taken over by Edward Lyons and Mr. Seddon, and used as a Music Hall. Later still, William John Revill, who had been the Lessee of the Rosherville Gardens in London, and then later the Chairman of the Mogul Music Hall in Drury Lane, and subsequently ran the Theatre in Church Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, eventually Leased the Temperance Hall in St. Peter's Street, and in 1869 he bought the building and converted it into a new Theatre called the People's Opera House.
Right - William John Revill - From the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme, June 6th, 1938.
The People's Opera House was in business under Revill's management until the 25th of August 1887 when the Theatre was destroyed by fire. The ERA reported the disaster in their 27th of August 1887 edition saying: 'About midnight, on Thursday, policemen on duty behind the People's Opera House, Stockport, discovered the building to be on fire. An alarm was raised, and the Corporation and West of England Brigades were quickly on the spot. The fire was then found to be raging in the vicinity of the stage and dressing-rooms. Immense quantities of water were thrown on and into the building, but the flames had made a good hold, and before they could be conquered, the stage, all the scenery, and dressing-rooms were completely destroyed, while the roof collapsed from one end to the other. The actors and actresses have lost their wardrobes and effects. Mr Revill, the proprietor, was away from home. The piece played this week was Driven from Home. The ERA, 27th of August 1887.
DESTRUCTION OF A THEATRE
As briefly reported last week, the People's Opera House, St. Petersgate, Stockport, was well nigh gutted by fire on the night of Thursday, the 25th ult. The building was originally built for a temperance hall, and was used as such for many years, but subsequently it was used as a music hall by Mr Edward Lyons and Mr Seddon, and eventually passed into the hands of its present proprietor, Mr W. Revill, who is also proprietor of theatres at Ashton-under-Lyne, St. Helens, and Macclesfield, and until recently leased the theatre at Wigan. When we state that in addition Mr. Revill's son-in-law conducts theatres at Rochdale and Bury, we have said enough to show that the People's Opera House has had much experience vested in its conduct. Since Mr Revill has managed it several very important improvements have been made, not the least of which is the latest - namely, the construction of a separate means of egress from the gallery, the value of which would have been amply shown had the fire broken out during a performance.
The stage had been occupied by Messrs J. K. Murray and Wilton Reed's Driven from Home company, and on Thursday night the performance came to an end shortly before eleven o'clock, about which time Mr Revill left he theatre to catch a train at Edgeley Station with a view to visiting his theatre at Macclesfield. When the audience and members of the company had cleared out, Mr Dale, the scenic artist, closed the theatre and locked the doors, as is customary with him, after seeing that all was safe.
About ten past twelve o'clock, as P.C. Shaw stood talking to a man named John Stanton near the building, he thought he saw a glare in one of the dressing-rooms at the rear, and called the attention of his friend to it. By climbing to a ledge which runs along the passage between the theatre and the neighbouring shop they saw that the ladies' dressing-room was on fire. Without losing a moment's time Shaw gave the alarm at the Imperial Hotel, which adjoins, and then carried the information to the police-station, while Stanton awoke the inmates at the shop, and then went to Mr Revill's house, near the George Hotel.
The information was received at the police-station at thirteen minutes past twelve, and the fire brigade were immediately summoned by means of the electric bells. Within a very few minutes a detachment of four were on the scene of the fire with the hose reel, and were closely followed by other firemen with the Shand steam engine and the "Deluge" manual also the West of England brigade, in charge of Corporal Abbott. Superintendent Buck directed the operations of the corporation brigade, and in the first instance a hose was attached to the main. The steam-engine was then taken to Messrs Parker and Sons' reservoir, opposite the end of St. Petersgate, a distance of 300 yards, and at once set to work, steam being got up in a remarkably short space of time.
When the firemen gained access to the building they found the stage and its vicinity in a mass of flame, the drop scene, which must have confined the fire for some time, having been burned down, and allowed the flames to seize the ceiling. Jets were directed upon the burning mass from Mr Ormesher's coal-yard at the back, from the side passage, and from the roof, access to which was gained by means of the fire escape. It was feared that if the fire was not speedily got under it would communicate with the surrounding premises, therefore the firemen redoubled their efforts when they were able to play directly down upon the burning material. Still the ceiling offered good food for the flames, which spread along its whole length in the highest part and utterly destroyed it.
While the fire was still raging a number of persons managed to drag the piano from its place of danger in front of the stage, and also to place the other musical instruments in safety, but it was only possible to save very few of the dresses of the actors. After pouring a continual supply of water into the building for the space of an hour and a half, the firemen saw the last spark quenched, and were then able to see the extent of the damage. They found the whole of the stage and dressing-rooms burned out, but, singular to say, no damage was done by the flames to the galleries or the seats in the pit, although these suffered extensively through falling material and water. Some of the curtains in front of the stage boxes were not even touched. The appearance of the place was, however, most desolate, charred timber and shrivelled up scenery crowding the stage, and pools of water and broken beams, slate, and glass thickly bestrewing the floor.
The damage is roughly estimated at from £1,000 to £1.500, and is partially covered by insurance in the Phoenix Office. Mr Revill received the news of the fire when at Macclesfield through the railway telegraph service, the post office being closed, and arrived in Stockport at five a.m. per luggage train. Naturally, he was much cut up with what had occurred, and the affair also occasioned some concern amongst the members of the theatrical company, who are heavy sufferers by the fire. Nevertheless, they bear their losses very good-humouredly, and find time to enjoy such incidents as that related by one of their number, who bewails the fact that out of several suits-of clothes which belonged to him only the waistcoat in each was saved.
The origin of the fire is as yet a mystery. Mr Revill proposes to entirely rebuild and remodel the theatre. In order to compensate them somewhat for the loss of their wardrobes, Mr Revill arranged for a benefit performance for Messrs Murray and Reed's company, at the Mechanics' Institution, on Saturday night, but owing to the very short noticea few hoursthe result was not so satisfactory as was desired. The ERA, 3rd of September 1887.
The remains of the People's Opera House were subsequently demolished and a new Theatre, designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, was built in its place and opened the following year, (See Below).
The 1888 Theatre Royal, St. Peter's Square, Stockport
Undeterred by the fire and destruction of his People's Opera House, William Revill soon set about having a new Theatre built on the same site. The new Theatre was built by a local firm, Froggatt and Briggs, and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham. The Theatre opened as the Theatre Royal, Stockport on Monday the 4th of June 1888 with a production of 'Alone in London.' (Please note that there was also an earlier Theatre Royal in Stockport which was built in 1851, there is more information on that Theatre here.)
'Next Monday there will be opened in St. Peter's-square, Stockport, a handsome new theatre, which is to take the Place of the primitive building destroyed by fire last autumn. The workmen will have to put the best foot forward to complete the building in time, but Mr W. Revill, the proprietor, assures us that all will be in readiness for Messrs Wynn Miller and Eliiston's Alone in London company to take possession of the boards on Monday. This company was engaged to play the week after the fire occurred. Driven from Home was, somewhat singularly, being represented on the night of the fire.
Above - The opening night programme for 'Alone in London' at the Theatre Royal, Stockport on June the 4th 1888 - From the Theatre's Jubilee Programme June 6th, 1938.
The new theatre has been designed by Mr Frank Matcham, of London, and will accommodate about 2,000 persons. The style of architecture is Italian, and the facade has a very striking appearance, being ornamented with stucco work. There are two alarm balconies accessible from the gallery, each capable of accommodating about 200 people. The means of entry and exit are most complete, and these, together with all the other arrangements, have gained for Mr Revill the congratulations of a body of magistrates who have made an inspection of place.
The extreme width of the auditorium is 48ft., and the length, from the rear of the pit to the proscenium, is 60ft. The house will be divided into pit stalls, pit, dress-circle, balcony (in the rear of dress-circle), ampitheatre, and gallery. Instead of wood, fibrous plaster is being used for the fronts of the circle, the amphitheatre, and the boxes, of which there will be one on each side of the stage. The same material will also be used for the decoration of the proscenium, which has an opening of 25ft. square.
The stage is 38ft. deep and is protected by an asbestos cloth curtain. Behind it will be six dressing-rooms and a large room for the supers; the manager's room, lounge, &c., occupy the front part of the building. Mr Douglass, of London, has painted the act-drop, and the other scenery has been in hand for some time. The general tone of the decorations is buff, and the upholstery all through is crimson. Messrs G. Las Casas and Craig, of London, are the decorators:
In the centre of the ceiling is a large sunlight; this, with all other lighting apparatus, being controlled from the stage. Messrs Vaughan and Brown, of London, have supplied the gas fittings. There is a most ample provision of hydrants in direct connection with the street mains, two being behind the proscenium and two available for any other part of the house. Messrs Heathman and Co., of London, have furnished these.
On the whole the work is excellent, and Stockport may he congratulated upon having one of the most handsome and most complete little theatres in the kingdom. The contractors are Messrs Froggatt and Briggs, a local firm. The feature of the theatre is undoubtedly the alarm balconies, which, besides adding to the appearance of the front of the building, will be eminently useful in case of fire, which, however, is most carefully guarded against by every possible precaution. Access to the balconies will be by a system of doors, which, under ordinary pressure, will remain closed, but when exposed to extraordinary force will yield and fly open.
The ERA, 2nd of June 1888.
Above - A notice in the ERA of the 9th of June 1888 reports on the Gala opening of the Theatre Royal, Stockport
Considerable alterations took place to the Theatre in 1896.
William John Revill, who had built the first Theatre on the site, The People's Opera House, and the 1888 Theatre Royal, passed away on September the 20th 1897. However the Theatre continued to be run by the Revill family.
In 1900 the theatre was closed for structural alterations from June until August the the same year.
Despite the 1900 alterations however, in 1904 the Theatre was closed and demolished so that a new Theatre, also designed by Frank Matcham, could be constructed on the same site for the Revill family (See Below).
The 1905 Theatre Royal and Opera House, St. Peter's Square, Stockport
Above - An early photograph of the 1905 Theatre Royal and Opera House, Stockport - Courtesy Roy Cross
The Theatre was finished by the autumn of the following year and opened to the public on September the 5th 1905 as the Theatre Royal & Opera House.
Right - A poster for the variety show 'You Shall Have Laughter!' at the Theatre Royal, Stockport on November the 29th, 1943. On the Bill were Jack Edge, Ivor E. Keys, Joe Heritage & Co, Walker and Ray, Clement Minns, Reta and Rena, Franks Fox Terriers, and Vesta & Ashton.
In 1935 the theatre was closed and redecorated during the summer and reopened with a succession of variety bills.
In 1938, when the Theatre Royal was celebrating 50 years in business the Theatre was still being run by the Revill family. William John Revill, who had built the first Theatre on the site, The People's Opera House, and the 1888 Theatre Royal, had passed away many years earlier on September the 20th 1897.
In 1950 the Theatre was still operating mainly as a variety
venue but with a sprinkling of resident rep, and touring shows.
Sadly, after a major fire in 1960, the Theatre was forced to close down for the final time and most of the building was subsequently demolished, leaving only the Facade standing.
By 1968 the Facade had also succumbed to demolition.
From the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme June 6th, 1938
Above - The 1905 rebuilt Theatre Royal, Stockport in a photograph taken in 1938 - From the Theatre's Jubilee Programme, June 6th, 1938.
They take us back well into the days of gas and the limelight - limelight made on the premises and stored in a large tank; to the times when the battens were worked with a running flash and thousands of burners were used; when the auditorium was lit by a massive Sunlight, and Tallow Jack with a long pole, a thick taper and his familiar by-your-leave, used to push his way through the audience to light it.
Right - The Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme, June 6th, 1938, from which this article is reproduced.
And even in 1888 - those fifty years' ago - William John Revill had had the theatre in his very blood for years. Lessee of that great social rendezvous of its day, the Rosherville Gardens, London, and later Chairman of the Old Mogul Music Hall, Drury Lane - now the palatial Winter Gardens Theatre - he eventually came to Ashton-under-Lyne, where he had the old theatre in Church Street.
But the immediate story began on Friday, August 26th, 1887, when the People's Opera House was in flames, and William John Revill made an agonisingly slow journey from one of his theatres in Macclesfield in the guard's van of a goods train stopped specially for him by sympathetic authorities. As the train lumbered nearer, he saw the flames rising to heaven, rushed at long last to the scene; and there he met his staff, who, in distraction, besought him to believe that they were blameless and offered the consolation that they had, at least, saved the piano.
The People's Opera House was gutted.
There remained of it only the piano and the four outer walls. These latter, of enormous thickness and with a cavity between the inner and outer walls in which a man could walk, had withstood the fire.
Mr. Revill's response to the catastrophe was the immediate promise that he would build for Stockport a theatre that should, indeed, be worthy of the town. Frank Matcham, a young architect, was invited to proceed with designs. The choice was daringmuch about Mr. Revill was daringbut, launched thus upon his first theatre, Frank Matcham later built the Coliseum, London, the Hippodrome, Manchester, etc.
Left - Page 1 of the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme, June 6th, 1938, from which this article is reproduced.
The work progressed; the promise to Stockport was fulfilled and, in June, 1888, over the ashes of the old building, rose the Theatre Royal.
Time has sped. The press and public of that day were impressed; the local authorities voiced their appreciation of the worthiness of the building and of the elaborate precautions taken for the safety of the public. But the basic soundness of young Frank Matcham's design is to-day attested by praise from the B.B.C. of the acoustic properties of the building; while St. John Ervine, eminent theatre critic and playwright, declared only recently that nothing in modern theatre architecture had produced better seeing and hearing than the design of which the horse-shoe circle is the feature, and of which the Theatre Royal is a perfect example.
And so the present Proprietors, the grandchildren of William John Revill, look back into fifty continuous years at the Theatre Royal, during which the theatrical entertainment, as it has matured and progressed since those days, has been maintained unbroken in its sequence and variety.
Uninterruptedly during that time also, the Theatre Royal has been held in private owner ship by the Revill family, who, directly and personally, have run the theatre and held themselves accountable to its patrons for their entertainment. And such intimacy has this engendered that a number of old friends grandchildren of the original regular attenders come week after week, some having booked the same seat for the same night every week for dozens of years pastand that regardless of what the show happened to be.
This warm, personal friendship has been the happy heritage of the family. It is highly treasured. And the Proprietors, in making grateful acknowledgment of the goodwill and confidence, which they have had in such rich measure, ask old friends and new to be assured that it is done, waiving all formality, with a sincerity which is deep and very personal.
At one time, the family owned and ran more theatres than any other family in the land. They included, to mention just a few, Stockport, Ashton-under-Lyne, Macclesfield, Bury, Rochdale, Wigan, St. Helens, Sheffield, Derby, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Stoke Newington, Holloway . . .
And what theatrical history could be written in Stockport alone from the days of the People's Opera House ! For instance, it was William Revill who first set back the Pit, created the Pit Stalls, and so bridged the wide price gap between the Orchestra Stalls and Pit. On the night of their introduction there was a mild demonstration by the Pit-ites against the new arrangement; but very shortly afterwards William Revill's " Bob Stalls " had been adopted throughout the country.
Then, curious to recall, was the beginning of the queue system in Stockport. Old theatregoers will possibly remember the mighty rush from the street, the disorderly scramble inwards, as soon as the doors were opened. Queues met a frigid reception. On the first night, a mere dozen people stood sheepishly in line; the large mass of the audience was in groups nearby. They attempted, unsuccessfully, to rush the door, and continued these attempts for several weeks. To queue is now a commonplace of modern life.
Personalities come to mind. Anecdotes of merriment and misadventure, of the fun and japings of old actors, have travelled far and wide from the Theatre Royal, for there has persisted just that robust intimacy between audience and stage which so enriches theatre life for the artist. And old cronies of the stage, whose day is now done, recall with warmth of heart, and with many a smile that is good to see, the doings and the drolleries of their days with us.
Among these is Charles Dillon and his spoonerisms. One example of them which has gone far afield is the line in Richard III. which ought to have been, " Stand back, My Lord, and let the coffin pass." Instead, he gave us, " Stand back, My Lord, and let the parson cough."
There was Jimmy West, Stockport-born probably in Higher Hillgate clog-dancer champion of the world, and veritably a genius as a harlequin. Then Dan Leno, who often appeared on the Stockport stage, held the championship. He and his parents were members of William Revill's stock company; and on one occasion took part in a pantomime, produced at a few days' notice, in which Dan doubled the part of the Cat and Idle Jack.
Earlier, Alfred Vance, the " Great Vance," highest paid artist of his day to appear in Stockport, met a critical reception with his Cockney songs. G. H. Macdermott, who sang " We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do " was much more to the liking of his audiences. He made a great hit.
Pantomimes produced by William Revill vied with those of Manchester. Beautiful transformation scenes were features of them. They often took some minutes to reveal, for their many cloths and ground rows rising in the flies and sinking down under the stage were elaborate. Even yet the Theatre Royal is fully and ingeniously equipped with trap doors.
Few modern stages have this machinery. The old trap scene is no longer used; indeed, there are very few pantomimists left who could work traps. Only the famous Lupino's or the Lane family come to mind as capable of sustaining this exhausting routine.
Yet it used to cause roars of laughter to see the Sprite,the improll down the centre of the stage, disappear through the Grave Trap and immediately afterwards fly up into the air through the Vamp Trap. Devereaux Cawdrey's leaps through the scenery were uncanny. He was an unusually clever pantomimist; he once closed the scene at Stockport by springing into the air through the Vamp Trap and disappearing into the flies, leaving the men chasing him looking in wonder at the ceiling. His was an outstanding exhibition.
On his retirement, Cawdrey became equally noteworthy as a stage layer or designer. He designed, and laid for the Revill's in 1891, the stage at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne. That stage is also fully equipped with traps, graves, sinks and rises.
In more recent years, Rolando Martin, an adroit trap worker, will be recalled at Stockport; but it is now more than twenty years since the traps were fully used. A pity !
While the Theatre Royal was still under construction, Mr. Revill engaged as scenic artist Alfred T. Brown, and the engagement continued for a number of years. Brown afterwards became recognised as one of the leading scenic artists in the world. Testimony to that is the fine work he did under the name of Alfred Terrain for Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and at Drury Lane.
The musical director at that time was Fred Revill, uncle of the present owners, and a remarkably fine pianist. George Dean followed him. He used to compose most of the pantomime music. Among their successors, and meriting recall, was William Pickard, whose piece, " CHINESE PAGODA," is frequently broadcast. Another is Herbert Steele, the well-known broadcasting organist. And Ewart Green must certainly not be omitted. The excellence of his orchestra has been fully attested by the discriminating.
To snatch brief glimpses from down among those dimmer years in this intimate, homely way is interesting. And to recall the sturdy loyalty of succeeding generations; the old faces, who, up to a year or two ago, instead of asking for admission to the Pit asked for " Body," a survival of the People's Opera House days; to see maintained the close contact between audience and stage, is, indeed, heartening to the Proprietors. It has been their happy lot to offer, and Stockport to possess, a theatre which so soundly contributed to that.
At the outset, the designers knew accurately, and did not exceed, the limitations of the human voice. The Theatre Royal is one of the best in the country in which to speak. There is no straining by the artist, his voice travels without forcing and in full richness of modulation, to every part of the auditorium. He is, therefore, able to give, and the audience to receive equally without strain, his very best.
And the stage and its equipment is ample for the most ambitious productions. For example, the Drury Lane Production, " THE WHIP," paid three visits. In it, four horses, each on a separate track, galloped on the stage at forty miles an hour, while an immense panorama behind revolved at equal speed. Then, in the same show, there occured that wonderful railway scene in which the horse-box, with The Whip inside it, was shunted. It was coupled on to the rear of a passenger coachwhich appeared on the stage with its due complement of passengersand then released and left adrift on the main line in the track of the oncoming express.
The realism of it all, the way in which the horse was got from the box, with only breathless seconds to spare before the express crashed into it and rolled on its side, belching steam and smoke, is thrilling to reconjure in mind.
There were twenty loads of scenery and baggage for this production. It took over fifty hands to work the stage effects; but, and noteworthy, no interval, even including that after the train smash, exceeded ten minutes.
Still bigger productions have been staged : " WHITE HEATHER," with its under-the sea episode; Chapman's Zoo Circus, with thirty cages of wild animals; " THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER," in which there were five steeplechasers taking fences and water jumps in the Grand National scene; Moody Manners doing the Brocken scene in " FAUST " for the first time on any, stage in the provinces; the extraordinary earthquake scene in " CLAUDIAN," when the crashings of the crumbling pillars drew crowds outside in curiosity and alarm as to what was taking place within; the opera company brought by H. B. Phillips, with its thirty-six loads of scenery and baggage...
Proud memories, these; a testament in themselves to the excellence of the stage management and to the genius of the Revill family. For, in the days when an occasional visit of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company or an Opera-Bouffe playing " THE OLD GUARD " or " THE GRAND DUCHESS," were the only relief from stock companies and variety, the family was exercising its peculiar acumen in finding real and vital talent. To-day, the B.B.C. pays Stockport the tribute of putting Revill entertainment fare to the nation on the air.
And, moving ever forward with the town's advancement, the proprietors have already acquired adjacent land sufficient to build to double the present size. William John Revill promised Stockport a theatre truly worthy of the town. The Revill family maintains its pledges of 1888 in 1938. Fifty wonderful years !
COME BACK WITH
US A WHILE
From the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme, June 6th, 1938
1889 Meantime, glance for a minute or two as old favourites, thrills, notabilities and events pass in recollection: Brinsley Sheridan, for instance, who, in 1889, played in " GRELLY'S MONEY." Augustus Harris presented " HUMAN NATURE " from Drury Lane, when there were 300 people on the stage for the victory march of the troops through London. Charles Melville, handsomest actor of his day, appeared in " CRIMES OF PARIS." " DOROTHY," comic opera, drew packed houses with a shade temperature outside of well over 80 degrees.
1890 The famous American actress, Miss Grace Hawthorne, brought a magnificent production, " THEODORA," and the pantomime season lasted eight weeks in bitter, arctic weather.
1891 Louis Calvert brought Miss Edith Blair Staples,
of St o c k p o r t, in " PROOF." They made a local record
in receipts. Sheil Barry gave a memorable performance of Gaspard in
" LES CLOCHES DE CORNEVILLE "; the same play was given some
weeks later by a company of childrenmany of whom afterwards became
famousunder Harry Battersby.
1893 D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company broke its previous records with " THE VICAR OF BRAY " and " HADDON HALL." Pantomime was popular, immensely so, for Revill's Company from the Ashton-under-Lyne theatre played " THE FORTY THIEVES" in March and at midsummer " DICK WHITTINGTON " was produced. Fred Frederick's " THE R OS E OF ALHAMBRA " included the song and lance " Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."
1894 "RED RIDINGHOOD " brought by the Milton-Rays broke existing records for the theatre, Maxim guns were used for the first time on the stage in the Drury Lane drama " A LIFE OF PLEASURE." Arthur Jefferson, the famous father of Stan Laurel, of Laurel-and-Hardy fame, produced " THE WORLD'S VERDICT."
1895 Direct from Brazil came " CHARLEY'S AUNT " the first of many visits. In " THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER," from Drury Lane, there occurred the very realistic reproduction of the race for the Grand National. " BLUEBEARD " ran for eight weeks.
1896 Really memorable was the first visit of W. W. Kelly's " ROYAL DIVORCE." William Revill produced the pantomime which was fated to be his last.
1897 The house was hardly one-third full on the opening night of Wilson Barrett's " THE SIGN OF THE CROSS "; before the week ended all records had been broken. Phillip Cunningham made a magnificent figure in " MARCUS." On Wednesday, September 20th, during the visit of the play " THE LAND OF THE LIVING," Mr. William John Revill passed away.
1898 Hundreds were turned away every night after Monday from " THE GEISHA." Auguste van Biene was disappointed with the reception of his " THE BROKEN MELODY," and told the audience so on the Saturday night. " THE PRISONER OF ZENDA " did good business. In Milton Ray's " DON QUIXOTE " was Robert Hale, father of Sonny and Binnie Hale. " WHITE HEATHER," with the original Drury Lane scenery, was stupendous. But outstanding was the first visit of the Moody-Manners' Opera Company, with Charles Manners and Fanny Moody. " THE BELLE OF NEW YORK," then in its heyday, irritated Stockport with its Americanisms.
1899 Milton Bode had two wonderful weeks with " JACK THE GIANT KILLER." William Cromwell came as Wun Hi in " THE GEISHA." There was the first visit of Frank Lindo, father of the famous Olga Lindo with his repertoire Cmpany. " NO CROSS, NO CROWN," with Mr. & Mrs. William Giffard, went straight to the hearts of the audiences. Charles Macdona, brother of the rector of Cheadle, played in his own production, " THE NEW MEPHISTO." Then the Moody-Manners came back, with fifty of an orchestra and a hundred people on the stage: " THE AMBER WITCH," " THE PURITAN'S DAUGHTER" and "MASANIELLO," with E. C. Hedmondt, John Childs, Charles Manners, Fanny Moody and the rest caused the music-lovers of the district to flock to hear them.
1900 " LA POUPEE," with Midge Clarke as the doll, came for the first time. The theatre was closed for structural alterations from June until August 20th. Shortly afterwards came " THE RUNAWAY GIRL " which gave us the well-remembered " Oh ! Listen to the Band !" The celebrated Miss Fortesque came with her repertoire and told us from the stage that she never wished to play in a prettier theatre or before more appreciative audiences. Ada Blanche and C. Aubrey Smiththe one famous as the Drury Lane principal boy, the other as a film actorappeared in " THE TELEPHONE GIRL;" and " A CHINESE HONEYMOON " was performed two years before its run of a thousand performances at the Strand Theatre, London.
1901 Statham Staples, member of an old Stockport family, came as Li in George Edwardes' company presenting " SAN TOY." Ethel Irving played Dudley; she afterwards became one of the world's greatest emotional actresses. And there was Gilbert Porteous as Yen How. They were great. In M'KENNA'S FLIRTATION," M'Kenna's daughter was played by Lily Elsie, a young girl then, but a few years later world-renowned in " THE MERRY WIDOW." Fred Karno, who married a Stockport lady, presented " HIS MAJESTY'S GUESTS," and Fred Kitchen played the part for the first week on any stage.
1902 Among Milton Ray's caste in "ALADDIN " were Nellie Wallace Phil. Ray, the abbreviated comedian, Susie Bevan, Malcolm Scott, Downs and Langford. When " M'KENNA'S FLIRTATION " returned, Harry Weldon was in the caste. H. A. Saintsbury appeared as Sherlock Holmes, and the part of Billy, his page boy, was taken by a lad, none other than Charlie Chaplin.
1903 The first visit of " A FACE AT THE WINDOW " thrilled everybody; and the Milton Rays produced " ROBINSON CRUSOE " with Mona Vivian. Dan Roylat appeared in " HIS MAJESTY'S GUESTS." But the event of the season was the first venture of the Stockport Garrick Society at the Theatre Royal in " THE MERCHANT OF VENICE " and " TWELFTH NIGHT."
1904 George Edwardes brought "A COUNTRY GIRL " for the first time. And Auguste van Biene, returned with " THE BROKEN MELODY," apologised for his stricture of 1898. It will be recalled that he went down into the orchestra and played the big drum. He drew remarkable houses.
1905 The Stockport Garrick Society did " THE RIVALS " and " THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR." There was the first visit of " THE CINGALEE." And the Stockport Operatic Society opened at the Theatre Royal a series of productions which, in thirty years, were interrupted only during the Great War. They gave " THE MIKADO " and " THE GONDOLIERS."
1907 Wee Georgie Wood appeared on Easter Monday in " THE SLEEPING BEAUTY "; and Sam Livesey, who subsequently made his name on the films, produced " THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH." Lewis Waller, matinee idol, presented magnificently " ROBIN HOOD "; in the title role was Ethelbert Edwards, or, more familiarly, Henry Edwards, now celebrated as an actor and film producer.
1908 Seymour Hicks gave us " THE CATCH OF THE SEASON," then running in London with the Dare Sisters; and " MONTE CHRISTO " was produced by Junius Booth, a descendant of Booth, the actor, who shot President Lincoln. Pantomimes flourished as usual.
1909 "DICK WHITTINGTON," with Edna Latonne, broke records. " MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING " and " ARMS AND THE MAN," done by the Stockport Garrick Society, were splendid. Moody-Manners played " MADAME BUTTERFLY " for the first time locally; and " THE MERRY WIDOW " packed the house.
1910 First visits of " MISS HOOK OF HOLLAND " and " OUR MISS GIBBS." With " ALADDIN " as Christmas pantomime.
1911 George Edwardes brought " THE DOLLAR PRINCESS." And " THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER," one of the finest of the pre-war comic operas, pleased Stockport immensely. Then came " THE WHIP "; the production was so costly that prices of admission had to be increased.
1912 The first production to be given twice nightly was " UNDER THE CZAR," which began its run on 29th April. " THE WHIP " came again, then the delightful " QUAKER GIRL."
1913 The " House Full " boards had to be put out for " THE WALTZ DREAM." And Edwin T. Hey's Company won all hearts with " HINDLE WAKES." " BUNTY PULLS THE STRINGS did not pull. But George Edwardes' " GIPSY LOVE " was great.
1914 " A WALTZ DREAM," " PRINCESS CAPRICE," the O'Mara Opera Company, "OH ! OH ! DELPHINE," " THE GIRL IN THE TAXI," " OH ! I SAY " and then the nightmare of war had us in its grip. It drove nearly all the big companies off the road, and the task of finding suitable attractions fell heavily upon Mr. Charles Revill. But the first visit of " THE MARRIAGE MARKET " did well; and with such fare as " THE ARCADIANS," " THE DOLLAR PRINCESS " and " HINDLE WAKES," wholesome relief was provided from the grimness of the times.
1915 "ELIZA COMES TO STAY " was a big attraction, but " BABY MINE " was not so well received. A very long season of plays given twice nightlyold favourites, mostly--helped to relieve the strain and tedium of the waiting days, then as a happy climax came the visit of Potash and Perlmutter. The first big revue to be staged at the Theatre Royal, " TOWN TOPICS," followed.
1916 " PEG 0' MY HEART " arrived; George Edwardes brought "BETTY" for the first time. The Daylight Saving Bill and the coincidence with it of the first Amusement Tax were twin trials for theatre managers.
1917 Out of a choice selectionincluding " HOBSON'S CHOICE "the production of Ibsen's " GHOSTS " proved the most sensational. The Christmas fare was " BEAUTY AND THE BEAST," with pantomimeas everin the front rank of popularity.
Above - The Theatre Royal, Stockport - From a Programme for the Theatre in 1918
1918 Three names . . . " THE MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS " . . . " DAMAGED GOODS " . . . " THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY." They took the town by storm. Revue began to rank first in attraction. Gracie Fields came in " IT'S A BARGAIN." And, strangely, the delirium of the Armistice occurred during the production of " HAPPY DAYS." The audiences went frantic with joy.
Right - A Programme for 'As Long As We Know' at the Theatre Royal, Stockport on December the 19th, 1918, with Jack Hastings, Pat Walcott, Miss Molly Lyons, Miss Flo Johnson, Miss Dorothy Glenn, Colly Clare, Miss Dolly Hicks, Adam Cooks and Miss Hilda Fern. The General manager at the time of this programme in 1918 was Jack Hastings but the overall owner of the Theatre and Manager, was Mr. Charles Revill. The Theatre's programme states that the Theatre Royal in Stockport was 'The Premier Theatre of Cheshire.'
1919 The first visits of " DADDY LONG LEGS," "THREE WEEKS," " HIGH JINKS," " THE LUCK OF THE NAVY," " THE BOY," and " THE MAN FROM TORONTO." Violet Vanbrugh appeared in " TRIMMED IN SCARLET."
1920 In early spring, Sir George Dance brought " YES UNCLE." D'Oyly Carte did well again. There was also the first visit of " ROMANCE."
1921 "THE MERRY WIDOW " and " GIPSY LOVE " were delightful to see again; but the event of the spring was " PADDY THE NEXT BEST THING."
1922 The Carl Rosa Opera Company did marvellously, as did George Edwardes' company in " A SOUTHERN MAID." " KISSING TIME " came from the Winter Gardens Theatre, London.
1923 H. B. Phillips brought Lewis James, popular as always in Grand Opera. " THE LILAC DOMINO " and " SALLY " preceded George Edwardes' with " THE LADY OF THE ROSE." In June, the Stockport Waifs and Strays Society produced "SUNSETLAND" and made a nice sum of money.
1924 Alfred Denville's Stock Company played to tremendous houses for eighteen successive weeks. On the last night the audience was roused to a state of hysterical emotion.
1925 " THE MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS," " KATINKA," " MADAM POMPADOUR," " THE MERRY WIDOW "; then a splendid season, lasting twenty-three weeks, of Alfred Denville's Company. D'Oyly Carte brought " RUDDIGORE " for the first time.
1926 There was " THE OFFICERS' MESS,"
" THE NEW WHIRLWIND," and " THE BALKAN PRINCESS,"
followed by twenty-eight weeks' season of the Denville Stock Company.
But outstanding was " KATJA THE DANCER."
1927 "YVONNE" went straight to Stockport's heart. " WHITE CARGO," "ALF'S BUTTON," "A CUCKOO IN THE NEST " and the " NAUGHTY WIFE " all did well. Then " NO, NO, NANETTE " came. " THE RINGER " opened the autumn season. And the subsequent list included " ROOKERY NOOK " and " MERCENARY MARY."
1928 Joseph O'Mara opened the season with "
TALES OF HOFFMAN." George Edwardes brought " THE BLUE
1929 "ROSE MARIE " was a tremendous success. Alfred Denville gave his last season of repertoireit lasted twenty weeks. Additionally, we had the visit of the Savoy Orpheans Band, " WHITE CARGO," " A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS," " SUNNY," and other favourites.
1930 Sir Barry Jackson presented " BIRD IN THE HAND." The O'Mara Opera Company played twice nightly that year. Lieut. Fletcher and his band, " IRENE," " PLUNDER " and " MR. CINDERS " did excellently. The Imperial Russian Ballet Company was received tepidly. Sir Robert Peel brought and conducted his orchestra. Henry Bainton produced Shakespearian repertoire.
1931 "BETTY" returned, and we had a fine production of " THE DESERT SONG." Then came, among others, " MR. WU," " THE TRUTH GAME," " ABIE'S IRISH ROSE "; and amid a long list of variety programmes there was " LILAC TIME " and " BETTY," both again successful. " MOTHER HUBBARD " wound up the year.
1932 In the spring, a season of twice-nightly variety and revue, Syd. Seymour and his " MAD HATTERS," Arthur White, and Fred Roper's Midgets were big attractions. Frank Fortesque ran a very successful Stock season through the summer months. Some excellent variety programmes and revue followed.
1933 Revues and variety
had become the rage. They appeared under many bright titles, such as
" FOLLIES MASQUERADE," " LA BELLE PARISIENNE," "
SUR ET SAIN," etc. Chapman's Circus was a tremendous affair and
did big business. Particularly choice was the sparkling music of Kalman's
" GIPSY PRINCESS."
1937 A year so recent in memory that it is only
necessary to recall " SPLINTERS," the famous Rouge et Noir
Concert Party, " NO, NO, NANETTE," Hughie Green, " RIDGEWAY
PARADE," Harry Korris, Arthur White in another " SAMMY "
adventure. There were those excellent plays produced by the Terrance
Byron Company which found such support in the Stockport Garrick Society.
And then a variety and revue season full of
Above - The attractions on offer on the week of Monday the 6th of June 1938 at the Theatre Royal, Stockport - From the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme June 6th, 1938.
We raise our glasses to you in grateful pledge of your friendship, to wish you health and weal, and in the hope of greeting you again at our Diamond Jubilee.
THE REVILL FAMILY. " Long Live the Stage!"
Written, Designed and Published for Messrs. Revill, the Proprietors of the Theatre Royal, Stockport by Cox Bros. (M/c.) Ltd., 22 Bridge Street, Manchester, 3.
From the Theatre Royal, Stockport's Jubilee Programme June 6th, 1938.
In 1950 the Theatre Royal, Stockport
was still operating mainly as a variety venue
but with a sprinkling of resident rep, and touring shows.
Sadly, after a major fire in 1960, the Theatre was forced to close down for the final time and most of the building was subsequently demolished, leaving only the Facade standing.
By 1968 the Facade had also succumbed to demolition.
The 1851 Theatre Royal, Stockport
Not to be confused with the later Theatre Royal, on St. Peter's Street, Stockport, there was actually an earlier Theatre Royal in the town with the same name. This Theatre Royal opened on June the 9th 1851.
The Theatre was still running in 1854 (See cutting below) but as yet I have no more information on this first Theatre Royal, Stockport.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.
The Davenport Theatre was built by G & W Smith Ltd of Manchester to the designs of Charles Hartley for Mrs. J. C. Burns and her son E. C. Burns. The Theatre opened on the 17th of June 1937. The auditorium, which sported its own Compton Organ, was built on two levels, Stalls and Balcony, and could seat 1,750 in some comfort. Above the Foyer of the Theatre was a Cafe with a dance floor.
Jack Edge took over the Theatre after Mr. Burns died and the Theatre began showing films along with live Theatre, a condition of the sale was that live Theatre should continue in the building despite the new owner being a local Cinema owner.
Apollo leisure took over the Theatre in the mid 1990s but it was not to last and the final performance took place at the Davenport on Sunday March the 9th 1997. The Theatre was demolished later that summer.
For images of the Theatre and much more information on its history see this site.
The Plaza Theatre in Mersey Square, Stockport was designed by the Architect W. Thornley and built for the Reid, Snape and Ward Cinema Circuit as a Super Cinema and Variety Theatre. W. Thornley also designed a number of other Super Cinemas in Greater Manchester. The Theatre opened on the 6th of October 1932 with two films; the first was Laurel and Hardy's 'Jailbird,' and the second; 'Out of the Blue,' starring Gene Gerrard and Jessie Matthews. The Theatre also included a Compton Organ with illuminated decorative glass panels.
The Theatre was built on the site of a former Terrace of Cottages and backed onto the cliff which formed the Mersey Gorge, and was unusual in that most of it was actually built below ground level, the dressings rooms for instance were forty feet below street level. The Theatre also sported a large cafe on the first floor, which was originally richly decorated in the same style as the Egyptian Themed Auditorium, which itself is said to have been inspired by the Paris Exhibition of 1925. The Stage had a working Fly Tower but this only covered the front third because the rest of the stage was situated under the street.
In 1967 the Plaza was converted for Bingo and it is this that has saved the building, like so many others around the country, from an early demolition. Bingo finished at the Theatre in 1998 and although the building was then closed it was granted Listed Status. The Theatres Trust Guide remarked that the Plaza 'is such an important surviving example of Art Deco that it has been considered for acquisition by the National Trust.'
The Theatre was however, taken over by the Stockport Plaza Trust in 2000. At that time the building had been closed for two years and was in severe disrepair with dry rot and water leakage doing major damage to many parts of the Theatre. However, Stockport Metropolitan Council generously provided a grant of £450,000 so that the Trust could purchase the building, and added an extra £50,000 towards repairs.
Then in 2009 a £3.2 million restoration of the building began with £1.9 million coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and further funding from the North West Regional Development Agency, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, and fund raising from the general public. The restoration aimed to bring the 1930s Art Deco building back to its original condition and when the Theatre reopened on the 11th of December 2009 with an old style Cine Variety Gala show the Cinema Theatres Association (CTA) magazine put it simply, 'Magnificent!' they said, and then went on to say, 'That's the only word to describe the Plaza at Stockport... Proper neon has gone back up on the front... Centre stage in the orchestra pit stands the rising organ console, the first Compton organ with a backlit glass surround, which can be made to change colour as the organist plays... In front is the restored illuminated orchestra rail, possibly originally unique in this country and certainly unique now. A replica of the original house tabs has been furnished... The original paybox has been reinstated in the foyer. Over the entrance to the cinema is the tearoom.... the splendid interior returns... CTA magazine.
Praise indeed for the restoration of this once 'sleeping beauty'.
You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.