- Blackpool Grand Theatre
Blackpool Grand Theatre is probably the oldest and best-known
theatrein the town of Blackpool, England. Since 2006, the theatre is also now known as the National Theatre of Variety.
The Grand was designed by the famous Victorian theatre architect
Frank Matchamand was opened in 1894 after a construction period of about nine months. The project was conceived and financed by local theatre manager Thomas Sergenson who had been using the site of the Grand for several years to stage a circus. Sergenson's successful directorship of the theatre ended in 1909 when he sold the operation to the Blackpool TowerCompany for a considerable profit.
The success of the Grand continued through the
First World Warand on until the 1930s. The theatre now faced stiff competition from the newly introduced talking movies and the building was operated as a cinema outside the tourist season (ie, during the winter). This practice continued until 1938 when the nearby Opera House was constructed.
The Grand was able to stay open during the
Second World Warbut the post-war rise in the popularity of televisionwas probably the cause of the theatre's dwindling popularity toward the 1960s. Incredibly, plans were filed for the demolition of the historic site in 1972 but the Grand's status as a Grade II* listed building prevented this from taking place. An agreement was reached with the Grand's owners, EMI, that a refurbishment of the the now-unused building would take place if it could be used as a bingo hall. After three years of this use, a group called the Friends of the Grand with the support of Blackpool Borough Councilnegotiated to lease and eventually buy the theatre back from EMI over a period of a few years. The purchase was complete by 1 October 1980and a refurbishment, achieved partly through voluntary effort, was begun. Finally, on 23 March 1981the Grand re-opened as a theatre once again to stage an Old Vicperformance of Shakespeare's " The Merchant of Venice" featuring the distinguished British actors Timothy Westand Prunella Scales. The theatre's return was further confirmed in May of the same year when a Royal Variety Performance was staged in the presence of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.
Since the early 1980s, the popularity of the theatre has increased and the Grand's future seems secure. The theatre saw its centenary in 1994 and a restoration project was begun in the 1990s that is expected to be complete in 2007 after fifteen years of work and about £3million of investment.
In 2006, the Grand was named the UK's National Theatre of Variety. The title being awarded nationally by Equity who staged an all-star gala performance to celebrate the theatre's new accolade.
Since reopening in 1981, the Board of Directors of Blackpool Grand Theatre Trust Limited, theatre proprietors, has been led by Chairmen John Hodgson (to 1981), W Geoffrey Thompson OBE (1982-1993), Samuel G Lee (1993-2003) and David Coupe (2003-). The Grand has been managed and programmed by a succession of theatre managers: Brendan Sweeney (1981), John Shedwick (1982-1988), Paul Iles (1988-1992; 2005-2007), Will Queket (1993-1994), Danny Moar (1995-1996), Stephanie Sirr (1997-2001), and Peter Cutchie (2002-2005).
* [http://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk The Grand Theatre, Blackpool] - the Grand Theatre's official website.
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