Blackpool Grand Theatre


Blackpool Grand Theatre

Blackpool Grand Theatre is probably the oldest and best-known theatre in the town of Blackpool, England. Since 2006, the theatre is also now known as the National Theatre of Variety.

History

The Grand was designed by the famous Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham and 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 Tower Company for a considerable profit.

The success of the Grand continued through the First World War and 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 War but the post-war rise in the popularity of television was 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 Council negotiated to lease and eventually buy the theatre back from EMI over a period of a few years. The purchase was complete by 1 October 1980 and a refurbishment, achieved partly through voluntary effort, was begun. Finally, on 23 March 1981 the Grand re-opened as a theatre once again to stage an Old Vic performance of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" featuring the distinguished British actors Timothy West and 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.

Current status

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).

External links

* [http://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk The Grand Theatre, Blackpool] - the Grand Theatre's official website.


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