FEATURE: Theatre to celebrate 50th anniversary of re-opening after devastating fire

PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:45 11 July 2019

Keys to the Playhouse handed to the Mayor.     Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Keys to the Playhouse handed to the Mayor. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Archant

Weston's biggest theatre venue has marked its 50th anniversary since opening its doors after being gutted by a devastating overnight inferno.

Re-opened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'.  08-07-1969

       
Picture: WESTON MERCURYRe-opened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'. 08-07-1969 Picture: WESTON MERCURY

The Playhouse's team is celebrating the best of its 50-year history with a one-off Gala Night.

The venue's manager is also offering up 50 pairs of tickets to watch any of the theatre's shows in the next year.

The Playhouse - from early beginnings to roaring fire

The Playhouse, in High Street, has hosted a number of performers over the years, from comedy greats like Jimmy Carr and Jack Dee to ballet companies such as the Vienna Festival Ballet Company.

But it was not always a theatre. The Playhouse started life back in 1904 as a market hall, which opened shortly after the Knightstone Pavilion.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

It was not until 1946, just after World War Two, that a 500-seat entertainment venue was designed.

For the next 18 years, The Playhouse provided host to a variety of entertainment acts, including Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse and Ken Dodd.

But in the early hours of August 22, 1964, a fire destroyed most of the theatre, leaving behind charred remains and some walls - which were demolished.

Re-opened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'.  08-07-1969

       
Picture: WESTON MERCURYRe-opened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'. 08-07-1969 Picture: WESTON MERCURY

The reopening

After five years of hard work, a new theatre which was branded 'the most modern theatre in the West of England' by the architects was opened, costing £230,000.

Reopened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'.  08-07-1969
Picture: WESTON MERCURYReopened Playhouse theatre - production of 'Let sleeping Wives Lie'. 08-07-1969 Picture: WESTON MERCURY

The venue - which had been undertaken by architects Messrs W S Hatrell and Partners who designed the Questors Theatre in Ealing - had a near-700-seat auditorium and took two years to build.

It opened with a performance from the Brian Rix Company of the comedy Let Sleeping Wives Lie - which ran for 14 weeks.

The new theatre was handed over into the care of Weston Borough Council, although the formal opening of the theatre and its inauguration was set to take place on September 15, 1969.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

The gala night

To celebrate the official reopening of The Playhouse, a one-off gala night will be held, with all money raised going to The Friends Of The Playhouse.

General manager Mark Thompson said the evening will be a 'celebration of the past 50 years of the Playhouse and Weston arts'.

He added: "We have put the best of Weston's homegrown talent side by side for an evening of celebration as we take a trip down memory lane and try to recreate some of the most iconic moments from the past 50 years.

"The show will launch with the hugely talented Weston Operatic taking the stage with a scene from My Fair Lady, a show in which the operatic actually performed in 1969, the year in which the newly built venue first opened its doors.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

"The evening will then follow a timeline from that date right the way through as others recreate moments throughout the past 50 years."

Worle Operatic and Dramatic Society will recreate its 1984 show, Fiddler On The Roof.

There will also be performances from rising stars Kezia Povey, who made it to the judges' houses stage of the X Factor, and jazz star Eleazar King.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Mark added: "It is really about reflection, celebration and having a little party to thank everyone who has contributed to the venue over the past 50 years."

The gala night will be held on September 6 at 7.30pm.

Tickets, priced £12-14.50, are available at www.theplayhouse.co.uk or on 01934 645544.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Friends Of The Playhouse

The gala will also celebrate the work of The Friends Of The Playhouse who work 'tirelessly' to support the venue with fundraising.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.
Picture: WESTON MERCURYWeston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre. Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Mark said: "The Friends will have, by the end of this year, invested a staggering £250,000 into the venue since it formed.

"It is a lovely tie in that, this year, they will have raised more money than the original cost of the theatre.

"The Friends is the heart of our venue, they keep the spirit alive and offer a welcoming faces to all who attend year after year.

Preview pictures of the new Weston Playhouse interior. 30-06-1969
Picture: WESTON MERCURYPreview pictures of the new Weston Playhouse interior. 30-06-1969 Picture: WESTON MERCURY

"It is easy to forget The Playhouse is one of the few venues in the UK which receives no local public funding at all and therefore works tirelessly to ensure it continues to offer the service and best of live entertainment to the community."

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