The Gaiety Theatre celebrated its 120th anniversary on 16th July.
Located in the Isle of Man, was another Frank Matcham work; it was a complete renovation of an earlier structure, opening on July 16, 1900. The theatre enjoyed success until the First World War decimated the tourist industry upon which so much of the island’s infrastructure depended. A slow decline continued through the decades, until in 1971 the theatre was slated from demolition; it was saved at the eleventh hour thanks to a vigorous local campaign. The Council’s purchase of the building signified a brighter chapter in the theatre’s checkered history.
The theatre underwent significant improvements but also commenced a decades-long cycle of painstaking restoration, guided by the Theatre manager of the day, Mervin Russell Stokes, who was later made an MBE for his contribution to the project. It was he who, with help, arranged for the funding and closely supervised the work done, carrying out some of it himself, always with a view to strict authenticity, even down to having the original paint colours, wallpaper and carpeting recreated in order to bring the theatre back -as near as possible- to its original appearance.
The Centenary celebrations were able to present a fully-restored gem of a playhouse which is a true jewel in the crown of the island’s community.
Last week the glorious Frank Matcham-designed Richmond Theatre turned 120 years old. On 15th September the theatre held an open day and evening celebration to mark this special occasion.
One of the finest surviving examples of the work of master theatre architect Frank Matcham, the building, externally in red brick with ornate buff terracotta is listed Grade II*. It opened on 18th September 1899, under the name Theatre Royal and Opera House, with a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The auditorium seats 840 on three levels and the ornate auditorium includes beautiful gilding, acres of red plush and luscious plasterwork.
The theatre has had some difficult times, including a period in the 1960s and 70s when it was not certain that it would survive, but thankfully common sense prevailed and the theatre has since gone from strength to strength.
Maintained in beautiful order after a major 1991 refurbishment, the theatre itself is a treat to visit, despite the rather cramped front of house areas and box office corridor; once inside the auditorium enchants you – superbly designed with excellent sight lines at all levels. For those interested, tours take place on a regular basis and can be booked through the theatre’s website here