A TREASURED Edwardian theatre in Redditch is to play out celebrations as a century of treading the boards draws near.
And as the Grade II listed Palace Theatre reaches its centenary, many are reflecting that it could have been very different for the millions of people who have worked or been entertained at the Alcester Street venue.
A century of changing tastes saw several incarnations for noted theatre designer Wiliam Robert ‘Bertie’ Crewe’s 1913 opus, including conversion into a roller disco in the 1950s and, later, even a bingo hall.
But it survived the fate of thousands of theatres nationwide, lost for ever as people sought out the new phenomenon of cinema and then other forms of new entertainment.
Luckily, as Redditch began being developed into a ‘new town’ in the late 1960s, Redditch Development Corporation bought and retained the then run-down Palace Theatre. After a few more changes of ownership and use the theatre was handed over to Redditch Urban District Council in 1985. It is currently owned and operated by Redditch Council.
Council leader Bill Hartnett said: “The rarity of original, working theatres today elevates the Palace Theatre beyond being simply an important resource for the local community. It’s a building of national significance and the borough council is proud to support both it and the arts in Redditch.
“We treasure it today but it has been through the mill. It has not all been plain sailing for today’s thriving community theatre that hosts all sorts of things from stand up comedy to speakers to plays and youth theatre productions.”
The theatre is one of just six working examples of 50 theatres wholly attributed to Bertie Crewe, including the flambuoyant 1911 Shaftesbury Theatre and the 1904 rebuild of the Lyceum.
A £4 million renovation in 2005 – the theatre’s fourth – restored the 425-seat theatre to its original glory and added vastly improved facilities. The council invested £3.1 million into the upgrade and the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £920,500. Many features including the windows, lights and decorations were returned to their 1913 design with advice from historical theatre consultant David Wilmore, who researched original styles, features and materials used by Bertie Crewe.
Meanwhile additional modern facilities were built and connected to all three levels of the now restored theatre, including a multipurpose rehearsal and meeting room, foyer, bar, lounge and lift for accessibility.
Details of a packed day of celebrations marking the centenary, set for September 7, are coming soon.