THEATRE ROYAL NORWICHLast updated: 10-04-2015
- Norwich, Norfolk, Uk
PRE 1955 - PRESENT
There is a long history surrounding the Norwich Theatre Royal dating as far back as 1730 when the Norwich Company of comedians used to meet a street away in the White Swan Inn (demolished 1961). There have been three buildings housing the theatre on the current site since those days, with fire destroying both previous structures.
The one standing today was opened on 30th September 1935 and survived the air raid of June 27th 1942 in which the incendiary bombs that landed on the roof were extinguished. The building next door and the Presbyterian Church on the opposite side of the street were not so lucky. The building itself has been renovated many times since its opening, the last major renovation being in March 2007 joining the theatre to Dencora House.
The period of the theatre’s history we are most interested in is the Essoldo years of 1956 to 1967, the pop years. Essoldo was a Newcastle based chain founded in 1930 by Solomon Sheckman who had started buying up small theatres and cinemas around the country. The company’s name came from the first letters of his family’s Christian names; wife, Esther, Solomon and their daughter Dorothy. It was not clear cut that the venture would succeed as a previous endeavour to introduce movies to the theatre by RL Kemp and J. Will Collins (father of actress Joan Collins) had failed just before Sheckman took on the lease. Sheckman did eventually buy the theatre from its owner Jack Gladwin. It was arguably during these years that the theatre put on its most diverse programme of entertainment, although the wrestling and pop turned the heads of the culture vultures. There are adverts for: drama, comedy, ballet, opera, pantomime, wrestling, feature films (old and new) and pop bands during the Essoldo years.
The package tour promoters of the rock ‘n’ roll and beat boom era, UK and American, booked the chain theatres on mass as it was good business for all concerned, a premium price ticket for what was in most cases a full house for two shows in one night. Among the artists that played here on the visiting tours were: Brenda Lee, The Shadows, Gene Vincent, Chubby Checker, The Searchers, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Cilla Black, Gene Pitney, The Dixie Cups, The Isley Brothers, Billy J Kramer, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Four Seasons and as K-Tel would say many, many more. The one band that escaped were The Beatles, who were provisionally booked to play in the month of March 1964; theatre manager Mr Fuller did not receive confirmation of his booking, this was believed to have been down to the band’s busy filming schedule for A Hard Day’s Night so he booked the Dave Clark Five instead.
In 1965 the chain announces that it will not be renewing its live performance licence and in November that year, apply to change the theatre into a bingo hall, the application is refused. In October 1966 a government enquiry starts into the refusal of this licence by the Norwich Town planning committee. On the 6th April 1967 Norwich City Council buy the theatre from the chain at a cost of £90,000 in the hope of turning it into a multi-purpose civic centre, the plans for which were finally dropped in November 1969. The theatre has continued to put on live music but never in such an all-out contemporary fashion.
For a full history of the theatre visit: theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
The Show Must Go On by Valerie Howard (1977 ISBN 0903619229)