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The Haymarket Theatre, Wote Street, Basingstoke

Formerly - The Corn Exchange / The Grand / The Grand Exchange Cinema

The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1993 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

Above - The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1993 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

The Haymarket Theatre is situated on Wote Street in Basingstoke and was originally constructed as the Town's Corn Exchange building in 1865, at a cost of £4,000. The Corn Exchange continued in this form into the 1900s and was often turned over to other uses such as being a Public Meeting Hall where famously, General Booth addressed the Salvation Army Rally in 1880. It was also sometimes used for plays and public performances, and was even used as a roller skating rink between 1910 and 1913, when it had a polished marble floor.

A Google StreetView image the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke today - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView image the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke today - Click to Interact.

In 1913 the building was turned over to variety use as The Grand Exchange Cinema, under its then proprietor George Casey, who presented silent films and Music Hall, and later the first 'Talkie' pictures.

A Google StreetView 360 degree view of the Auditorium of the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke today - Click to Interact.In 1925 the interior was destroyed by fire, which was ironic as the Town's Fire Engine was housed in the basement. The exterior however, survived and the building was soon rebuilt with the interior remodeled as a Theatre, it reopened as the Grand with seating for 598 people.

Left - A Google StreetView 360 degree view of the Auditorium of the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke today - Click to Interact.

Basingstoke Council carried out repairs and redecorated the Theatre in 1940, and added a small foyer and bar, and then from 1940 to 1950 Will Hammer Theatres Ltd., ran the building, Hammer being famous of course nowadays for its Hammer Horror Films.

Alan Chudley writes on this period saying:- 'When I worked in the Aldershot Hippodrome in the 1940s, I often, as was the wont of young assistant electricians, apt to act the clown, only to be told by Jack Soles the dayman there; "You will finish up at the Grand Basingstoke, my lad." The Grand Basingstoke, at the time under the direction of Will Hammer, was the Daddy of all Daisy Dates; The Aldershot Hippodrome, one of the better Number two Theatres, vanished many years ago; the Grand Basingstoke, refurbished as the Haymarket Theatre is still a working Theatre. - Text extract from Mansfield Theatres - Kindly written for this site by Alan Chudley.

When Hammer's lease expired the Council were keen for the building to be used for the right purposes and they rejected several applications until The Basingstoke Theatre Trust was formed to take over the building. It reopened as the Haymarket Theatre in 1951 and was run mostly by a group of 100 volunteers called the Haymakers, chaired by Margaret Wheeler, with Joy Harris as Chair of the Trust. The Theatre would often be open for only a few days a week and sometimes closed for weeks, and was mostly home to amateur productions by the likes of the Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society, the Basingstoke Operatic Society, and the Basingstoke Choral Society. The Theatre was also home to a popular Gang Show every two years.

Guy Slater as Mark Anthony in 1975 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.In 1973 the Council offered the Haymarket to its first professional Company, run at the time by Guy Slater who would later go on to write and direct for the BBC. In the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme Guy Slater recalls the day the actors arrived:- "We were working out of a caravan in Red Lion Yard. I had arranged for the members of the company to be collected from the railway station in a horse and cart. The skies opened and everyone got soaked - I went over budget inside half an hour by buying a bottle of brandy!"

Right - Guy Slater as Mark Anthony in 1975 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

Guy Slater was the first in a long line of notable Directors to work at the Haymarket Theatre. He was followed by Tony Craven, Ian Mullins, and Adrian Reynolds. Peter Cushing was one of the first 'Stars' to perform at the Haymarket, in a production of 'The Heiress' and said that it was one of the happiest times he had had in theatre and a highlight of his career. Other stars to perform there in the early days were Timothy West, Derek Jacobi, Nyree Dawn-Porter, Richard Murdoch, and Prunella Scales who was a former member of the board at the Theatre.

Michael Ball in 'Lark Rise' at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1985 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.Michael Ball would also grace the Theatre's stage in several productions and played the lead in 'Pirates of Penzance there which proved to be a stepping stone to his West End Career in Musical Theatre. In the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme Michael is quoted as saying:- 'The Haymarket had a tremendous atmosphere and was a great training ground for me.'

Left - Michael Ball in 'Lark Rise' at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1985 - From the Theatre's 1993 Souvenir Programme - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

The Haymarket was remodeled in 1983 and then again in June 1992 when the interior took on a more modern design from the plans of the architect partnership of Renton, Howard Wood Levin. This involved creating a new steel and concrete Horse Shoe shaped auditorium within the old structure, adding a new circle, better ventilation, two new bars, a restaurant, and a computerised box office. At the same time original plasterwork and ceiling decorations were restored and lit to 'emphasise the difference between the old and the new'.

The Souvenir Programme for the reopening of the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1993 - Courtesy Piers Caunter.The stage was also improved and increased in size by bringing the proscenium forward by over three metres, and widening it by nine metres. The stage house was enhanced at the same time and larger wings were incorporated, and a new orchestra pit was constructed under the forestage which could be lowered to reveal it. A new iron curtain, constructed in two halves, was also installed, with a view of Basingstoke painted on it. The newly refurbished Haymarket Theatre reopened in 1993.

Right - The Souvenir Programme for the reopening of the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1993 - Courtesy Piers Caunter.

The Anvil Trust took over the management of The Haymarket Theatre in 2006 and it is currently run by Anvil Arts who also run The Anvil and The Forge in Basingstoke, two combined Theatre spaces which opened in May 1994. You may like to visit Anvil Arts own website here.

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