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The New Alexandra Theatre, Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham

Formerly - The Lyceum Theatre, John Bright Street

Birmingham Index

A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham today - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham today - Click to Interact

The Lyceum Theatre, Birmingham - From an illustration in the Playgoer of 1901 / 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham's Suffolk Street Queensway originally opened as the Lyceum Theatre on the 27th of May 1901.

Right - A sketch of the Lyceum Theatre, John Bright Street, Birmingham - From an illustration in the Playgoer of 1901 / 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

The Theatre was originally designed by the architects Owen and Ward and built at a cost of £10,000 with its original entrance situated on John Bright Street.

Grace Housley - Courtesy Dave Smith.One of the early performers at the Lyceum was Grace Anne (Gracie) Housley (shown left) who died on stage at the Theatre on the 5th of February 1902, at the age of 22. Newspaper reports of the time said that she collapsed during the rendition of the song 'Goodbye Dolly Grey'.

The Lyceum Theatre was not very successful and was sold only a year after being built to Lester Collingwood for £4,450 and then renamed the Alexandra Theatre, reopening on the 22nd of December 1902 with a performance of 'The Fatal Wedding', see details below.

The Alexandra Theatre

An early postcard showing John Bright Street and the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

Above - An early postcard showing John Bright Street and the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music hall Society.

A Birmingham Alexandra Theatre programme cover for the pantomime 'Red Riding Hood' in 1932 - Courtesy William Neale.The following Christmas the first Pantomime was put on at the Theatre and the Stage Newspaper reported on the event in their 31st of December 1903 edition saying:- 'Mr. Collingwood has every reason to feel satisfied with the grateful reception of his first Christmas annual, though, after a cursory glance at the list of principals engaged, it needed little perspicacity to predict an extremely popular success.

Right - A Birmingham Alexandra Theatre programme cover for the pantomime 'Red Riding Hood' in 1932 - Courtesy William Neale.

Although fun and catchy melody are - wisely enough - salient features in Aladdin, the enterprising management has by no means neglected the spectacular aspect of the show. In view of the fitting opportunity the subject affords for the display of Oriental magnificence, it is only natural that the scenic, artist, costumier, and electrician should vie with the comedians and fair artiste in contributing to the brilliance of the ensemble. Let us at once say that in all the above respects Aladdin will be worthily remembered...' - The Stage Newspaper, 31st December 1903.

A Ringed Farthing advertising the Alexandra Theatre production of 'Aladdin' - Courtesy Alan Judd A Ringed Farthing advertising the Alexandra Theatre production of 'Aladdin' - Courtesy Alan Judd

 

Above - A Ringed Farthing advertising the Alexandra Theatre production of 'Aladdin' - Courtesy Alan Judd

An advertisement in the Stage Newspaper for 'Guilty Gold' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in June 1907.The following month the Stage was still enthusing over the production in their January 14th 1904 edition saying:- 'Aladdin continues to fill this popular house with crowded and enthusiastic audiences. The pantomime is as full of fun as an egg is of meat. There is not a dull moment from start to finish, thanks to the energetic manner in which the hardworking and capable Co. set to work

Right - An advertisement in the Stage Newspaper for 'Guilty Gold' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in June 1907.

A Seating Plan for the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre from a 1932 programme for the pantomime 'Red Riding Hood' in 1932 - Courtesy William Neale. Miss Minnie Jeffs is the bright particular star in the artistic firmament at the John Bright Street house, and her position is worthily maintained. Her song, "Yellow Bird," is one of the most noticeable successes in Birmingham this season, while "Cosy Corner" and "Somebody's Sweetheart" are also very much liked.

Left - A Seating Plan for the Birmingham Alexandra Theatre from a 1932 programme for the pantomime 'Red Riding Hood' in 1932 - Courtesy William Neale.

Miss Renee Raybourne has a good song on the inevitable Fiscal question; while others who contribute largely to the success of the pantomime in vocal or other departments are Miss Trixie Toole, Miss Kittie Brewster, Mr. Arthur Aiston, Mr. Oliver J. Round, etc. The clever speciality acts of the Brewester troupe in their lance and sword exercise, also a taking vocal and terpsichorean pas de cinq, are popular features in Mr. Collingwood's merry show.' - The Stage Newspaper, 14th January 1904.

A programme, printed on silk, for Lester Collingwood's 'First Annual Benefit' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham on December 22nd 1903 - Courtesy Brian Yates.

Above - A programme, printed on silk, for Lester Collingwood's 'First Annual Benefit' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham on December 22nd 1903 - Courtesy Brian Yates whose Grandfather Ernie Hall, comedian, is mentioned on the programme. Many of the performers in the Benefit were also in the production of Aladdin at the Alexandra Theatre that year.

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham decked out in flowers and bunting to celebrate the Coronation of George V in June 1911 - Courtesy William Neale

Above - The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham decked out in flowers and bunting to celebrate the Coronation of George V in June 1911 - Courtesy William Neale

The cast of 'Mother Goose' on stage at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in 1911 - Courtesy William Neale

Above - The cast of 'Mother Goose' on stage at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in 1911 - Courtesy William Neale

Poster for the Leon Salberg Pantomime 'Bo-Peep' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham on Boxing Day, Dec 26th. Bo-Peep. - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.Sadly Lester Collingwood was killed in one of the earliest motor-car accidents, in September 1910. He had been on his way to visit the Theatre Royal Sheffield at the time, and was traveling with Tom H. Taylor, a theatrical manager, and Mr. Wooley, the manager of the Criterion Hotel, Birmingham. They were being driven by Collingwood's chauffeur in a 4 seater car and had almost completed their journey when they were in a collision with a telegraph pole on Chesterfield Road, Greenhill, after swerving to avoid a Milk Float pulled by a pony and driven by a 13 year old girl who had lost control of her vehicle. The children escaped injury but the car's passengers were less fortunate. Mr. Wooley was concussed and Lester Collinwood died on the way to hospital. It seems that he was hit by the cart's shaft or mudguard before they hit the telegraph pole.

Right - A Poster for the Leon Salberg Pantomime 'Bo-Peep' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham on Boxing Day, Dec 26th. Undated but probably 1925 as the previous year the same production with a similar cast was performing at the Nottingham Hippodrome. - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

A Flyer showing forthcoming productions at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.After the death of Lester Collinwood Leon Salberg took over the Alexandra Theatre, and in 1927 he started his own Alexandra Repertory Company at the Theatre which performed twice nightly performances for many years.

In 1935 the Theatre was rebuilt in the Art Deco Style by Roland Satchwell and Ernst Roberts, who would also rebuild the Huddersfield Palace the following year. Work began on the reconstruction of the Theatre after the pantomime of Dick Whittington finished its run at the end of March 1935. The work took 9 months and cost £40,000 to complete. The Theatre reopened on Boxing Day, December 1935, with a production of the pantomime Cinderella staring Georgie Wood.

Left - A Flyer showing forthcoming productions at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.

The Birmingham Gazette reported on the changes in their 24th of December 1935 edition saying:- 'Practically everybody who is publicly known in Birmingham was present in the new Alexandra Theatre yesterday after-noon for its formal opening by Mr. J. Smedley Crooke, M.P. for Deritend. The opening ceremony preceded a dress rehearsal performance of the pantomime "Cinderella," the first performance proper of which will be held on the afternoon of Boxing Day. Headed by the Lord Mayor (Alderman S. J. Grey, the audience included most of the members of the City Council, nearly all the chief civic officials, a large number of the leading business men, and representatives of every phase of Birmingham's social and public life.

The new "Alec"

The Birmingham Alexandra Theatre of 1935 pictured on a 1930s Programme cover - Courtesy William Neale.

Above - The Birmingham Alexandra Theatre of 1935 pictured on a 1930s Programme cover - Courtesy William Neale.

Leon Salberg - From the Birmingham Gazette, 24th of December 1935.The first impression of the new theatre is that although everything is new, brighter and bigger, the architect and builder have retained that homliness for which the "Alec" was always noted. The only bit of the old theatre that has been incorporated in the new is the wall in Station-street. The new "Alec" is the most modern theatre in the Midlands, not only in the things that mean comfort for every section of the audience, but in the dignified handling of space and lighting. To begin with it is a third bigger than it was - in other words it is 27 feet broader. This has been accomplished by taking into the auditorium the old rehearsal rooms and scenery dock. The stage, of course, has been widened proportionately. One would expect that with much extra space Mr. Leon Salberg (shown right) would have put in extra seats. He has not. His desire was to utilise it to make the theatre more comfortable. So although the new "Alec" will not accommodate more than the old "full house" quota of just under 1,650, it will give its patrons much more comfort. One of the short-comings of the old theatre was lack of knee-room. That is now but a memory.

Circle Goes Forward - An extraordinary change has been effected in the general appearance of the theatre. Gone are the old boxes, the dress circle has been carried forward so that it is on terms of intimacy with the stage, and yet this forward extension of the first tier does not obstruct the view of the stage from the rear most seats of the pit-stalls. There is not a pillar in the whole house - Technically perhaps one of its most striking features is the magnificent sweep of the dress-circle, the main girder on which it is carried weighs 36 tons...

The auditorium of the rebuilt Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - From the Birmingham Gazette, 10th December 1935.

Above - The auditorium of the rebuilt Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - From the Birmingham Gazette, 10th December 1935.

...There is no "gods" in the new "Alec" - From the dizzy height of the back rows of the upper circle one has the same unobstructed view of the stage and one looks down to it not from the long hard benches of the theatre of yesterday, but from comfortable tip-up arm chairs. The floor is richly carpeted. Such accommodation for the cheapest part of the house was undreamed of a few years ago. Although there is such comparative luxury "up aloft" not a halfpenny has been added to the price of admission. Prices in fact are unchanged all the way round.

A Seating Plan for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in 1935 - Courtesy William Neale.

Above - A Seating Plan for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in 1935 - Courtesy William Neale.

Colour Scheme - The new "Alec" is a decided acquisition to Birmingham's theatreland. It is the last word in modern ideas in every direction. And its colour scheme is gay and lively without having the slightest suggestion of garishness. The seating is carried out in three colours, rose du Barry yellow and grey. The carpeting - there is 1½ miles of it - is rose du Barry, and the walls are covered with a restful shade of fibrous texture paint.

The proscenium arch is 40ft. wide, enabling the whole of the stage to be seen from the extreme seats of the house. Safety has been given the same careful consideration as comfort. It is as fire-proof as is possible for any building to be, for the "shell" is of steel girders, brickwork, and concrete. There is no timber in the roof and the cloak-room accommodation has been planned to avoid any crushing or delay in the after-show rush.'

The above text in quotes (edited) was first published in the Birmingham Gazette, 24th of December 1935.

A Seating Plan for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.

Above - A Seating Plan for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.

A Ticket for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.In 1938 Leon Salberg died at the Theatre during a performance of 'Devonshire Cream.' His son Derek Salberg then took over the reigns and remained at the Theatre until he retired in 1977.

Right - A Ticket for the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the 1960s - Courtesy Roger Fox.

In 1968 the main entrance, which was originally situated on John Bright Street, was changed when a new entrance was built to the designs of the John Madin Design Group.

Still in operation today the Alexandra Theatre was bought by The Ambassador Theatre Group in November 2009 and after some refurbishment they reopened the Theatre as the New Alexandra Theatre. You may like to visit their own website for the Theatre here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.

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