The Grand Theatre, Corporation Street, Birmingham
Later - The Grand Theatre of Varieties / Grand Cinema / Grand Casino Ballroom
Above - An early photograph showing the Grand Theatre and King's Hall, Birmingham - Courtesy William Neale
The Grand Theatre was situated next door to the later (1907) King's Hall on Birmingham's Corporation Street and opened on Wednesday the 14th of November 1883 with an evening of three productions; Williams' 'Ici on Parle Francais', Morton's 'Good as Gold', and Brenton's 'At the Seaside'. The Theatre was designed by W. H. Ward and built for A. Melville by Messrs Bradney and Co. The Theatre had a capacity of 2,200 on four levels, Stalls, Two Circles, and Gallery, plus boxes.
Right - An early 1900s programme front for the Grand Theatre of Varieties, Birmingham - Courtesy William Neale.
The ERA printed a report of the Theatre in their 17th of November 1883 edition saying:- 'The splendid structure erected for Mr A. Melville in Corporation-street, Birmingham, has at length received its finishing touches, and was opened with great eclat on Wednesday night, under the patronage of the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, President of the Board of Trade, and in the presence of the elite of the town and neighbourhood. Imposing in exterior, and with perfect internal arrangements, the New Grand may claim to be put in the same category as the best appointed and most commodious theatre in the world. Its architectural features are remarkable for grandeur, combined with the display of rare ingenuity in providing for the comfort of both of spectators and performers, and their safety in case of fire or panic. For Mr W. H. Ward, the architect, no praise can be too high, for as far as the rearing a home for the drama is concerned, he may take credit for having achieved a veritable triumph.
The main entrance opens into a spacious crush room, from which two wide and fire-proof staircases lead to the lower and upper circle. These are so constructed, in regard to the other portions of the building, that a person seated or standing in any part of may command a perfect view of the stage.
The lower circle is luxuriously fitted up, the folding seats being upholstered in crimson velvet, and so made as to afford the most perfect comfort. The passages are wide enough to allow of convenient ingress and egress, and between the wall and the circle partition is a spacious promenade, giving access to the refreshment buffets, smoking rooms, and lavatories, which are here provided on an exceptionally liberal scale.
The smoking rooms are in reality elegant lounges, and are furnished in a luxurious style in keeping with the appointments in the auditorium. The upper circle is in all respects similar to the lower, with the exception that the folding chairs are a trifle smaller, and are not quite so richly upholstered. Access to the pit is obtained by two entrances - one on either side of the main entrance - and here again ample passages and large double-folding doors give every guarantee that danger from crushing has been reduced to a minimum.
No theatre in the kingdom has a larger pit than this, and the floor is so gradated that a person seated at the extreme back, under the lower circle, has as good a view of the stage as one located immediately behind the orchestra. The gallery is approached from James Watt-street, which runs parallel with Corporation street, and in this part of the house also the greatest care has been taken to ensure the comfort and the safety of the "gods.'' Indeed, it may remarked that both for allowing rapid egress and for extinguishing fire the arrangements in all parts of the house are the most perfect that thoughtfulness can suggest or ingenuity devise.
Above - Programme Details for a Variety Performance at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham on Monday the 1st of December 1919, with Vesta Tilley topping the Bill.
The division between the stage and the auditorium is completely fireproof, and the dressing-rooms of the performers are separated from the stage by strong brick walls; while in all parts of the house powerful nozzles and hoses are placed in readiness for any emergency. All these arrangements have been carried out under the personal supervision of Mr Tozer, superintendent of the Birmingham Fire Brigade, and are such as to have evoked warm encomiums from the bench of magistrates who on Saturday last granted Mr Melville a licence for the theatre.
There are eight private boxes, of unusually large dimensions and elaborateness of interior, and from all of them there is a full view of the stage. The orchestra, which is constructed to accommodate forty performers, is sunk so that the members of the band may pass in and out without obstructing the view or diverting the attention of the audience.
It will readily be imagined that in a theatre the dimensions of which have thus been roughly indicated a magnificent stage has been provided. The "flies," reaching to the roof, are so high as to do away with the necessity of rolling up any of the scenery, all of which, if it has not to go into the cellar, is carried into the flies by means of pulleys. The cellar is of great depth, and will admit of any set scene being put up and brought at once upon the stage - the entire floor of the latter being removable if required - thus obviating "waits." The wings on each side of the stage have been specially designed to give ample space for the storage of spectacular adjuncts, and are of such dimensions that anything the stage can hold can be easily turned round in either of the side docks.
Right - A Programme for 'Much Ado About Nothing' at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham for Monday, October 7th, 1901.
The machinery is very extensive and of the most approved type, and the gas arrangements are of a special and novel kind. The system adopted is that of Messrs. Vaughan and Brown, of Hatton-garden, who are introducing the same into the Alhambra. It includes pilot, and flash arrangements by which the whole house can be lighted at the same moment, and the stage placed in full or semi-darkness by the simple turning of a key.
In close proximity to the stage is the accommodation which has been provided for the comfort of the artists engaged. It consists of a green-room, a number of ladies' and gentlemen's dressing-rooms, a ballet-room, two painting-rooms, &c.
The decorative treatment of the proscenium, ceiling, and front of the balconies is of an ornate and elaborate character, the work having been executed by Messrs Pashley, Newton, and Young, London. An enormous sun-light is placed under the dome, and handsome brackets in the circles and under the lowest balcony. The curtain is made of Utrecht velvet, being similar to that introduced by Mr Irving to the Lyceum. The act-drop, painted by Mr A. Whyatt, represents a charming scene in the sunny south, where the Isle la Bella seems to rest on the placid bosom of Lake Maggiore, a castellated pile looks threateningly down from the summit of an adjacent mountain, and a quiet Italian village lies between the mountain and the lake.
Above - Photograph of the Grand Theatre of Varieties, Corporation St. Birmingham
Special attention has been paid to the ventilation of the theatre, a number of air shafts in various parts of the building keeping up a continual supply of pure, and carrying off the vitiated, air. The builders were Messrs Bradney and Co.; the stage and mechanical appliances were designed by Mr E. T. Wilson, and constructed by Mr W. Robinson; the folding seats in the dress circle have been supplied by Mr S. S. Lyon (London), and those in the upper circle by Mr A. R. Dean (Birmingham), who has also done the general upholstering.
Three-quarters of an hour before the opening of the doors on Wednesday night a large crowd had assembled at the entrance to the pit and gallery, and very shortly after the theatre was opened all parts of the house were rapidly filled. Amongst the first to arrive were Mr Jese Collings, M.P., and Mr E. 0. Smith (town clerk of Birmingham). The Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, who was expected to be present, sent a telegram at the last moment expressing his regret at being unable to attend, and a wish to patronise a performance in January at which he definitely promised to give his presence.
The performance commenced with Williams's popular farce 'Ici on Parle Francais' , in which Mr Emm (Mr A. Melville) took the part of Spriggins. His get-up was not in accordance with what frequent players had been accustomed to associate with the character, but his acting was exceedingly amusing, and he invested the part with a lively humour that elicited roars of laughter.
Morton's comedy-drama Good as Gold (originally played at the Olympic Theatre, London, under the title of All that Glitters), followed. The amusing character Toby Twinkle was admirably played by Mr A. Emm, and the rest of the cast almost without exception was in excellent hands. Special mention ought to be made of the acting of Mr F. Wilton as Sir Arthur Lassel. The performance concluded with a new musical improbability (as it is called), by Mr F. Brenton, entitled At the Seaside. The plot of the piece is very ingenious, and turns upon three outcast servants, through mistaking the number of a bathing machine, becoming appareled in the clothes of three gentlemen, who are on a visit to a Mr and Mrs Pepperpod at a seaside resort. Mr Pepperpod is the guardian of three young ladies, whom he has designed to be married to a student, a sailor, and a soldier. In these three guises the three applicants for situations appear at Mr Pepperpod's house, and, being looked upon by that most worthy individual as his expected visitors, they are introduced to his wards as eligible suitors. Subsequently the really expected guests arrive, attired, it need hardly be said, in the coarse wardrobe of the three servants, and complications arise from which an infinity of fun is extracted. In the end, of course, all is explained, and matters end satisfactorily. Several popular songs are introduced into the piece, which is interspersed with some lively music. The characters were all well sustained, and at the fall of the curtain the audience testified their approval by emphatic demonstrations. Mr A. Melville, in response, appeared in front of the footlights, and in a few well-chosen words introduced himself to the audience, at the same time thanking them for the manner in which they had received his first night's performance.'
Above - A Photograph of the King's Hall and the Grand Theatre, Birmingham whilst the Grand was in use as a Casino in the 1950s or 60s - Courtesy William Neale.
Right - A programme for 'The Red Lamp' in 1928 at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy Peter Lawson whose grandfather Billy Lawson, was in the production and is shown in a cast photograph on the Norwich Hippodrome page here.
The Theatre ran as a Variety Theatre until it was closed in 1930 and converted into a Cinema which opened on the 1st of September that year with the film 'All Quiet On The Western Front.'
Left - A 1920s Variety Poster for the Grand Theatre, Birmingham - Courtesy Matt Felkin.
Surprisingly for the period the building did not remain in Cinema use for very long, closing down on the 13th of May 1933, and then remaining closed for several years until it was reopened by Mecca Dancing as the Grand Casino Ballroom.
The building continued in this guise for 30 years but closed in 1960 and was demolished in 1963.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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