The Dolphin Theatre, 16-17 New Road, Brighton
Formerly - The Oxford Music Hall / Wright's New Oxford Music Hall / The Brighton Empire / The Coliseum / Court Picture Palace / Her Majesty's Theatre / Paris Continental Cinema
Above - A rare early photograph of New Road and the Empire Theatre, Brighton, later the Dolphin Theatre - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music Hall Society.
Originally on the site of the Dolphin Theatre, Brighton stood a Wine and Spirit Warehouse which was converted into a Music Hall in 1863. This hall, known as the Oxford Music Hall, was destroyed by fire only 5 years later in 1867.
The following year the hall was rebuilt and renamed Writes New Oxford Music Hall. This building was to last a little longer but finally closed in 1891.
Right - A Programme for 'Wishing Well' at The Dolphin Theatre, Brighton in August 1949. Click for details.
Premises next door and space at the rear of the building were then acquired, giving access to Bond Street, and the site was cleared for the building of a new Theatre on this enlarged site. The new Theatre was called the Brighton Empire and had a ornamental Facade, 60 feet long, with three stories of highly decorated scrollwork with historic emblems.
The Empire Theatre opened on the 22nd of August 1892 with a capacity of 1,400 and most of the best known Music Hall artists of the day appeared there including Albert Chevalier, Eugene Stratton, RG Knowles, Dan Leno, Harry Champion, Little Tich, Marie Lloyd and George Robey.
Right - A rare early photograph of the Empire Theatre, Brighton, later the Dolphin Theatre - Courtesy Maurice Friedman, British Music Hall Society.
The Theatre was acquired, in 1902, by Tom Barrasford, whose northern music hall circuit was based at the Hippodrome in Middle Street, and the Theatre was renamed The Coliseum when it reopened as a Variety Theatre in 1909. For a short period the Theatre became known as the Court Picture Palace and was later bought by Gaumont British as one of a chain of 150 Cinemas, showing amongst other features, many of Max Miller's films, of which he made 14 between 1933 and 1942.
In 1945 The Coliseum was bought by John Baxter Somerville, director of the Theatre Royal, Brighton and on May 24 1947 it was reopened as the Dolphin Theatre with a remodeled auditorium by Morgan & Crook and a smaller seating capacity of 850. The Dolphin was used as a repertory theatre, and occasionally for showing films, and was also a regular host to summer shows and Pantomimes. Tony Hancock played an ugly sister there in Cinderella in 1948/49.
In 1952 the Theatre was renamed yet again, this time to Her Majesty's, and continued the tradition of its previous incarnation by producing summer shows and Pantomime but this was quite short lived and the Theatre closed again after a final performance of Beauty and the Beast on January the 20th 1955.
With the demise of Variety, the theatre then reopened as the Paris Continental, specialising in foreign films. It continued as a loss making concern until 2 March 1962 when it finally closed.
A campaign was launched to try and save the Theatre from demolition, supported by many leading actors of the time, including Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Charles Laughton, and there was even a proposal that the Brighton Council should buy it for use as the town's Museum of Costume, but unfortunately this was unsuccessful and the Theatre was finally demolished in 1967.
Some of the above information was kindly sent in by Terry Hardy of the Max Miller Apreciation Society.
After 1945 the Dolphin and the Theatre Royal, Brighton were both managed by J. Baxter Somerville and below is an article by him which was printed in a Programme for 'The Desert Song' at the Theatre Royal, in June 1947.
You and I - by J.B.
One of the penalties of being involved in the front of house or management side of a theatre is that one has little opportunity of knowing whether one's efforts are being appreciated or not. The actors and actresses have their applause at the end of each show, but the rest of us languish unobserved - just occasionally an angry patron threatens us with her umbrella or promises to report us to the local newspaper, or a retired Colonel just home from India says that we ought to be horsewhipped.
Things were pretty blue the other day when a letter arrived from a patron that gave me such pleasure that I wrote off to ask her very kind permission to reproduce it in the programme, to which she replied with another equally charming letter. I hope you will forgive me if I take up the rest of the space this week with the reproduction of the two letters.
Right - A Programme for 'Jack's the Girl' at the Dolphin Theatre during J. Baxter Somerville's management of the Theatre.
Dear " J. B." May 27th, 1947.
May I be one of the many hundreds who will write to thank you for a delightful evening at the Dolphin yesterday?
Your usual astuteness was to the fore, in the choice of a play, sufficiently---fishy " shall we say to tone with the name of the Theatre.
I though it extremely well cast, and admirably acted; one can fully recommend the Show, which I am happy to do frequently, having been a " Theatre Royal " ardent supporter nearly every week for 17 years.
Permit me also to thank you for an added pleasure - your programme chats - I enjoyed reading of the familier friends who make our evenings interesting. Mr. Tupper's cheery greeting, no matter what the weather. The radiance of "Goldilocks" (known as Mrs. Potter) who assures our comfort unfailingly, and last but not least, the joyous serenity of Mrs. Faulkner who even takes the sting from an indifferent Show. Good luck for all the years to come.
Sincerely yours, DOREEN J. DODGSON.
Dear "J. B." June 10th, 1947.
If my humble thanks gave you any pleasure, I am glad! I'd certainly like to do more than just applaud you. Of course, you may quote my previous letter, that's very little to do for you and the The Royal.
How willingly my Husband and I would have helped had we known your need before Whitsun.
I am not suggesting that you open another Theatre yet . . . forgive my temerity in saying that a mouse was quite useful to the Lion, and we still live in Brighton. The last two shows have been a joy.
---But For the Grace of God," with A. E. Matthew's subtlety was a gem.
---Deep are the Roots too, was superb. We are looking forward keenly for to-morrow evening.
Wishing you abundant success,
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