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Theatres in Farnham, on the Surrey Hampshire border

Castle Theatre - Redgrave Theatre

The Castle Theatre, Farnham

Formerly The Farnham Playhouse

The Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley

Above - The Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley

The Castle Theatre in Castle Street, Farnham opened in 1939 and closed in 1974, when it was sold, converted into a restaurant, and replaced by the new Redgrave Theatre. The Redgrave Theatre has been closed since 1998 and, despite much campaigning by local residents, has been under threat of demolition ever since. For more on the Redgrave Theatre see further down on this page.

 

Rep on a Shoestring; Castle Theatre Farnham 1939 - 1974 by Alan Chudley

A Programme for 'Pygmalion' at the Farnham Playhouse in 1940. The Theatre would become known as the Castle Theatre the following year - Courtesy Dai Lesty.A much loved but little known Theatre was The Castle Theatre, Farnham which served this small market town on the Surrey - Hampshire border from 1939 until replaced by the Redgrave Theatre in May of 1974.

The Theatre was housed in what was once a 16th century barn, said to be haunted by a disappointed lover; Jolly Jack Tar, who, having spent several years in the Navy sailing the seven seas, returned to Farnham to claim the hand of his beloved, only to find her married to another, he is thought to have hanged himself in the building. So just like any other theatre worth its salt, the Castle Theatre had a ghost. Within living memory the building had been used as a Army Bath House, A Cinema, A Roller Skating Rink, A Fruit Drinks Factory and last but not least, a Dancing School.

Right - A Programme for 'Pygmalion' at the Farnham Playhouse in 1940. The Theatre would become known as the Castle Theatre the following year - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

Just after the start of World War Two, Laurence Ray and his "English Classical Players," who had been touring Europe, found themselves all dressed up and nowhere to go. Stopping overnight in Farnham, they saw the former Cinema, rented the building and set about turning it into a 176 seat theatre. No way would the Surrey County Council license the building as a public theatre, so it had to operate as a private members theatre club. Laurence Ray opened the Farnham Playhouse on the 5th of December 1939 with; "You Never can Tell" and they gave a 27 week season ending with; "Dangerous Alibi."

 

A Photograph of a scene from act two of 'Hayfever' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

Above - A Photograph of a scene from act two of 'Hayfever' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

 

Farnham Repertory Company Programme for 'Castle in the Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham. - Courtesy Alan Chudley. The next season was not until November 1941, by which time the Theatre had been renamed The Castle Theatre and the company was The Farnham Company. Their first play was; "Ladies in Retirement." Then with many changes of management structure and Artistic Directors this was more or less the way of things to come until the final production; "Free as Air" early in 1974.

A Farnham Repertory Company Programme for 'Castle in the Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham. - Courtesy Alan Chudley. Left and Right - A Farnham Repertory Company Programme for 'Castle in the Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham. - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

It must be remembered that at this time there were no public subsidies plus the fact the Entertainment tax, introduced during the first world war and not rescinded for many years to come, was paid on each ticket sold, and it was not until 1948 that The Farnham Repertory Company was, being a nonprofit distributing company, exempted from this tax.

Seat prices at this time were, 3/6 - 2/6 - 1/6, for the play and a free Gramophone recital. The average weekly take about this time was £108, and the average weekly expenses£125. The difference being made up by denotations from well-wishers, who also provided front of house staff and made cakes for sale in the Theatre's Coffee Bar.

 

A Photograph of a scene from 'She Stoops to Conquer' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

Above - A Photograph of a scene from 'She Stoops to Conquer' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.



Farnham Repertory Company Programme for 'Castle in the Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham.On the 19th May 1948, The Farnham Repertory Co Ltd was launched with 100 shares, the reason for this was that the post war Labour Government had allowed local councils to raise a sixpenny rate to pay for the arts, but the Farnham Repertory Company Co Ltd, did not benefit very much from this law. Soon after, Donald O'Mally, the then artistic director, had a very serious disagreement with the management and resigned, taking most of his company with him.

Right - A Farnham Repertory Company Programme for 'Castle in the Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

A New company under the artistic direction of Peter Gordon was formed and opened with"The Circle." Things began to look upwards and the play made a profit of just over £30, and around this time several players joined the company who later were to make their name on Television, including Peter Byrne, Heather Chasen and Gerald Flood, and Farnham playgoers enjoyed a period of excellent theatre.

In April 1951 Peter Gordon resigned to became a freelance director, and was replaced by Tim Hudson who came from the repertory company at the Preston Hippodrome. What a difference Tim Hudson must have found, the Preston Hippodrome was a very large theatre and one of the three remaining Theatres of "The Bread & Butter Circuit." This circuit founded by William Broadhead had in its heyday 17 theatres.

 

1939 advertisement for the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - A 1939 advertisement for the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

 

Production Photograph of 'Castle Music Hall' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - A Production Photograph of 'Castle Music Hall' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley - Peter Honri is extreme left and two from the right is Granville Saxton.

 

Production Photograph of 'Free As Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley. The Castle Theatre, by contrast was no bigger than a tennis court, with the stage bigger than the 176 seat auditorium. You could stand on a beer crate and touch the ceiling of the stage, which meant that only 8 feet high flats could be used. The lighting was a motley collection of 250 Watt Spotlights and 100 Watt float spotlights controlled by a very small Strand bracket handled switchboard. Tim Hudson had asked for a company of 6 actors, 6 actress's and a stage crew of 3, in fact, he inherited a company who numbered 11 in total.

Right - Production Photograph of 'Free As Air' at the Castle Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

By comparison, when the Redgrave Theatre opened in May 1974 with just a little more then twice the Castle Theatres seating capacity, there was a thrust stage with a revolving centre, there were no flys but suspension was possible from beams 22 feet over the stage, there was an 80 way Strand Threeset lighting control and a large compliment of CCT spotlights, and there were between 40 and 50 people on the Redgrave payroll.

In March 1971, there was another connection with the Bread and Butter Circuit when William Broadhead's Great Grandson, Peter Honri devised and appeared in "Castle Music Hall" ( Peter is second from the right in the production photograph shown above Centre.) Musicals were something the Farnham Repertory Company excelled in, and still remembered are, "Me and My Girl," "Salad Days," "Free as Air," and at the Redgrave; "The Fantastics," and "Carbaret." And I am by no means alone in preferring the Farnham musicals to the Musicals presented in the West End of London.

 

A Photograph of a scene from 'Suspect' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

Above - A Photograph of a scene from 'Suspect' at the Farnham Playhouse - Courtesy Dai Lesty.

 

On a personal note I was offered the post as Master Carpenter at the Castle Theatre in 1970, I could not accept this post as the salary offered was well below the salary I was receiving as a joiner in the workshops of the now defunct firm of R Holford & Co Ltd. It was this firm that built the Redgrave Theatre, so I was involved in the building of the Redgrave Theatre too.

Text above kindly written especially for this site by Alan Chudley.

 

The Redgrave Theatre, East Street, Farnham

Architects drawings from Redgrave Theatre Publicity handouts - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - Architects drawings from Redgrave Theatre Publicity handouts - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

The opening night programme for the Redgrave Theatre; 'Romeo & Juliet' on the 29th of May 1974.The Redgrave Theatre, in East Street, Farnham was opened by Princess Margaret on the 29th of May 1974 with a production of "Romeo & Juliet." This was a modern, purpose built Theatre, built to replace the Castle Theatre, Farnham, and named after the actor Sir Michael Redgrave.

Right - The opening night programme for the Redgrave Theatre; 'Romeo & Juliet' on the 29th of May 1974.

The Redgrave was a very busy little Theatre in its short life with regular repertory seasons and a multitude of plays and Musical productions staged there.

Redgrave Theatre Appeal,
From the opening night programme 29th of may 1974

The Redgrave Theatre has been funded largely through the goodwill of the community which it serves. Many of you will have already subscribed to the Redgrave Theatre Appeal, and feel justly proud of the result.

Programme for "Twelfth Night" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham in March 1984 - Courtesy Alan ChudleyA theatre, however, is very much like a house in that not only does it require maintenance, but there are always additions to the furnishings and equipment which have to be made from time to time. In view of this, and also of the fact that there is a financial gap, albeit small, to be bridged to meet the initial cost, this theatre is still in need of funds.

Left - A Programme for "Twelfth Night" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham in March 1984 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Programme for "Cabaret" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham  - Courtesy Alan Chudley. If you have not contributed, and would like to do so, may I recommend the following worthwhile and valuable ways of helping:

A covenant of £10 per annum for seven years, or a donation of £100, makes the donor a FOUNDER MEMBER, with PRIORITY BOOKING FACILITIES.

A covenant of £15 p.a. for seven years, or donation of £150 gives the donor the additional right to NAME A SEAT in the theatre.

Right - A Programme for "Cabaret" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

A covenant of £100 p.a. for seven years, or a donation of £1,000 or more, makes the donor a BENEFACTOR of the theatre.

I hope you enjoy the theatre: please come again.

Michael Griffiths.

 

The Redgrave Theatre Auditorium and Stage - From the now defunct Strand Electric publication "Tabs." The stage setting is of the opening Redgrave Theatre production of "Romeo & Juliet" in May 1974 - Courtesy Alan Chudley. The Redgrave Theatre Auditorium and Stage - From the now defunct Strand Electric publication "Tabs." The stage setting is of the opening Redgrave Theatre production of "Romeo & Juliet" in May 1974 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Above - The Redgrave Theatre Auditorium and Stage - From the now defunct Strand Electric publication "Tabs." The stage setting is of the opening Redgrave Theatre production of "Romeo & Juliet" in May 1974 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.


The Redgrave Theatre's Stage Management Control - From the now defunct Strand Electric publication "Tabs" in 1974 - Courtesy Alan Chudley. Programme for "The Entertainer" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham in March 1984 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.Left - The Redgrave Theatre's Stage Management Control - From the now defunct Strand Electric publication "Tabs" in 1974 - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

Right - A Programme for "The Entertainer" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

 

But by the 1990s everything began to change. Repertory was abandoned and after closing down completely for a while Waverley Borough Council took over the Theatre and begun showing films, and housing various plays with scant interest from the locals.

Programme for "The Rivals" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.By 1998 the Theatre had closed for good and the Council decided that the Theatre was of no more use and produced plans to demolish the building. However The Farnham Theatre Association (FTA), which was formed in 2005 took on the fight to save the Redgrave or to at least make sure that it was replaced in the town.

Left - A Programme for "The Rivals" at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham - Courtesy Alan Chudley.

They raised £12,000 for a theatre report and business study by a leading theatre consultant to demonstrate that a theatre in Farnham could be viable even without Local Authority funding. The FTA say that Waverley Borough Council have received over 2000 objections three times in the last year to each of the developers sets of plans for the demolition of the Redgrave which were proposed by Crest Nicholson Sainsbury. The FTA say that they will continue the fight to stop the newly scaled down scheme for East Street, as it still does not contain a theatre. A new planning application is expected in the Spring of 2008.

FTA information courtesy Anne Cooper (Chairman FTA Ltd.)

 

You may find the following pages from this site of interest: