Theatres on the Isle of Man
Formerly - The Marina / The Pavilion / The Gaiety Theatre and Opera House
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Click to Interact
The Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, Isle of Man opened on Monday the 16th of July 1900 and was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham. The Theatre, which could accommodate nearly 2,000 people when it opened is today considered one of Matcham's finest surviving Theatres, and his incorporation of parts of the former buildings on the site into this Theatre are considered 'masterful' by the Theatres Trust.
The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, which was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and built on three levels, stalls and pit, and two balconies, with three boxes on either side, was constructed inside the narrow shell of the former Pavilion, which was built by W. J. Rennison in 1893, although even this was predated by the former Marina building on the same site. Matcham also incorporated the former Marina's roof trussing into his new Theatre, and some of the iron work was also reused such as the cast iron columns which went into the construction of the rear stalls of the Theatre.
Above - The Gaiety Theatre and Opera House, Douglas, Isle of Man - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon
Above - The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre and Opera House, Douglas, Isle of Man - From The Playgoer of 1902 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon
The Theatre opened on Monday the 16th of July 1900 and the ERA printed a review of the building and its opening night in their 21st of July 1900 edition saying:- 'At the opening of the new Gaiety Theatre on the Harris-promenade, Douglas, on Monday night, the house was filled by an enthusiastic audience, including the Mayor (Mr Alderman Webb), Deemster Kneen and Mrs and Miss Kneen, the Attorney-General (chairman of the board of directors), and the directors of the Palace and Derby Castle, Limited, the proprietors of the house. Eight members of the Douglas Choral Union appeared in front of the curtain, and to the accompaniment of Mr F. C. Poulter's orchestra sang the National Anthem, the audience joining in the chorus most heartily.
Above - The Proscenium of the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man in 2000 - Courtesy David Garratt
Mr J. A, BROWN said : Ladies and gentlemen,- I must ask you to excuse any trepidation that may appear in me, but you can easily understand that it would try the nerves of most people, and especially of one so utterly unaccustomed to public speaking as I am, to stand up before and speak to such an audience as this but I have been asked by the directors of the Palace and Derby Castle Company, Limited, the owners of this lovely theatre, to bid you a hearty welcome, to extend to you a most cordial greeting to this new temple to the drama, and, as their chairman, I feel myself called upon to obey their behest. I, therefore, greet you one and all, and hope that your presence here this evening may be the happy and pleasant precursor of many happy evenings in the happier times to come. Some three or four years ago a company was formed to bring under one management the principal places of amusement in Douglas, and thus end the ruinous competition which had been indulged in.
Right - The Auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man in 2000 - Courtesy David Garratt.
Amongst the buildings acquired by that company was the Pavilion. We decided that the best thing to do with it was to make it into a theatre. In the olden days, when Douglas was a much more insignificant place than it is now, it had two theatres, and at one time three. We have no desire to enter into undue competition with any existing institution. I assure you that, while wishing to do well for the company, we also wish every success to Mr Hemming. Our arrangements comprise engagements with many of the best London companies obtainable. Our aim will be to keep our prices popular, and to give our patrons every consideration and comfort. The metamorphosis we have effected here has been a very costly operation, but may I venture to hope that, in return for our generosity to the public, we shall have ample reward in the generous appreciation and in the patronage of the public. And now I have only one other thing to do. I wish to introduce to you our architect, Mr Frank Matcham. You all have heard of the epitaph in the great cathedral of St, Paul's, close by the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren.
- Si monument um requiris, circutnspice -
Freely translated, that means, "If you would see his monument, look ye around." I can apply that, truthfully, to Mr Matcham. Cast your eyes around, and from stage to foyer, from pit to sunlight, see a monument to his genius. Foremost amongst the Moderns as a theatrical architect, he has, with the fairy wand of inventive genius, transformed a hideous structure into a building which is a marvellous sample of construction, which is singularly harmonious in design, and which, being a "thing of beauty," may, we hope, also be "a joy for ever."
Mr MATCHAM said : I must apologise for the theatre not being completed. I am very sorry it is not finished, but I hope in a few days everything will be in what we call "apple-pie order." I must thank Mr Brown for his very kind remarks, and I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your appreciation, and I, with you, join in wishing every success to the new theatre. Mr MORTON then recited a prologue.
Mr Frank Matcham, the eminent designer of theatres, has provided seating accommodation for nearly 2,000 people, and every patron of the Gaiety will have a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage. The whole of the hall is decorated in the style of the Italian Rennaissance. The ceiling is particularly artistic, having four painted panels representing the Four Seasons, and in the centre is a large circular light with painted glass, divided by columns and arches. The theatre can be lighted from above this glass, and a most pleasing effect is given.
Above - The auditorium ceiling at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt who says 'The photograph shows the magnificent ceiling, showing the paintings, ornate plaster work, and fabulous stained glass centre, which was researched and reinstated in the 1992 renovations and is now backlit.'
At the sides of the amphitheatre are very handsome covered coves, springing from decorated pilasters, and under these are the private boxes, three on each side, the fronts being draped in blue plush, matching the rich tableau curtains on the stage. The fronts of the circles, the work surrounding the proscenium, and also the ceiling are grounded in delicate tints and lavishly gilded, with painted panels executed by Italian artists, the whole effect being bewilderingly beautiful.
The ground floor of the auditorium is divided into orchestra stalls (or fauteuils) and pit, the former having nearly 200 tip-up seats handsomely upholstered in blue plush, and being carpeted in blue to match, while in the pit there are eighteen rows of comfortable upholstered seats. At the back of the pit is a refreshment lounge fitted up in good taste, The dress-circle has seating accommodation for about 250 guests, and is furnished also in blue with luxurious tip-up seats, and thick carpet on the floor. A new feature is brought out here by the division of the circle into two, the first four rows containing the choicest seats, being separated from what is called the "family circle" behind. Entrance to the front seats is gained through an alcove alongside, and draped similarly to the private boxes.
Right - One of the Mahogany doors at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man. This one is the entrance to the Theatre's Circle - Courtesy David Garratt.
Over the dress-circle are the amphitheatre and gallery, providing accommodation for about 800 people, all within full view and in perfect hearing from the stage. Special attention has been given to the acoustic properties of the new theatre, a feature in which the hall as it was originally constructed was somewhat deficient. The new ceiling and other alterations have now made the building almost all that could be desired in this important particular.
Left - A mosaic at the side of the orchestra pit of the Gaiety Theatre,
Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt.
The theatre possesses a good frontage to the Harris-promenade ; the principal entrances are in the centre of the facade, handsome polished mahogany doors opening into a magnificent square vestibule. Marble staircases lead left and right to a very handsome foyer, from which wide corridors lead to the dress-circle, and thence to the stalls and boxes.
Right - The entrance to the circle of the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt.
The entrances to the other parts of the house are at each side of the main doorway, and all the staircases have polished brass hand-rails, and broad and secure steps. The theatre is constructed principally of concrete and iron, the dress-circle and gallery being supported on the cantilever principle, so that there are no columns to interrupt the view of any one. The building fairly bristles with exits, every floor being provided with two separate staircases and doorways.
Left - A photograph showing the statues supporting the ceiling at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt.
The front of the building will be found altered almost beyond recognition of its former appearance. What was in the old days an open-air balcony is now occupied by the refreshment buffet at the rear of the dress-circle. This apartment is fitted with a circular mahogany bar in the centre of the room, and luxurious lounges surround the walls, and other chairs are placed here and there.
The stage is a very large one, and is divided from the auditorium by a fireproof curtain and iron doors, and the safety of the building from fire is further ensured by the introduction of water hydrants and other fire extinguishing appliances in several places.
The stage floor contains the usual traps and bridges for pantomime and similar performances.
Left and Right - The Corsican Trap, still survives at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Photos Courtesy David Garratt.
The dressing-rooms are at the back, against the Finch-road gable. The theatre throughout may he heated with hot-water pipes and coils, and the whole building lighted, both in the entrances, auditorium, and stage, with the electric light, so that risk of fire is absolutely brought to a minimum. All the doors are fitted with the patent alarm bolts, which resist all efforts to open them from the outside, but give way to the slightest pressure from the inside. There are no barriers to the pay-boxes, patrons of the theatre being taken to the box-office singly by a clever arrangement of doors, which will prevent any crushing, and do not depend upon any one to remove.
The completed structure reflects the greatest credit upon all who have been concerned in it. Messrs Dean and Co. are responsible for the seating, which is most comfortable and luxurious. The act-drop, painted by Mr Hemsley, is a particularly beautiful piece of work, depicting an Eastern Sultan being amused by dancing girls.'
The Gaiety Theatre was used as a Cinema from the 1950s, as were so many other Theatres around the UK at the time, but this Theatre is a rare survivor in that it was returned to live use again and has never been modernised, continuing in almost its original form for over a century. Because of this it eventually became the subject of an extensive restoration project that has been going on since the late 1970s.
Right - A Programme for Don Ellis's 'Palace of Varieties' at the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas - Courtesy Roy Cross. On the Bill were Bill Hutchins and his Gaiety Theatre Quartet, Don Ellis as Chairman, the Moxon Girls, Leslie Lester, Nat Gonella, Julie de Marco, Roy Rolland, Danny Purches, Kitty Gillow, and the Ovaltine Quiz.
In 1978 restoration of the Theatre was begun by Victor Glasstone and various works have been accomplished ever since. In the 1980s the original Stalls / Pit barrier was reinstated and the auditorium's wallpaper was recreated along with replacement box hangings.
Left - The reinstated Barrier between the Fauteuils / Stalls and Pit at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt.
In 1995 the Stucco Facade of the building was restored with renewed gold leaf lettering picking out the Theatre's original name of the Gaiety Theatre and Opera House. The original canopy has also been restored.
Above - The restored Act Drop at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt
The Gaiety is also the proud owner of an original painted Act Drop
by William Hemsley which was restored in 1992 and is, perhaps remarkably
for this day and age, still often used today. The Gaiety's is one of
only 4 act drops still intact, the others are at the Wolverhampton
Grand, the Northampton
Royal, and the Adelina Patti
Theatre near Swansea.
The auditorium of the Theatre was originally ventilated by a central Sunburner and lit by a glass rosary laylight which formed a circle around it, made up of sixteen segments. This too was restored in 1992 when one of the glass petals was discovered, albeit shattered, in the roof void above the auditorium.
Above - A model showing the workings of the Corsican Trap at the Gaiety Theatre, Isle of Man - Courtesy David Garratt
The Theatre's stage which is 50 foot deep by over 45 foot wide has also been extensively restored and is now home to the only working example of a Corsican Trap, once common everywhere but all of which have since been destroyed. There is more information and video of the trap in operation here.
You may like to visit the Gaiety Theatre's own website here.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Later - The Grand Picturedrome / The Regal Cinema
Above - A watercolour of the Grand Theatre, Isle of Man - From a programme for 'A Runaway Girl' at the Theatre on the 16th of September 1901
The Grand Theatre, Douglas, Isle of Man was built in 1888 and designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham, who would go on to design the Gaiety Theatre in Douglas some twelve years later. The Grand Theatre opened on Tuesday the 28th of August 1888 with William Bourne's 'Man to Man.' The Theatre was actually a rebuild from an earlier Theatre on the same site, and the new complex, shown in the watercolour above, also included an Hotel and apparently even Salt Water Baths.
The ERA printed a short review of the new Theatre in their 1st of September 1888 edition saying:' This handsome establishment was opened on Tuesday night for the season. The interior, even in its unfinished state, already presents a charming appearance. The design is most original. The acoustic properties of the house are gold, and the taste displayed in the decorations is exquisite. The theatre was well filled by the time the band took possession of the orchestra, and, after the National Anthem, an enthusiastic cheer welcomed the raising of the fire proof curtain.
Right - A Programme Mr. Mouillot's Company in Seymour Hicks' and Harry Nicholls' 'A Runaway Girl' at the Grand Theatre, Isle of Man on the 16th of September 1901.
Mr William Bourne's Man to Man company (who, by a strange coincidence, gave the last performance at the old theatre) is an excellent one, and its members appeared to special advantage on this occasion. After the railway collision scene, Mr Hemming, (shown in programme right) in response to loud calls, appeared before the curtain and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to tender to you the heartiest of welcomes to our new Grand Theatre. I also wish to thank you for the kind indulgence you have shown to-night is connection with the few little hitches that have taken place in the performance. When I tell you that it is only a few hours ago that a number of local gentlemen, who had come to look at the theatre, gave it as their opinion that it would be utterly impossible to open the house at the advertised time, you will understand some of the difficulties we have had to contend with. I must confess that I am myself astonished at the wonderful progress that has been made, and it is the least I can do to pay a high tribute to the workmen for the exertions they displayed. As you can see, however, we are nothing like finished; and this I venture to say, that, when we are, with decorations, new furniture, new scenery, and `all the rest of it,' the result will reflect credit upon the architect, Mr Matcham, and upon the proprietor, Mr Thomas Lightfoot. When any question of expense has arisen he has said, 'Never mind the brass! Let us have a good theatre.' I welcome you to the new Grand Theatre, and hope that we may meet here frequently for many years to come."'
Above - A Programme Mr. Mouillot's Company in Seymour Hicks' and Harry Nicholls' 'A Runaway Girl' at the Grand Theatre, Isle of Man on the 16th of September 1901.
In John Belchem's 'New History of the Isle of Man 1830 - 1999' he says that Thomas Lightfoot had to sell the town's tramway in order to fund the building of the Grand Theatre and Grand Hotel. Belchem goes on to say that the Grand Theatre was rebuilt as a Cinema in the 1930s.
Cinema in fact had been part of the variety entertainment at the Grand from the early 1900s and by around 1909 the Theatre had even been renamed the Grand Picturedrome. But eventually the Theatre's live theatre days were truly over when it was rebuilt internally as the New Regal Cinema in 1934, opening on the 28th of June 1935. The design for the rebuilding was by the architectural firm W. H. Lomas & Barrett and its architect Norman Barrett.
The new Cinema had its own Compton 3 Manual / 6Ranks cinema organ to accompany the films. A photograph showing the Regal Cinema can be found on the excellent Cinema Treasures Website here and shows that the exterior at least remained as it did in the Grand Theatre's live theatre days.
Sadly even this came to an end eventually when the Cinema was closed in 1983 and demolished. Today a building called Celtic House stands on the site of the former Grand Theatre / Regal Cinema, although the building to its right, shown in the watercolour above, and in the photograph right, still survives.
Right - A photograph from February 2016 showing the building which originally stood next to the Grand Theatre / Regal Cinema and still survives today - Courtesy Trish McDonough.
To the left of the former Grand Theatre stood the Grand Hotel, also demolished in 1983, this formed part of the whole Complex of buildings originally constructed in 1888, one of the Towers of the former Hotel wasn't removed until the late 1990s however, and the photographs below shows the gap left by the Tower, and also the present day Celtic House which stands on the site of the former Grand Theatre. A building called Jubilee House stands on the site of the former Grand Hotel today, and a car park currently situated behind the building forms the extent of the former Hotel's entire site.
Above - A photograph showing Celtic House which stands on the site of the former Grand Theatre / Regal Cinema in February 2016 - Courtesy Trish McDonough.
Above - A Photograph showing part of Jubilee House, and Celtic House in February 2016 - Courtesy Trish McDonough. To the left of the photo is Jubilee House which stands on the site of the former Grand Hotel, next to it is the gap left by one of the towers of the former Hotel, which was not removed until the late 1990s, next to this is Celtic House which stands on the site of the former Grand Theatre / Regal Cinema, and next to this is the only part of the building, shown in the Watercolour above, which still survives today.
Above - A Google StreetView Image showing Jubilee House, which stands on the site of the former Grand Hotel, and Celtic House which stands on the site of the former Grand Theatre - Click to Interact. Also visible in this image is the Jubilee Clock which is shown in the Watercolour image of the Grand Theatre above.
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
Formerly - The Bijou Theatre / The Mona Theatre / The Empire Electric Theatre
Above - The former Bijou Theatre / Empire Theatre, Douglas, Isle of Man in February 2016 - Courtesy Trish McDonough.
The Empire Theatre, Douglas, was built by the respected photographer S. Lees above a row of shops and originally opened as the Bijou Theatre in May 1893. Due to financial difficulties the Theatre soon came under new management and was reopened as the Mona Theatre showing Dysons Pictures and a Myriorama. The Theatre was then taken over by Charles Dare and reopened as the Empire Theatre in 1905. The Theatre's original horseshoe shaped auditorium and its stage were converted for Cinema use in 1907 and the building reopened as the Empire Electric Theatre. The building was then further altered in 1913.
In 1929 the Theatre closed when the owners had difficulties renewing
their licence due to the cost of renting 'Talkie' prints and renovation
work that needed to be carried out. The building was then used for a
variety of functions including restaurants, various clubs, and a Disco.
Although the auditorium and facade of the Theatre, and the shop premises
below, survived through all these changes, and the building was earmarked
for demolition in 2004, in 2016 it was still standing, see photograph
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
The ERA carried a notice for the New Promenade Circus in Douglas, in their 1st of September 1888 edition saying: 'This new place of amusement, which is under the management of Mr J. H. Elphinstone, is doing really good business. The building is really a fine one, all the exits being admirably arranged. Mr Elphinstone has taken care to engage excellent talent, with the best results.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: