The Palace Theatre, 20 Clarendon Road, Watford
Formerly - The Palace Theatre of Varieties
Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Watford Palace Theatre - Click to Interact
The Palace Theatre was built on a meadow in Clarendon Road in 1908. The architect was H. M. Theobold, and was constructed for the Watford Theatre Co, at a cost of £6000, by builders Messrs Baker Brothers (who had recently built the Palace Theatre in Maidstone). There was some opposition from the local residents of Clarendon Road, but the Theatre was built, and opened as a Music Hall called The Watford Palace of Varieties.
It was a originally a plain gable ended building. However, in 1910 the Theatre was improved by extending the building. A new façade of red brick was built with a tower at each side surmounted by a cupola. In 1911 further alterations took place and the front rebuilt. The gallery was built above the circle. Prior to this, the gallery was situated to the rear of the circle on the same level. The stage boxes were enlarged, and the proscenium, boxes, and circle front were decorated in fibrous plaster work, carried out by Messrs Barr & Co. A circle bar was also created with the foyer and pay box being placed under the circle. Next door to the Theatre, on the corner of the remaining meadow land, a skating rink had been built and run as a subsidiary company. This was later converted to be a cinema. However, in the 1911 alterations some office space for the Theatre was also created inside this cinema.
The Theatre's auditorium consisted of stalls, circle and gallery and there was an orchestra pit. The orchestral stalls seats were in old gold and the stalls and circle seating was of red plush. The auditorium ceiling was panelled, constructed of embossed Bessomer Steel, and the circle and gallery each had their own separate staircases. The Theatre was carpeted in red and blue. Three hundred lamps lit the Theatre with a secondary emergency system of gas lighting. The original seating capacity was 1,000. The stage dimensions were 50 feet wide by 25 feet deep with a fireproof curtain and iron safety pass doors.
The Theatre opened on Monday the 14th of December 1908 and would be a twice nightly Theatre. Mr T. M. Sylvester was the managing proprietor and planned to present Pantomime, Music Hall, and musical comedy.
On Opening night the overture was conducted by Mr G. Whittington and the curtain rose to reveal the Watford Artisans Band who played the National Anthem. The variety programme proceeded this featuring Mr Edward Crossland's Melody Makers (a musical act consisting of four piano's and six vocalists.) This was followed by a comical scene entitled 'The Burglars Dream', which was much appreciated. Next to perform was Mr Tom Bass, followed by Miss Ivy Aberdare (a Coon singer and buck dancer). Next to appear were 'The Page and the Gent' another sketch featuring the John Tucker company. This was followed by the Alberto Troupe equalibrists, consisting of three ladies and one gentleman. Oliver Conroy - eccentric comedian followed. Finally 'The Second Mrs Chester' was played. This depicted Jack Chesters London Flat and featured Mr George Taylor as Jack Chester, Mr Ernest Cole as Parker, Mr Sidney Bedford as Percy Pimple, Mr David Urquhart as Major Chester, and Miss Bessy Bedford as Mabel Dearlove.
Mr Charles Watson was the acting Manager and this was the third Theatre he had managed for Mr Sylvester. The Theatre presented Music Hall / Variety weekly, and Pantomime at Christmas.
During the first world war the first plays were produced at the Theatre, with the companies of Herbert Shelley, Kenneth Duffield and Henry Baynton, but proper repertory began in 1932 under Alfred Denville. There was weekly rep throughout the second World War period.
In 1929 an application was made for a Seven day license in order to present Sunday League Concerts at the Theatre. There was some opposition, alleging that the concerts would contain course jokes and rudeness. However the License was granted on the grounds that the allegation was hearsay and nothing when questioned could be proved.
In 1935 Repertory was being presented by the Edward Nelson Players.
In March 1939 Andrew Melville began his management in Repertory opening with 'Touch Wood' by Dodie Smith, on a once nightly basis. The producer was David Marsh and the company consisted of Winifred Wright, Lawrence Shiel, Aimee Delamain, Jose Huntly Wright, Wyndham Milligan, John Oxford and Humphrey Lestocq.
Besides weekly Repertory Andrew Melville also presented Christmas Pantomimes, including, in 1940, 'Queen of Hearts' with scenery designed and painted by Cecil Coruforth, in 1942 'Dick Whittington', 1947 'Babes in the Wood,' 1949 'Puss in Boots', and in 1950 Beauty and the Beast' with Hilda Campbell Russell and Iris Villiers in the cast.
On the 8th May 1950 The Melvilles repertory company reached it's 500th production and presented 'Edward My Son.'
The owner Manager in 1956 was Jimmy Perry.
Right - A production photograph for 'Pretty as Paint' - Courtesy David Garratt. The show was a James Perry Productions Ltd musical which was staged at the Watford Palace before going out on tour, visiting Leicester's Royal Opera House on the week of the 22nd of February 1960. A musical farce with music by Alan Haines, arranged by Frank Spencer, and played by the Frank Spencer Quartet. Settings were by Jack Phillips. The photo of the cast reads from left to right as follows. Front Row: - Policeman - Alan Barry, Jasmine Dee, Peter Sinclair, Gilda Perry, Bertram Heyhoe. Back row: - Bob Grant, John Clegg, and Jimmy Perry.
The first grant awarded by Watford Corporation happened in 1960, with annual assistance then up until 1964, when Jimmy Perry approached the Watford Corporation with the idea of transferring the Theatre lease into Civic Hands. The Corporation agreed, took over the management of the Theatre, and formed the Watford Civic Theatre Trust Limited.
Gilda and James Perry had kept the Theatre open for almost 20 years of repertory seasons and presented a farewell show entitled 'Hello Watford, Goodbye.' However they were to return each Christmas to direct the Pantomime.
Appointed to the Council of Watford Civic Trust were Michael Codron, who joined Pieter Rogers (the former General Manager at Chichester Festival Theatres), and Dr Charles Rotman, who was medical adviser to the Green Room Club together with members of Watford Borough Council.
Prior to the Theatre's re-opening as a Civic Theatre, it was closed for a facelift and alterations to the foyer and dressing rooms.
The official opening of the Civic Theatre took place on 1st March 1965, although the first production at the new Civic Theatre opened on Tuesday 30th March 1965, being 'Around the World in Eighty Days' based on Jules Verne's novel, with a small resident company taking many parts, and directed by Giles Havergal. Ian White played Phineas Fogg, with Brian Miller as Passpartout. Audrey Matheson played the Indian Princess. Others in the company were, Marina McConnell, Jane Lowe, Kevin Lindsay with musical 'comments' played by Sidney Crooke.
Artistic Directors since Giles Havergal, (the first Civic Theatres director), have been, - Kay Gradner, Stephen Hollis, Michael Attenborough in 1980, Lou Stein, Leon Rubin, Giles Croft, Lawrence Till, and Bridgid Larmour.
The Theatre was redecorated and restored to its Edwardian Grandeur in 1981 with Clare Farraby as architect, and in 1984 a new wing was added accommodating a Green Room, Bar / Café and administration Offices.
Stage dimensions in 1996 were, Depth stage left - 6.72 metres, stage right - 5.49 metres. Width stage left - 8.4 metres, stage right - 7.7 metres. Proscenium width - 8.23 metres. Height to grid - 11.5 metres.
Large alterations took place in 2004 with improvements and a new stage house added, under architects Burrell Foley Fischer. The Theatre's decoration now featured walls painted in Battleship Grey with a neon 'sculpture' auditorium light fitting in place of the chandelier.
Through the years there have been various seating capacities. In 1911 the Theatre held 900. In 1965 this was reduced to 766. In 1971 it was reduced further to 690. In 1982 it was reduced to 490, and today currently seats 643.
Current specifications are Proscenium height 5.425 metres. Proscenium width - 8.33 metres, and stage height from stall floor - 915mm. Stage width between fly rails - 11.2 metres. Wing space stage right (proscenium to wall) - 2.6 metres. Stage left (Proscenium to wall) - 3.16 metres. Stage depth from setting line to rear wall - 8.495 metres. The fly tower has 21 single purchase counterweight sets and 19 hemp sets.
The Watford Palace Theatre is a Grade II Listed building, and has had a rich history, having been a Music Hall and Variety Theatre, a Repertory Theatre, and a Civic Theatre, and continues to present a varied programme of plays and film for the Watford public's entertainment.
You may like to visit the Watford Palace Theatre's own Website here.
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