Tyne & Wear

'Versatile' Tyne Theatre celebrates 150th birthday

Tyne Theatre Image copyright Graeme J Baty
Image caption The venue, on Newcastle's Westgate Road, opened in September 1847

A theatre that survived closures, financial woes, a fire, and even a stint as a cinema showing X-rated films has celebrated its 150th birthday.

Newcastle's Tyne Theatre and Opera House is one of only two known examples in Britain to retain a complete set of operational Victorian stage machinery.

The Grade I listed building has been extensively refurbished.

It hosts variety performances, comedy, ballet, and live acts that have ranged from Placido Domingo to Coldplay.

Image copyright Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Image caption In 1944 people queued around the block to catch a showing of The Monster Maker - a film which does not seem to have stood the test of time

The theatre, funded by politician and industrialist Joseph Cowen, was originally designed to house a stock theatre company, staging locally-produced drama, opera, musical spectacles and pantomimes.

However, by 1881 it was unable to compete with star touring companies taking advantage of improvements in rail travel.

There were a succession of theatre managers, before it was driven out of business in 1917 and converted to a cinema - the first in Newcastle to show a "talkie".

Image copyright Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Image caption The theatre was intended as a "glorious palace of leisure and recreation"

Then known as the Stoll Picture Theatre, it thrived for decades but fell victim to a decline in cinema-going in the 1960s.

It attempted to counter this by cornering a select market showing 'X' rated films, but closed in 1974 after a bill of "Danish Bed and Board".

Image copyright Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Image caption When it closed in 1974 the original 1867 stage machinery was discovered concealed behind the cinema screen

A "Save the Stoll" campaign was launched, a preservation order placed on the building, and an independent registered charity set up with the aim to restoring it to its former glory.

The theatre reopened in 1983, and one of the highlights of that year was a performance by Placido Domingo.

Image copyright Stoll
Image caption During its glory days in the late 19th Century a "grand salon" was added for entrance to the stalls and circle seating

On 25 December 1985 a fire damaged the backstage area, but rebuilding work began almost immediately, and the theatre was back in business less than a year later.

However, for the next two decades it was plagued by financial troubles, with management changing hands a number of times, and it was placed in administration in 1995.

Image copyright Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Image caption Coldplay performed there in aid of homeless charity Crisis in 2010, one of only two such gigs in the UK

In 2008 the theatre was purchased by Newcastle City Council which transferred the freehold ownership to the Tyne Theatre and Opera House Preservation Trust.

Heather Ging, from the trust, said: "What we've got to do now is raise the money ... to keep it the way it was intended - as a theatre for the people, a glorious palace of leisure and recreation".

Image copyright Tyne Theatre and Opera House
Image caption In 1934 the cinema hosted a publicity stunt for the film of Catherine the Great

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