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Grand Theatre

Frank Matcham

alias The Grand Theatre and Opera House
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1894 | construction
Built by Frank Matcham
(detail)23.7.1894 | opening
Opened with Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
(detail)1910 | alteration
auditorium extension, pit incorporated into stalls, circle enlarged
(detail)1981 | opening
After major restoration, addition of a studio stage, the theatre was re-opened as in March 1981.



This theatre must rank as one of the finest that Matcham designed and, very fortunately, it survives intact. It cost £20,000 in 1894. The exterior, in brick with stone dressings, is relatively plain, except for the entrance on the corner of Corporation Street. This is in stone and has two main storeys with arched doorways and windows flanked by pilasters. The attic storey is crowned by a dome, clad in copper fishscale tiles, which rises from behind curly gables, The real importance of the theatre, however, lies in its magnificent auditorium. Few other examples can so weil illustrate the vibrant exub­erance and intensely theatrical atmosphere of Victorian theatre architecture at its best. The superb plasterwork was carried out by the Plastic Decoration Company of London.

These balconies, of six rows each, sweep around towards the stage in a double curve, dipping downwards along the side walls, with the number of rows progressively reducing. The balcony fronts are thickly encrusted with deeply-cut Baroque plasterwork. The device of reversing the curve of a balcony at the ends enabled Matcham to bring the side seats closer to the stage without impairing sightlines. In this respect he was more successful than C.J. Phipps, whose balconies more often followed a traditional horseshoe plan which, when applied to several rows of seats rather than to rings of boxes, inevitably gave rise to problems with sightlines at the sides.

The balconies at Blackpool are partly cantilevered and partly supported on iron columns. In Matcham's later theatres, when the use of cantilevers had developed, it was possible for balconies to become deeper, with their fronts consequently closer to the stage. In order to maintain good sightlines it was necessary to reduce the curve of the balcony. Although this allowed larger seating capacities without increasing the volume of the auditorium, it proved detrimental to theatrical atmosphere.

At Blackpool the balconies are terminated on each side by an oriel-like stage box at dress circle level. These have splendid canopies which rise up above the gallery front and are crowned by curved pediments which support three cavorting cupids. The proscenium opening has an imposing round-arched frame with openwork plaster 'frills'. The spandrels of the arch contain large paintings of the muses. The oval ceiling is opulently decorated with painted panels of composers by Messrs Binns of Halifax.

The Grand closed as a theatre in 1972, having been included as Grade II in the statutory list of historic buildings in January of the same year. In August 1973, following a public inquiry, the owners were refused permission for its demolition. An application was made to allow alterations to the stage and seating in July 1975. This was also turned down and the theatre remained closed until, in 1977, with John Wyckham as,consultant, the interior was refurbished by the owners at a cost of £200.000. Although EMI are currently running the building as a Bingo club, the locally-formed Grand Theatre Trust have obtained an option to purchase it. If sufficient funds can be raised for this, it is intended to reopen the Grand as a theatre in fate 1980 or early 1981.


In: WALKER, Brian Mercer. Frank Matcham: theatre architect. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, c1980, xii, 178 p. ISBN 08-564-0231-1.  p. 125 - 126



Author: Brian Mercer Walker

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