Katie Kemp, Wednesday 25 August 2010
2010 is New Wimbledon Theatre’s 100th birthday.
The anniversary celebrations continue throughout the year to commemorate the glamour, honour and wisdom the theatre has contributed to Wimbledon. The year has already proved to be an exciting portrayal of the past with a promising hope for the theatre’s future.
Originally, the site of the theatre was set in the grounds of a large house belonging to the District Medical Officer of South Wimbledon. JB Mulholland bought the land in 1909 and set the way for the formation of the theatre. Architects Cecil Aubrey Masey and Roy Young were commissioned to design the building. Having been in the building trade for a long time, Mulholland certainly was the man for the job. He had been involved in the building of the Metropole Theatre in Camberwell in 1894 and in a further venture with the King’s Theatre in Hammersmith in 1902.
The official opening of Wimbledon Theatre was on Boxing Day 1910. In festive tradition, a pantomime, Jack and Jill, welcomed its audience to Wimbledon’s newly-established kernel of thespian art.
The theatre served as an entertainment hub for the local community, and so it was decided that an Assembly Room should be built alongside the theatre with a stage provided for addressing the public. This space later evolved into a ballroom during the 1920s which hosted a number of glamorous events - rumour has it that on one occasion Fred Astaire and his sister Adele practised there for a Cochran Revue at London Pavilion. In the 1990s the ballroom was converted into what is now the New Wimbledon Studio – the creative element of Wimbledon Theatre dedicated to fringe theatre.
Without the Ambassador Theatre Group, who took over the theatre in 2004 and renamed it the New Wimbledon Theatre, the theatre may never have recovered after facing severe financial difficulties in 2003. The Ambassador Theatre Group, as an independent operator of a number of theatres across the UK, has developed a Creative Learning department across many of its theatres and is responsible for the inspiration of many budding young actors throughout the country: this initiative has benefited a number of schools and young people locally, providing acting and dance workshops and summer schools to spark innovative thought among children.
The New Wimbledon Theatre continues to expand, with further developments being planned for the benefit of the theatre and the community. This includes the introduction of a theatre museum and the expansion of the stage in order to accommodate stage productions in line with the larger theatres in London. This autumn sees a particularly strong line-up and includes Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Armstrong and Miller, Evita, Calendar Girls, Tommy Steele in Scrooge and the urban street dancers Blaze.
Happy 100th Birthday and the best of luck to the Grand Old Lady of Wimbledon in her next 100 years.
A star-studded celebration of 100 years of New Wimbledon Theatre by arrangement with Max Clifford and Peter Elliott is fast approaching.
Legends of the comedy and musical theatre worlds, many of whom are well known friends of the venue, all join up to celebrate New Wimbledon Theatre’s 100 years of theatrical history. Artists performing on the night include: Alistair McGowan, Barry Cryer, Bobby Davro, Catherine Tate, Four Poofs & a Piano, Gareth Gates, Joe Pasquale, June Whitfield, Paul Zerdin, Rick Wakeman, Ron Moody, Stavros Flatley… with more to be announced!
Sun 26 September, 7pm. Tickets: £25-£100. Box office: 0844 871 7646 or at www.ambassadortickets.com/wimbledon. Black tie optional. Money raised goes to Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund (EABF) and the Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust (WCTT).