Closed in 1955
The Grand Theatre, North Road, was opened on the site of Ginnett’s Hippodrome Circus. The building had been converted into the Eden Theatre in 1894, and changed its name to the Grand Theatre in 1904. The Grand had a spacious stage (30 feet deep and 32 feet wide or apprx 9 metres by 10 metres) and seats for an audience of 2,000.
Main competition to the Theate Royal
It presented productions of all types, becoming the main competition to the Theatre Royal in the town in the years before the First World War. However it was best known for its melodramas, plays with exciting, action-packed plots involving high adventure and romance. An example of one of these melodramas was In Old Kentucky, which was playing at the theatre in November 1895. The hero had to save the heroine from a burning stable and take part in a horse race with four thoroughbreds. Its climax came when the heroine had to leap across a chasm to save the unconscious hero. She then seized a lit bomb wickedly left by the villain and hurled it away to explode with a terrific roar.
Famous for its pantomimes
The Grand was also famous for its pantomimes, which involved lavish costumes, sets and special effects to thrill the crowds. A scene from Robinson Crusoe, produced in 1905, is described in the following terms ‘a fairy grotto under the sea, with stalactites and twining coral, with mysterious hollows, pale green and blue, with shells and seaweed and wondrous marine plants all in the dreamy atmosphere of the kingdom under the sea. This effect of charm is heightened by the introduction of the fairy diving bell. In glittering, shimmering silver streamers it descends, and Robinson takes his place in the bell-shaped opening. Instantly it blazes with light. The bell is framed with fairy lamps. Robinson is the centre of a blazing brilliance, and rises in light…to tumultuous applause’.
Actor manager Andrew Melville
In 1922 Andrew Melville became actor-manager of the Grand, presenting melodramas such as The Reign of Terror, Dracula and Sweeney Todd to pull in the audiences. However, the Grand found it hard to compete with the growing popularity of film, and in January 1931 it was converted into a cinema.
Forced to close in 1955
The Grand Theatre re-opened as a live performance venue in 1941, putting on pantomimes, musicals and variety shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However it was forced to close in 1955, this time for good, as audiences dwindled. The building subsequently became a furniture factory, and was destroyed by a fire in 1961. Today Gresham House and the North Road car park occupy the site where it once stood.