Floral Hall’s Former Stars

In the heart of Scarborough’s Alexandra Gardens, now a bowling green, Floral Hall once stood.

Floral Hall

Above: The original Floral Hall theatre (source)

After beginning as an open air home for pierrot performances – then for George Royle’s popular fol-de-rol entertainers, Scarborough’s Floral Hall gained a roof, lost its floral decorations and welcomed a number of big name acts.

Floral Hall

Above: Floral Hall – with roof (source)

This post compares a number of the venue’s programmes from the 1970s, with those from the earliest days. These were the times of the summer season, the variety performance and the triumph of British seaside entertainment. However, the story of Floral Hall begins with pierrots – and Edwardian Scarborough was a good place to be one.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: Will Catlin’s pierrots perform on the South Sands (source)

These French and Italian inspired performers dressed in white and performed a mixture of comedy, music and mime, primarily on the beach. Will Catlin’s pierrots were a huge success on Scarborough’s South Sands, as were Carrick’s Original Pierrots. Catlin eventually built the Arcadia on the Foreshore, to showcase these performers, but with the development of cinema, he soon transformed the site into the Palladium Picture House, and the grander theatre that became known as the Futurist.

Futurist and Palladium Picture House

Above: The Futurist and Palladium Picture House (source)

George Royle also led a troupe of pierrots, and when Harry W. Smith – Borough Engineer extraordinaire – set about designing Alexandra Gardens, the open air theatre was to provide a home for Royle’s performers. However, Royle quickly rejected the idea of continuing with the pierrot performances, instead preferring his troupe to dress in eccentric period costumes. Top hats for the men and bonnets and crinoline for the women. Known as the Fol-de-Rols they were Floral Hall’s original resident act.

Fol-de-rols

Above: The Fol-de-Rols in the traditional white usually associated with pierrot performances (above)

Below: Looking slightly more like pierrots, the troupe were also known as George Royle’s Imps (source)

Fol-de-rols

The Fol-de-rols were immensely popular, but WWI changed everything – audiences dwindled (the 1914 Scarborough bombardment was a stark reminder of the dangers of wartime) and George Royle signed up to join the army. When he returned he was invited back to Floral Hall, but rents were rising and tastes were changing – the Fol-de-rols would not return.

Fol-de-rols

Above: Dresses and top hats (source)

Below: An early programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme: Fol de Rols

Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s, and seaside entertainment had been completely transformed. Gone were the old fashioned music hall acts, replaced by an altogether more modern form of variety. Furthermore, another huge influence was television – which was where many budding performers made their name. Talent shows such as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces provided many big breaks. Programmes from Floral Hall provide a fascinating insight into the seaside summer circuit at this time, and how stars of the day broke into the entertainment industry.

Floral Hall Programme: The Krankies

Above: The Krankies – a Floral Hall programme (source)

The Krankies are a Scottish husband and wife duo. They starred in TV’s Crackerjack, amongst other things, and Stu Francis, is another comedian who also featured in the same programme. Joe Longthorne, a singer from nearby Hull, found fame in TV shows such as Junior Showtime, and Search for a Star, while American singer Diane Solomon, made a name for herself on the BBC.

Freddie Starr was another act who was ‘discovered’ on a TV show – Opportunity Knocks. See below:

Floral Hall Programme: Freddie Starr

Above: Freddie Starr programme (source)

He was joined in Floral Hall for the 1979 summer season by a puppet show, Mike Lancaster (another comedian), and Patsy Ann Scott, known for her appearances on 1970s TV shows. The Maurice Merry Orchestra are mentioned on most of the programmes here, as is the director Peter Sontar.

Floral Hall Programme: Les Dawson

Above: Les Dawson programme (source)

Les Dawson, like Freddie Starr, benefitted hugely from an appearance on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, and was a comedian famed for his ‘mother-in-law’ jokes and piano playing. Dougie Squires, on the other hand, was a contemporary version of George Royle or Will Catlin. Instead of leading a troupe of pierrots, he created a singing and dancing group called The Young Generation, who were TV regulars in the 1960s and 1970s. Second Generation was an ill-fated attempt to reform the group.  As for Bobby Bennett, he presented Junior Showtime, another TV show with strong Floral Hall connections. Finally, Kenneth McKellar was/is a singer who represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1960s, and made numerous television appearances.

Floral Hall Programme: Peters & Lee

Above: Peters & Lee programme (source)

1970s folk duo Peters & Lee were Opportunity Knocks alumni – indeed, Floral Hall seemed to recruit heavily from TV talent contests, and featured in the Royal Variety Performance of 1973. Roy Walker is today perhaps best known as the former presenter of Catchphrase, the popular long-running TV gameshow. but he started off as a comedian, and yet another TV talent show alumni – New Faces this time. Lee Wilson was also a comedian and another former New Faces contestant. Singer-songwriter Berni Flint had a record number of wins in Opportunity Knocks, whereas Janet Brown was an actress and impressionist famed for her impressions of Margaret Thatcher.

Below: Frank Ifield and Ken Goodwin programme (source)

Floral Hall Programme

In this final programme, Frank Ifield – a singer who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. He came a respectable second in 1962, during the decade that made him famous, but in 1976 he was less successful and finished twelfth. Opportunity Knocks gave Floral Hall another performer in Mancunian comedian Ken Goodwin, and Luie Caballero is/was an actor and impressionist. Bert Weedon was a guitarist and a regular performer for the BBC.

As the above selection of programmes demonstrates, Floral Hall hosted an impressive array of performers for nearly eighty years, but sadly closed in 1987 – there were insufficient funds to restore the building, and the heyday of the British seaside holiday was slowly slipping away.

Who would have thought that a simple open air theatre from 1908 would last so long and provide so much entertainment?

Floral Hall

Above: The sun sets on Floral Hall (source)

Do you remember Floral Hall? Do you have any old programmes, or recall the performers you saw?

Please get in touch if you’ve got any information to share…

Sources

Scarborough Civic Society

Scarborough News

Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website

This wonderful Fol-de-Rols website

The Open Air Theatre: A Chronology of Spectacular Shows

Stories From Scarborough has already introduced the history of Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre here, and discussed one of it’s productions – Carmen – in depth here. In response to requests from readers, here is a quick rundown of former productions, starting with Merrie England, the very first show to play at the theatre when it opened in 1932.
 
Merrie England 1930s
 
Above: Merrie England (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)

Below: Illuminated for the opening night (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Open Air Theatre
 
This was followed by Tom Jones in 1933 and Hiawatha in 1934.
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: Tom Jones, 1933 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Below: Hiawatha, 1934 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Carmen was 1935’s crowd puller, while 1936 saw a return to an old favourite – Merrie England.
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: Merrie England, principal cast members (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Below: Carmen’s principal cast members, 1935 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Carmen at the Open Air Theatre
 
In 1937 the theatre hosted The Pageant of Faust.
 
Faust (1937?)
 
Above: Faust (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
This was followed by Tannhauser in 1938...
 
Tannhauser 1938
 
Above: Priniciple cast members of Tannhauser, 1938 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
…and Bohemian Girl in 1939.
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: Bohemian Girl, 1939 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
You can read about Eileen Smith’s memories of participating in 1943‘s The Pay of the Pied Piper here, which was followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1944, and yet another Merrie England in 1945. 1946 introduced a new production – Maritana, while Hiawatha was 1947’s highlight – another repeat of a former production.
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: Hiawatha, 1947 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
1948, on the other hand, saw the return of Faust (The Pageant of).
 
Faust (1937?)
 
Above: The cast of Faust (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
Robin Hood starred in the 1949 programme, followed by The Vagabond King in 1950 and Song of Norway in 1951.
 
Song of Norway (1951)
 
Above: Song of Norway, 1951 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
The Desert Song of 1952 was yet another spectacular affair:
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: The Desert Song, 1952 (Stores From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
As was Annie Get Your Gun in 1953.
 
Annie Get Your Gun 1953
 
Above: Stars of Annie Get Your Gun, 1953 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
1954’s Chu Chin Chow was a production set in the Middle, rather than the Far, East…
 
Chu Chin Chow 1954
 
Above: Chu Chin Chow, 1954 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
While 1955 transported audiences to America with Oklahoma, followed by the rather grand King’s Rhapsody in 1956.
 
Open Air Theatre
 
Above: King’s Rhapsody, 1956 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
1957 brought White Horse Inn and Showboat starred in 1958.
 
Showboat (1958)
 
Above: Showboat, 1958 (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
1959’s The Merry Widow was another well received offering.
 
The Merry Widow 1959?
 

Above: The Merry Widow, 1959 (Stores From Scarborough Image Archive)
 
1960, 1961 and 1962 brought in further new productions – Summer Holiday, Carousel and Rose Marie respectively, while Desert Song returned for another run in 1963. After 1964’s South Pacific, The King and I ran for two years (1965-6) followed by Student Prince in 1967 and West Side Story in 1968. Although the 1961 film was a huge hit, West Side Story (the live musical) did not go down so well in Scarborough, and marked a period of gradual decline in popularity for the open air theatre.
 
There would be no further musicals performed there after West Side Story.

 
During the 1950s and 60s the theatre hosted It’s a Knockout on Wednesdays  over eleven years. In the 1970s much of the island theatre set-up was demolished, and the final concert in 1986 featured James Last and His Orchestra.
 
Redevelopment began in 2008 and today’s Open Air Theatre opened in 2010.

Are there any shows missing from this list? Please get in touch or leave a comment below.

Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part II

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished – for Part I of the article please click here.

When the York and North Midland Railway established links with Scarborough in 1845, it became much easier for visitors to reach the town, which, in turn, led to large-scale investment in tourism. However, hotels and entertainment facilities had been increasing steadily since the 1700s, following the discovery of Scarborough’s natural springs in the 1600s.

spa5

Left: In the late 1700s, wealthy visitors whiled away the afternoon at the theatre on Tanner Street, now St Thomas Street, where many famous actors performed. In 1825 a seat in the boxes cost three shillings, in the pit two shillings and in the gallery one shilling. The theatre was demolished in 1929 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

In 1867 the Grand Hotel was completed – then one of the largest hotels in the world and one of the first in Europe to be purpose-built. Another first for Scarborough was the cliff tram, built in 1875, to link the South Cliff Esplanade to the Scarborough Spa. There would eventually be five cliff lifts in operation – three on the South side and two near the North Sands. Only two operate today – one by the Scarborough Spa (referred to as the South Cliff lift), and the other near at the side of the Grand Hotel (not to be confused with the one pictured below).

spa1

Above: The Grand Hotel and the Cliff Bridge. The Cliff Tram in the centre of the photo is now closed (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Only eighteen years after the official opening of the Scarborough Spa on 8 September 1876 the building was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. By June 1879 the new Grand Hall was opened to the public, with the formal opening ceremony taking place on August 2nd, 1880. So began a great era of music and entertainment – indeed, a range of leading musicians, conductors and performers all performed at Scarborough Spa.

Additions and alterations have been made over the years and a major restoration programme was carried out in the early 1980s to reinstate some of the original features and decorative styles.

Today the Scarborough Spa complex is a Grade II listed building which includes the Spa Theatre, the Grand Hall for concerts, the Ocean Room, the Promenade Lounge, Sun Court (for open air concerts), and various other rooms. It is also home to the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the last remaining seaside orchestra in Britain. The orchestra gives 10 concerts every week during the summer months, playing from an extensive repertoire of classical and light music.

spa2

Above: Sun Court for open air concerts (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Although taking the waters declined in popularity during the 19th century, the Spa’s reputation as a fashionable location for entertainment and relaxation grew in popularity. Also, the chemical composition of the water has altered considerably over the years and so the practice of “Taking the Water” came to an end in the late 1960s.

spa3

Above: Steps leading down to the well (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today the only visible evidence of the Spa water – that made Scarborough the first seaside resort in Britain – is a well set in the wall and the steps leading down to the beach on the north side of the Spa Complex. The strong mineral content of the water has stained the wall’s stones a reddish-brown colour. Likewise, it was this same staining that led to the discovery of the waters close to this site back in 1626.

spa4

Above: The spa well set in the wall (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today, the spa water is no longer recommended for drinking – there is a sign above the well which reads “Not Drinking Water”. The waters may have changed somewhat, but without Mrs. Farrer’s discovery in the seventeenth century, Scarborough would not have developed into the first English (and arguably, in its time, most famous) seaside resort.. Maybe one day the Spa will open again when the water is safe to drink and the well given a new look.

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!

Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part I

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished here.

spa1

Above: The Scarborough Spa Complex (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

It happened by chance, in about 1626, when a Mrs. Farrer discovered natural springs bubbling out beneath the cliff to the south of Scarborough. She saw that the waters stained the rocks a reddish-brown colour and that it tasted slightly bitter. The spring water was later found to cure minor ailments.

Mrs. Farrer was the wife of one of Scarborough’s leading citizens, John Farrer who was several times Bailiff of Scarborough.

When she told her neighbours and friends about the beneficial effects, they too drank the waters, and this became a widely accepted medicine for local townspeople.

The mineral waters were analysed by medical professionals and found to contain a high level of magnesium sulphate – its healing properties were just as effective as Andrews’ Liver Salts are today.

Dr Robert Wittie of Hull was the main medical supporter promoting the mineral waters and in 1660 he published his book “Scarborough Spa”, in which he proclaimed the waters as a cure for all ills. He recommended that the waters were best drunk in the summer season, mid-May to mid-September. He also began promoting the health benefits of sea bathing, and by the middle of 1660 the resulting publicity made the town’s wells famous.

Scarborough developed not only as a fashionable spa town but as the original English seaside resort. “Taking the Water” quickly became a popular medicine, and attracted a flood of visitors to the town

The first Spa House was built on or near this site in about 1700. This basic wooden structure designed for the sale and dispensing of the waters, and to provide basic amenities to visitors. The water was also bottled and sold further afield. Dickie Dickinson was appointed the first Governor of the Spa and was responsible for keeping order and collecting money from visitors. 

spa2

Above: Dickie Dickinson, first Governor of the Spa (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

All went well until a massive landslide buried the Spa House, conveniences and the springs in 1737. Fortunately the water source was quickly located again, and in 1739 a sizeable building or saloon was built. This offered fine views over the sea and a long flight of stairs to reach the wells.

spa3

Above: The Spa, depicted in a plate from the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Scarborough was now well established as a seaside resort and Spa town providing every fashionable amenity. There was a Long Room in St Nicholas Street that provided nightly dancing, music, gaming tables and billiards. In the afternoon, plays were acted under the management of Mr. Kerregan in 1733, and from 1776, evening performances were given in the theatre.

There was also a whole range of accommodation to suit every pocket – board and lodgings, rooms at inns and hostelries, a Georgian house for rent, and later, top quality hotels. Tourists could visit coffee shops and bookshops with circulating libraries, and, enjoy the added attractions of horse racing on the beach, alongside boating and sea-bathing. Scarborough was one of the first places, if not the first, to use bathing machines.

(You can read Sarah’s article on Sea Bathing by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II)

During its Victoria heyday the Spa was considered the most popular music hall venue outside London. The first orchestra appeared in the 1830s, but a series of mishaps and disasters plagued the Spa each time redevelopment occurred. The initial saloon was damaged by heavy seas in 1808, but the worst storm; according to some, of the century, devastated the building, which, as a result, had to be completely re-build in 1836.

Before this disaster, such was the Spa’s popularity, that in 1827 the iron Cliff Bridge was erected across the valley, giving easier access from the cliff and the town, where elegant hotels and Georgian lodging houses were becoming popular.

spa5

Above: The Cliff Bridge across the valley (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

The completion of the new “Gothic Saloon”, designed by Henry Wyatt, was opened in 1839 and included a concert hall to seat 500, a garden, promenade and an external area in which orchestras were to perform. However, by the time it opened, the impressive turreted building, was already too small. Consequently, Sir Joseph Paxton, the landscape gardener and architect responsible for the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire and the Crystal Palace, London was called in to redesign the complex. The new, improved venue officially opened in 1858.

spa6

Above: The Gothic Saloon (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

To be continued…

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough! Look out for Part II, coming soon.


Scarborough’s Pierrots, Catlin’s Arcadia

Scarborough’s Foreshore has always provided a colourful display of changing shopfronts, alternating amusement sites and unusual attractions. From the Turkish Baths (later an Indian Village and now Coney Island Amusements) to the Madhouse and Millennium living history attraction, tourists have always had plenty of entertainment to choose from.

foreshore

Above: The bustling Foreshore in the early 1900s (source)

Caitlin’s Arcadia occupied the site of the now closed Futurist Theatre.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: Catlin’s Arcadia on the Foreshore during the early 1900s (source)

It’s story begins with theatrical entrepeneur Will Catlin (real name William Fox) whose popular pierrots were a regular sight on Scarborough’s South Bay during the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth.

Scarborough Pierrot Performance

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots perform on the South Sands (source)

Often referred to as the ‘sad clown’ the pierrot character has a long history – dating back to the seventeenth century, but became popular during the nineteenth century in France and beyond, as a recurring motif in theatre. With a whitened face and baggy attire, the pierrot was a naive, innocent character, whose antics included comedy, mime, song and dance.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: Catlin’s Pierrots (source)

Catlin, a former music hall performer first visited Scarborough in 1894, and it was during that time that he formed his renowed group of exclusively all-male pierrots. Whilst his pierrots toured widely – even over the winter months, when they visited a variety of cities and towns – in Scarborough they performed (during the early days) on a makeshift stage on the South Bay.

Catlin's Pierrots

Above: The troupe were also known as Catlin’s Royal Pierrots (source)

They were not the only pierrot group in town – George Royle’s ‘Imps’ performed a similar act on the South Sands from the early 1900s, but adopted different tactics after being invited to entertain audiences at Floral Hall in Alexandra Gardens. Unlike Catlin’s group, Royle’s performers were male and female, and in their new venue wore period costumes, calling themselves the Fol-de-Rols.

You can read more about the Fol-de-Rols by visiting this website.

Catlin, on the other hand, was rapidly becoming frustrated by rising rental fees for beach performances. Seeking his own venue, he purchased land on the Foreshore and opened Catlin’s Arcadia – the pierrot shows operated from here between 1909 and 1912.

Catlin's Arcadia

Above: The Arcadia (source)

A shrewd businessman, Catlin sold souvenir postcards (depicting the pierrots) at performances, and even met visitors at the railway station to promote the shows.

Such was the popularity of his troupe by 1912 that they were named the most popular entertainers in Britain.

In 1912, he sought to cash in on the popularity of motion pictures, by creating the Palladium Cinema, which, by 1920 was deemed far too small to meet rising demand. Consequently it was then replaced by the Futurist, a huge, state of the art complex that opened in 1921 to accommodate larger audiences and more entertainment. It initially also contained an ice cream bar and soda fountain. The latter would become a popular fixture in Scarborough, with one at the future Corner Cafe, and Evelyn’s Soda Fountain at the Windmill Site on the Foreshire.

evelyns

Above: Evelyn’s Soda Fountain (source)

Catlin remained involved with the entertainment business – he also operated theatres in Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, and according to this article, when he died in 1953, his coffin was fittingly topped with a pierrot hat, made from white flowers, and an inscription reading “King of the Pierrots’ final curtain”. The Futurist, on the other hand, became one of Scarborough’s premier entertainment venues, finally closing in early 2014. Its future remains uncertain. There’s even a film being made about it – you can check out the progress of this project by visiting this link.

Did you ever visit the Futurist? Do you know anything about the Palladium, the Arcadia or the famous pierrots? Please comment below.

Sources and Further Reading

The Theatres Trust

The Cambridge History of British Theatre

Arthur Lloyd Theatres Page

Scarborough News

Fol-de-Rols

Will Catlin

 

 

Carmen at the Open Air Theatre

When Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre opened in 1932, in the heart of the new Northstead Manor Gardens, it was clear that this was to be no ordinary theatre. Actors occupied a stage in the middle of a lake, with an orchestra on floating barges, and performances faced constant threats of wind and rain, both of which could potentially jeopardise ambitious sets and carefully rehearsed musical numbers.

Open Air Theatre

Above: The Open Air Theatre (source)

Yet in spite of the many risks, open air theatre performances enjoyed nationwide popularity in Britain during the 1930s. On July 17th, 1934, the Manchester Guardian noted:

Dramatic performances in the open air seem to be coming into vogue…

(‘In the Open Air’, Manchester Guardian Jul 17 1934)

The article then goes on to list a whole host of ambitious projects at range of different locations, including Regents Park (London), a park in Salford (Greater Manchester), Abinger (Surrey), MacBeth in Morecambe and outdoor theatre performances in Cambridge.

Open Air Theatre

Above: Scarborough was not the only UK location experimenting with outdoor theatre (source)

Nonetheless, the outdoor theatre at Northstead Manor Gardens was surely one of the most unusual examples of this nationwide trend. One journalist at the Manchester Guardian was keen to note how impressed he was with Scarborough’s attempt to showcase Carmen in 1935.

…probably the first time a serious opera has been produced in the open air in England…

(‘“Carmen” in the open air: Scarborough experiment’, The Manchester Guardian, July 19, 1935 – all subsequent quotes are taken from this article)

The author, referred to only as G.A.H, had been invited to witness a rehearsal for the show on a unsettled grey day. His concerns lay mainly with how Carmen, a complex opera with many subtle and complicated musical moments, would fare in the open air, without a roof or walls to contain the acoustics and help the audience connect with the music.

The orchestra is placed in barges or rafts fronting the stage. The scenery is devised so that it may be sufficient for theatrical purposes while blending with natural surroundings…

However, he notes that:

…the music kept to a surprising degree its warmth and intensity…

He even names the key cast members: Miss Constance Willis as Carmen, as well as Mr Arthur Cox and Mr Redvers Llewellyn as male principles. There’s a postcard showing them below:

Carmen at the Open Air Theatre

Above: The Carmen cast (source)

The orchestra was directed by Mr A C Keeton, and included 43 ‘sufficiently skilled’ players.

Open Air Theatre

Above: Productions included not just acting and singing, but dancing too (source)

There was also a degree of West End glamour about the production, given that it was produced by a Mr Sumner Austin, who had worked at the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells in London.

You can view Mr Austin’s directorial and producing credentials by clicking here.

Whilst complementary about the production, the Manchester Guardian journalist highlights the problems facing the cast and technical crew:

…alas that the rain came before it finished…

However, this was not the end of the world, and he notes that:

…a skilful company, good outdoor environment and favourable weather [means that] opera in the open can be artistically achieved…

One can’t help but admire the ambition of the Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society, who, year after year for over three decades embraced the unpredictable British weather to put on show after show of the highest quality.

Did you see any of their productions? Please comment or visit the Facebook Page.

Sources

The Manchester Guardian archive via Proquest Historical Newspapers

The Theatricalia website

 

An Open Air Theatre

Scarborough was once a treasure trove of theatrical venues. Scarborough Opera House opened on St. Thomas Street in 1876, the Spa Theatre in 1879 and there was also live entertainment at the Aquarium, which opened in 1877.

Scarborough’s oldest theatre was the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1771, and there were many more not mentioned here, since demolished and/or redeveloped.

Some, like the Futurist (1920) and the Palladium Picture House (1912) served first as cinemas before accommodating live entertainment, and the outdoor performance space in Alexandra Gardens (1908) proved so popular that a roof was added, later becoming a full-blown theatre that could accommodate visitors during all weather conditions.

You can read more about Scarborough’s many former theatres by visiting this link.

The Open Air Theatre in Northstead Manor Gardens, however, was a little different. Once described as ‘The Drury Lane of the open air’, there was no protection here from the unpredictable British weather. It opened in 1932, and performances took place on a stage that was in fact located on an island in the middle of the lake at the centre of the gardens. This was truly an ambitious and exciting project for Scarborough…

Open Air Theatre

Above: The Open Air Theatre (source)

The site in question was purchased by the Scarborough Corporation in 1926, to be developed into pleasure gardens, which would include a water chute, boating lake and miniature railway line. Known locally as Hodgson’s Slack, this natural ampitheatre offered an ideal setting for live entertainment, and would eventually accommodate as many as eight thousand audience members. For sell-out performances some would even sit on the nearby grassy banks, when seating proved insufficient to meet demand.

Open Air Theatre

Above: From the opening night (source)

The first performance was a grand affair, opened by the Lord Mayor of London in the summer of 1932. He reportedly said:

The setting is ideal and constitutes a wonderful tribute to the imagination of whoever realised the possibilities to be derived from this particular park of the park, and also to the engineers who carried out the necessary embellishments and alterations which provide such a picturesque stage and background and also such splendid accommodation.

 
Merrie England, a well-known light opera penned by Sir Edward German, was the first production to be performed at the theatre, and one of many ambitious performances by Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society over the following decades. First performed in London, in 1902, the story is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Open Air Theatre

Above: Cast members from Merrie England at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre (source)

Many productions enjoyed success here – West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Carmen, Bohemian Girl, Hiawatha….

Open Air Theatre

Above: Annie Get Your Gun (source)

Below: King’s Rhapsody (source)

Open Air Theatre

In the 1950s It’s a Knockout became a popular addition to the theatre’s repertoire, continuing well after the last musical – West Side Story – was staged in 1968. The latter featured Hi-di-Hi actress Ruth Madoc in a starring role. Nine years later the dressing rooms and much of the scenery buildings on the island were removed, as was the seating, and, following the complete closure of the venue in 1986, the remaining structures fell into gradual decay.

Open Air Theatre

Above: The theatre during its heyday (source)

In 2008, the go-ahead was received for a major redevelopment, and in 2010 the rejuvinated theatre was re-opened by the Queen. With a slightly reduced seating capacity of 6, 500, the venue has hosted, to date, a range of different acts, including Boyzone, Tom Jones and Elaine Paige in 2015, as well as community events in the past and even televised showings of England World Cup Matches in 2010, via a large screen.

You can see a list of upcoming events here.

Have you ever been to the Open Air Theatre? How do old and new compare? See any mistakes in the history above? If so please comment or get in touch. For more pictures and memories see the Facebook Page.

Sources

A brief history of the theatre

Scarborough theatre history

Scarborough News

Scarborough Civic Society

Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library