Happy birthday, Harrogate Theatre!

Did you know, on 11 January 1900 Harrogate Theatre opened with a charity gala in aid of British soldiers fighting the Boer War in South Africa?

This week we celebrate 118 years as we continue with our busy run of Beauty and the Beast until 21 January. Today Harrogate Theatre is clearly an asset our town can be proud of. However, over the years it’s been something of a rollercoaster ride.

To mark this special birthday, here are 10 things you may not know about Harrogate Theatre:

  1. The first ever pantomime, opening on 13 January 1900, was Dick Whittington.
  2. The 2016-17 pantomime, also Dick Whittington, was a record breaker, ending it’s run in January 2017 as the largest grossing show in the theatre’s history.
  3. Originally known as The Grand Opera House, the theatre was designed by architect Frank Tugwell who also designed the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough and the Savoy Theatre in London.
  4. The carved frieze in the foyer was not part of the original décor. Sculpted by Frances Darlington, it depicts themes from drama and literature and is thought to have been added shortly before 1911.  
  5. The theatre has closed twice in it’s history; the first in 1955 for a period of 3 years due to the growing popularity of television. Secondly in the mid-eighties – due to a funding crisis - the theatre closed for a period of reorganisation, reopening in 1987.
  6. Harrogate Theatre is a charity. The theatre reopened after the first closure in 1958 as Harrogate Theatre and soon after a non-profit making charitable trust was set up to run it. Harrogate Borough Council bought the building and became the theatre’s landlord, which they still are today.
  7. In the early 1970s Harrogate Theatre underwent a programme of refurbishment. The seating capacity was reduced to 481 from 800 (the original capacity had been 1300) the balcony was reduced to the two rows we still have today, the apron and Juliet stages were added either side of the stage and the maze of corridors and small cafes and bars were opened out to form the current stalls and circle bars.
  8. Harrogate Theatre is said to have it’s own ghost, named Alice. The victim of a terrible love affair, she is said to haunt the stalls and linked to reports of orbs of hovering light, sudden chills, ghostly spirits, and the lingering scent of peppermint.
  9. The boxes were built so that the wealthy could ‘show off’ their status, not for viewing the stage. For some shows today boxes are sold as ‘restricted view’.
  10. Harrogate Theatre is one of only 3 theatres in the UK still operating as a hemp house.

This article written by Rachel Auty, was first published in the Harrogate Advertiser on 11 January 2018