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Now Known As The Mayflower Theatre
Date Opened Dec. 22, 1928
Demolished
Venue Capacity 2,300
Venue URL http://www.mayflower.org.uk/
Venue Address Commercial Road
Southampton
SO15 1GE



Venue Information


The Mayflower is a Grade II listed theatre in the city centre of Southampton, England, with a capacity of 2,300. It features West End theatre shows when they tour the UK. The theatre opened on the 22nd December 1928 as The Empire Theatre, part of the Moss Empire theatre group. It was part of the company's expansion of the late 1920s which also saw theatres constructed in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Oxford and The Dominion in London.

At the time of construction it was the largest theatre in the south of England, a title it still holds. In the early days many shows were transported by train. The theatre's proximity to Southampton Central railway station made its location ideal but meant that many shows were not as spectacular as their London counterparts. The theatre suffered in early days to the arrival of cinema with sound or 'talkies'. This led to the 1933 installation of a projection box in the balcony and a screen which could be raised and lowered at the front of the stage. By 1942 the theatre was mainly used as a cinema and was taken over by The Gaumont British Picture Corporation.

As part of the Rank Organisation the theatre was included on many tours of Rock & Roll groups including Bill Haley & His Comets in 1957 and The Beatles in 1963. The building was still however mainly used as a cinema which was in decline due to the rise of television. This led to Rank investigating a change of use to either dance hall or ten-pin bowling alley. This did not happen and many other acts appeared until the end of the 1980s when acts preferred larger concert halls and arenas.

The theatre was threatened with a change of use again in 1970 when an application was made to convert to a bingo hall. This also did not happen but the owners were still not making money. In 1982 the Rank Organisation again applied to Southampton City Council for a change of licence to turn the building into a bingo hall. This was refused in 1983 the year the building also achieved grade II listed status. The council instead offered to buy the building for 650,000 and a refurbishment of 3 million. This led to the 1989 setting up of a charitable trust with the lease for a peppercorn rent to stop the theatre from becoming a political tool.

The theatre closed for major redevelopment in January 1986, with the entire stage area being improved and additional facilities such as computerised box office being added. The theatre opened as The Mayflower on the 24th February 1987 with a production of Peter Pan starring Bonnie Langford, with the official opening gala televised in May of the same year. Initial audiences proved disappointing and there was talk of the project being a white elephant. This changed with the introduction of major pantomimes. These attracted huge audiences, peaking with 1994's Dick Whittington starring Lesley Joseph and John Nettles which attracted 126,256 theatregoers.

Musicals also made up a big part of the turnaround of the theatre. 1990 brought a full scale version of the West End's 42nd Street followed by Evita. These proved huge successes and along with the pantomimes ensured the continued success of the theatre. Cats arrived in 1994 bringing an audience of 125,000. This was followed by many other shows, including The Phantom of The Opera which achieved the record attendance of 185,000 in 2000.

In 2003 the theatre closed again for refurbishment. The main aspect being the change of stage from a raked stage to a flat stage. Improvement for disabled access were also made including the construction of a new lift. The theatre reopened with the large scale production of Miss Saigon which would not have previously been possible. The run of major musicals has continued with a 5 week run of Starlight Express in 2005 and shows such as Saturday Night Fever, Miss Saigon, The Rocky Horror Show and Disney's Beauty and the Beast in 2006. The tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang visited The Mayflower for almost 3 months in 2007. The 2007 Christmas show will be Michael Rose and Chris Moreno's production of The Wizard of Oz starring Russ Abbot, Gregor Fisher, Gary Wilmot and Matthew Kelly as The Wicked Witch of the West.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower_Theatre



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