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THE PALACE THEATRE

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A Brief History

The original idea was to build a Southend Opera House, but when the Palace Theatre opened on Monday 21st October 1912, it was as a theatre owned by Mr. Raymond of the Raymond Picture Company who also controlled 14 other cinemas and theatres. By the standards of the day, it was a most modem building of unique design, claiming to be the only building of its time to be fitted so that 'no matter from what part of the building spectators look up to the stage, there is a clear and uninterrupted view'. It seated 1500 compared to 603 today.

By 14th November it was known as the 'Palace of Varieties' and then in December became 'The New Palace' presenting a forerunner of 'Opportunity Knocks' In 1919 Mrs Gertude Mouillot bought the theatre for 25,0000, intending to open it as a cinema but owing to the steep 'rake' of the circle, it was impossible to project pictures from the front. Accordingly a small annexe was constructed at the back of the stage and rear projection was used. Unfortunately this meant that any films shown had to be run all the way through on to a blank reel to make it the right way round for the audience and then re-run again afterwards to make it right for the next person hiring it! The annexe is still there today and greatly use.

Between two world wars the theatre mainly presented touring ballet and repertory companies which included many famous stars for the day: Ivor Novello; Matheson Long; John Clements; Ruth Draper; Lillian Braithewaite; Sybil Thorndyke; and Sir Henry Irving. Throughout the Second World War the theatre managed to generate an atmosphere of business as usual, and the building survived the air raids without serious damage.

Following some financial troubles the theatre suffered a period of closure and in 1942 Mrs Mouilott presented the theatre to the Entertainment's manager for the Southend Corporation. The Harry Hanson Court Players who included a newcomer in the name of Dora Bryan performed the opening play. In 1957 the Palace Theatre Club was created dedicated 'to encourage interest in all aspects of living theatre and, in particular, the Palace Theatre.' The Club still thrives today and helps fundraise to keep the Palace open. Over several years, a number of other companies held the lease of the theatre and in 1965 Alexander Bridge was the tenant followed by Ray Cooney.

Crisis came to the Palace in 1969 when money problems mounted and Haymarket stage Productions; the current company announced their final show - 'The Last Laugh'. Then the theatre shut. The Palace Theatre Club swung into action and over 2000 signed a petition, which was presented to the Council together with 1400 letters in support of the Club's campaign. A protest march through the streets was held.

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