Blackpool Grand Theatre is one of Britain’s premier heritage theatres. Listed Grade II*, this Matcham theatre is in the top 8 percent of all listed buildings in England, and one of only thirty listed buildings in Blackpool. It is one of only nine large theatres listed Grade II* or above, north of London.
The Grand Theatre sits alongside other significant cultural heritage assets which help to create the unique Blackpool experience. Frank Matcham’s four-tier intimate auditorium with 1,053 seats helps companies create a range of atmospheres for audiences.
The Grand is owned by the Blackpool Grand Theatre Trust Limited. This organisation reopened the theatre in 1981 following the efforts of a number of committed volunteers who saved the theatre from demolition. Restoration work has continued without ever closing the theatre.
Blackpool Grand Theatre Trust Limited has responsibility for improving, maintaining and conserving the building and the theatre’s substantial historic and archival collections; the theatre is operated by Blackpool Grand Theatre (Arts & Entertainments) Limited and both companies are registered charities. The Blackpool Grand Theatre Catering Company Limited is a subsidiary of the Arts & Entertainments Company and provides bar and catering facilities for the Grand Theatre; profits on its operations are donated to its parent company.
This amazing space is a wonder of restoration and revival, presenting a full range of every performing artform, as Blackpool’s community theatre and Lancashire’s preferred Opera House.
Thomas Sergenson had made a name for himself in Blackpool as the ‘People’s Showman’. He set his sights on a prime location between the Promenade and the Winter Gardens, and planned to lease five shops and use the rest of the land to develop his new Grand Theatre.
Sergenson placed a circus on his site, but when it became clear that the Tower (foundations stone laid 1891) was to include an elaborate circus, Sergenson decided to move forward with the erection of Blackpool’s new theatre.
Prominent theatre architect Frank Matcham was hired to design the ‘cosiest theatre possible’, offering fine views of the stage from all areas of the three-tiered theatre. Dubbed ‘Matcham’s Masterpiece’, the Grand Theatre was opened in 1894 with a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Sergenson owned the Grand Theatre until 1909, when it was sold to the Tower Company, and operated year-round entertainment until 1963 when it was closed during winter months. By 1972 a small announcement had been issued in the local paper stating plans to demolish the theatre and erect a department store on its site.
The Friends of the Grand group was formed in 1973, local people dedicated to the task of saving the theatre. This hands-on and hardworking group purchased the theatre from owners EMI in 1980 and refurbished many areas that had gone into disrepair, including painting and repair work. It reopened in 1981 with a performance of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
In 1994, the Grand Theatre celebrated its centenary with a visit from the Queen, thirteen years after her son, HRH Prince of Wales, reopened its doors. Through the years the Grand Theatre has boasted the best of London’s plays and musicals, with an eclectic range of performances across its 125 years. Notable appearances include Sarah Bernhardt, Gracie Fields, Thora Hird, Ken Dodd, John Gielgud & Richard Attenborough, who appeared at the Grand Theatre in 1943 in the play that would make him a star - Brighton Rock.