Once again Shanklin Theatre has been revived and has its doors open to welcome top acts and eager audiences as it has done for over 138 years. Shanklin Theatre was formerly known as The Institute and opened in 1879. Its first revival was after a serious fire occurred in 1925, but on 21st March 1934 the new Town Hall and Theatre opened.
During World War Two the Theatre was used for dances and many other kinds of entertainment. The Theatre seated more than 700 people but when it was used for dancing, the staff would push all the seats to the side or under the stage to leave a large expanse of dance floor. In the basement of the Theatre is the lower town hall room, this was used for meetings and as a bar until about 2005. The Bar has now been re-installed and is currently open an hour before shows and during the interval. Behind the Bar is the old Wartime Control Room which is strengthened by large steel girders to safeguard users in case of bombing. These rooms continued to be used by the Civil Defence during the early part of the Cold War with the Eastern Block. The Map Room has now been restored by Volunteers, providing additional customer facilities and link back to its 1940’s use.
Many famous acts have appeared at Shanklin Theatre in the past such as Norman Wisdom, Matt Monro, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chester, Alma Cogan, Anne Shelton, Jon Pertwee, Norman Vaughan, Felix Bowness, Dick Emery, Joan Regan, The Kaye Sisters, The Beverley Sisters, and many more from Semprini to Clinton Ford, Arthur Lowe to Jimmy Tarbuck etc. to name a few.
However, it seemed that once again the Theatre was threatened with closure and possible demolition when in 2008 the Isle of Wight Council decided that the Theatre was no longer a financially viable proposition and gave notice it would close. A dedicated group of enthusiasts formed The Friends of Shanklin Theatre to fight the closure and started talking with Shanklin Town Council on forming a Trust to take the Theatre over. Now sporting a Grade II Listed Building Certificate, the Isle of Wight Council negotiated a transfer of operation and in April 2010 the keys were handed over. The employment of both the very experienced Sound and Lighting Technician and the Stage Manager was also transferred, thus this much loved Theatre continues to serve the audiences and the community. With the installation of the latest technology in the Box Office and a first class on line booking facility, Shanklin Theatre was now ready for the future.
The Theatre employs a small number of staff but is principally supported by an ever growing band of enthusiastic volunteers who have already carried out many improvements, from painting all of the Dressing Rooms to installing not only outside lighting but adding to the already superb sound system in the Theatre. As a result of all the hard work we have seen such varied acts as Madam Butterfly, Sarah Millican, Al Murray, Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Ruby Wax, Jethro, Chas and Dave, Showaddywaddy, Joe Brown, 10cc, Justin Hayward, Gilbert O’Sullivan, The Osmonds, Russell Watson, Joe Pasquale, Cory Band and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. All this supplemented by performances given by Island Savoyards, an extremely competent local Amateur Dramatic Company producing hugely enjoyable shows to professional standards such as Grease, Mikado and the Wizard of Oz. Professional touring productions such as The Mousetrap, Dial M for Murder and A Murder is Announced have also enjoyed successful runs. These featured casts of many faces regularly seen on TV.
The highlight for the comfort of the audience? The complete installation of a new Matrix 615 Seating System. This not only increased the capacity of the Theatre, but the system enables the level auditorium to have the seating rearranged to suit the mode of entertainment if required. Many of the acts that the Theatre has seen have so enjoyed their visit to the Isle of Wight that we are delighted to say many either already have, or will be, returning.
The outstanding success achieved over the past seven years has brought considerable benefits to nearby businesses – restaurants, hotels, guest houses, shops and public houses – due to the increased volume of visitors that the Theatre’s diverse and busy programme brings to the town. There is no doubt that the extensive range of shows on offer have helped secure a vibrant trade for many local businesses, with consequential benefits to employment.
The Theatre is also a key part of Shanklin’s tourism offer. It attracts visitors into the town and is a great ambassador for the Island. As we have seen, many high profile names perform at the Theatre, and along with many mainland visitors, all have the potential to talk positively about Shanklin and the Island as a result. It is considered that Shanklin Theatre directly and indirectly provides a huge boost to the local economy, particularly in the summer.
Shanklin Theatre and all of the volunteers, under the full time Theatre Managers, offer a warm reception to both the audiences and the Acts who come to entertain them. Enquiries are always welcome and for further details contact: