Our Southampton Theatre

Mayflower theatre

We are so fortunate to have such a good theatre in Southampton.

Matthew Bourne's ballet Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne’s ballet Sleeping Beauty

Last night I experienced Matthew Bourne‘s interpretation of Tchaikovsky‘s Sleeping Beauty at The Mayflower, in awe and escapist wonder. Life-like puppet babies and swirling punk Valkyries from a touring troupe, filled dark gothic and Nordic-light stage sets. Amazing!

Billed as a gothic romance and choreographed in 2011, this was created at the Twilight years of new-goth interest in vampires, werewolves and Brothers Grimm. I shall write more about this revolutionary choreographer on my other Art So Provident WordPress blog at some point, but I just want to sing the praises of The Mayflower Theatre for pleasing most of the people, most of the time. There are more theatres in Southampton, but The Mayflower is exceptional.

Publicity for WarHorse outside Southampton's Bargate. © Mayflower Theatre
Publicity for WarHorse outside Southampton’s Bargate. © Mayflower Theatre

Je Suis Cecil!

“One of the largest and best loved theatres in the UK with over 2,300 seats. It presents a mixture of spectacular touring musicals – many direct from the West End – dance, opera, drama and ballet through to comedy and pantomime. The theatre has a rich history and is loved by South Coast communities, providing an historic landmark in the city. The programme of productions and events is jam packed all through the year and it boasts sell out performances  regularly.” – A quote from Thomas Miller, whose creative company rebranded the Mayflower Theatre in 2013.

More traditional colours when it was The Gaumont Theatre
More traditional colours when it was The Gaumont Theatre
These days The Mayflower Theatre is painted in clashing colours.
These days The Mayflower Theatre is painted in clashing colours.
Queuing for cinema tickets when it was known as The Empire Theatre
Queuing for tickets when it was known as The Empire

It was first opened in 1928 as The Empire. With the popularity of ‘talkies’ this architectural wonder, became more used as a cinema by 1942 when it was under the helm of the Gaumont Picture Corporation.

Its Gaumont years, when it was taken over by The Rank Organisation (1950-1986) is when I remember the theatre most. It was still mainly a cinema then (three films were shown continually on Saturdays throughout the day) but also used for plays, musicals and concerts. Everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles have performed here alongside local operetta and national opera societies.

The Beatles sat in the stalls of The Gaumont. Big names from Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Led Zeplin all performed here. Top performers were always staged here.
The Beatles sat in the stalls of The Gaumont. Big names from Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Beach Boys all performed here. Top acts performed here regularly.
Ticket for punk band Siouxie and the Banshees 1982).
Ticket for punk band Siouxie and the Banshees, 1982.




I play Nurse advising Juliet. Photo taken from the wings of the Gaumont Theatre Southampton during a performance of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'
I play Nurse advising Juliet. Photo taken from the wings of the Gaumont Theatre Southampton during a performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’







Local societies used the theatre too. At the age of 15 years, I played the go-between role as Nurse to Juliet in Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet. The Mayor of Southampton came to see our Deanery School production at the smaller Nuffield Theatre and thought it was so professional that he organised a restaging of it at The Gaumont. It was sold-out on each of the three performances.

There were two applications to turn the theatre into a bingo hall; one in 1970 and another in 1983. The public objected strongly and there were physical protests at both attempts.

The theatre was reopened in 1987 as The Mayflower. It is now run by an independent trust as a national touring house.

Many talented locals, including children, rehearse as chorus roles to the main touring acts.

The theatre is reportedly haunted by the ghost of an old man who has been seen sitting backstage in a wicker chair.

To read more about its heritage or to book shows visit: https://www.mayflower.org.uk/About_Us/Heritage

Pixie Lott / Mayflower billboard © Southampton Old Lady
Pixie Lott / Mayflower billboard © Southampton Old Lady



26 thoughts on “Our Southampton Theatre

  1. Thank you. Touring theatre is bringing in lots of revenue these days. It means we don’t have to go travel to London’s West End and it is saving wonderful theatres from decaying all over the UK.


  2. We are indeed lucky in the south, to have so many good theatres, starting with Chichester Festival Theatre, The Mayflower (about which you write so well), the Yvonne Arnaud at Guildford and The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth (where I saw The Mousetrap last Saturday – yes, it’s still running even if it is a trifle dated)..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulous review, great post. I love the Mayflower, been there many times. My favourite shows I’ve seen there are “We Will Rock You”, “Phantom of the Opera” and “Joseph”.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh how lucky you are! Sometimes I would like to live in a town. Have you been to the Kings Theatre in Southsea? My daughter saw Cats there today.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Towns are good for culture, but they can be so noisy and ruin your sleep, especially if you live in a student area. Yes Kings is an excellent theatre and haven’t seen Cats since the 80s. We sometimes get involved with the Groundlings Theatre in Portsmouth too. We have to watch our pennies, so we don’t go out much – most people get us theatre vouchers as presents which helps a lot.


  4. This is such a great piece. Having only lived in Southampton for a year and a half it’s really interesting to read about the history of the brilliant Mayflower Theatre! That’s amazing that you’ve actually performed there, and at the Nuffield – what great experiences 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was – treading the same boards as all the greats. For films they used to pull such a huge screen across the stage – you don’t see that these days. I loved the dressing rooms complete with light bulbs around all the mirrors. Many of the old theatres don’t have all that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t realise it had been the Mayflower for almost 30 years. We went there a lot when I was a child and a teenager, mainly for films, but I remember seeing Mr Pastry in panto there and Ken Dodd. I also saw Rick Wakeman on the Journey to the Centre of the Earth tour. When Margot Fonteyn appeared there as part of her farewell tour we sat in the gods and mainly saw the feet of the dancers. I saw my first opera there. And last year I saw Jersey Boys.
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to revisit these happy memories.


    • I also saw Margot Fonteyn on her farewell tour at the Gaumont – 1976 I believe. Am I right in thinking the company included Nureyev, who certainly danced a bit of Swan Lake with her and we could almost hear her knees creaking from the Circle – but also Natalia Makarova and possibly Lynn Seymour ?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Was it as late as that? I thought it was earlier. I’m afraid I wasn’t the ballet fan in the family, so I don’t recall who else was dancing. My mum wanted to go, knowing it would be her last chance to see Fonteyn and took me and my sister.
        We saw a few ballets there in the 60s and 70s.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Aw, I love the photo of you acting (you’re the one on the left wearing a habit, correct?). What a grand theater to have such rich history!! I loved the part about a ghost haunting it — thrilling!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I used to work right opposite the Mayflower a few years back. On my lunchtime walks I’d often bump into stars wandering around the city or in the sandwich shop. Usually I’d recognise faces but not realise they were famous. Thinking they were people I knew I’d smile and say hello. Once I even chatted to Matthew Kelly in the sandwich shop for quite some time, thinking he was someone I knew. Afterwards I always realised and felt stupid.

    Liked by 1 person

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