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