150 years in Newcastle!

Peter Lathan

The grade 1 listed Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle, one of only ten in the UK which dates back to Victorian times, celebrates its 150th anniversary in September.

Designed by William B Parnell for Joseph Cowen (1829-1900), politician and industrialist and son of Sir Joseph Cowen, Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne from 1865 to 1873, the theatre opened on 23rd September 1867. The first lessee was George Stanley who ran it as a producing house until 1881. He was followed by Richard William Younge who was followed after his death in 1887 by Augustus Harris who had run the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, since 1879 and was a significant figure in the development of pantomime, becoming known as “the father of modern pantomime”.

The Victorian stage machinery is still in the theatre and in working order, even though it was damaged in a fire in 1985.

In 1919, the theatre became a cinema—the Stoll Picture Theatre—which, although it was the seventh to open in the city, was the first to show “talking pictures.” It opened on 2 June 1919, showing Tarzan of the Apes. It remained a cinema until 1974 although by the end of this period it was reduced to showing X-rated films such as Chesty Morgan (she of the 73 inch bust) in Deadly Weapons. The last film to be shown was Danish Bed and Board.

The theatre will be celebrating its anniversary with a series of special events, starting with The Cinema Years, a commemoration in association with the Whitley Bay Film Festival.

The Cinema Years will run from 11 to 13 August features significant films from the film which opened the cinema, Tarzan of the Apes, through the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera and the 1933 King Kong, to the 2002 romantic comedy The One and Only. There will also be talks from Peter Flannery (screenwriter and playwright), Chris Phipps (cultural historian) and Dr Andrew Shail (Lecturer in film) as well as animation workshops with Sheila Graber.

Other anniversary events are:

  • 11 – 17 September
    Twenty Seven Productions in association with the Tyne Theatre and Opera House

    Interactive tours will providing a multi-sensory experience for each limited audience: the sights, sounds and smells of the building.

  • 20 – 23 September
    Tyne Theatre Productions
    West Side Story

    An amateur production. Funds raised from this performance will contribute to the preservation and future restoration of the building.

  • 28 September
    The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company 
    The Pirates of Penzance

  • 29 September
    The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company
    The Mikado

  • 30 September
    The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company
    HMS Pinafore

  • 6 October
    Live at the Tyne & Chris Cross present
    The Greatest Show on the Tyne

    A family variety show featuring comedians, circus performers, acrobats and magicians.

  • 11 – 14 October
    A Customs House production
    Geordie the Musical
    By Tom Kelly, based on an idea by Andy Bogle

The theatre’s Director, Joanne Johnson, said, “many people are unaware that at the start of 2015, Tyne Theatre & Opera House became an independent company. We’re a not-for-profit organization who receive no funding, and I’m glad to say things have gone from strength to strength, and I’m so thrilled that we are still here operating successfully in our 150th Anniversary year.

"We couldn’t do it without the support of the public, and we hope people come along and celebrate this beautiful, fascinating building’s rich history with us. Here’s to another 150 years!”