Southsea's Kings Theatre

The Kings Theatre in Southsea truly is one of a kind, so to think it was almost lost to the cast of Friday and Saturday night drinking sends shivers down the spines of those people who remember the grandeur and sparkle it oozed during their childhood

The Kings Theatre is one of the most exquisite examples of Britain’s increasingly rare working Edwardian Playhouses and was the vision of renowned architect Frank Matchem and local businessman John Waters Boughton. J W Boughton became involved in the world of theatre when he assisted theatre manager Henry Rutley with his Landport Hall takeover in 1856 when it was renamed to become the Theatre Royal. Boughton took over the running of the Portsmouth Theatre Company in 1882 and, after renovating the Theatre Royal in 1884, his attentions turned to other theatres within the area. In 1891 Boughton employed Frank Matchem to work on the Princess Theatre in Lake Road and the pair instantly hit it off. Boughton and Matchem’s partnership continued to include another renovation of the New Theatre Royal in 1900 and it was after this that Boughton began to explore the idea of building a Drama and Opera House in Southsea. Working closely with Matchem and the company directors Boughton continued to make plans and became so passionate about the build that he even paid for the initial design out of his own pocket. In 1907 the Kings Theatre was born and the doors opened to the public for the first time on the September 30 with a medley of plays by Henry Irving including Charles I, The Lyons Mail and The Bell. Boughton died in 1914 but the Portsmouth Theatre Company ran the Kings Theatre until 1964 when it was purchased by Commander Reggie and Mrs Joan Cooper. It remained with Mrs Joan Cooper until 1990 when Hampshire County Council invested in the theatre. In 2001 the ownership was passed over to Portsmouth City Council under the management of The Kings Theatre Trust Ltd, who in turn leased it to the Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd. While the Trust set to work on the restoration of the building, the company dealt with the day-to-day running of the business and continue to do so today.

The TrustThe Kings Theatre has been through some turbulent times in its recent history and has had to rely heavily on the good people of Southsea and beyond to stabilise its future. 1999 was an extremely prominent year for the theatre when the realisation set in and they began to understand exactly how much work, time and money was needed to ensure it remained in its original state. Determined to restore the theatre back to its former glory, a small group of people came together to form a fundraising committee to challenge the rumours of a possible sale. One of those original committee members is Ian Pratt. “I worked with the Kings on a number of productions and when I was told about the situation it was in I was determined to help in any way I could. After the Trust was established and awareness for the theatre was raised, fundraising began to really take off. We were given a sizeable grant from Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council and we managed to raise a great deal of money through charity concerts and performances, opera galas and collection buckets.“The local people of Southsea and Portsmouth have been incredible, we have a strong force of volunteers that come from all over Hampshire and put in an unbelievable amount of time and effort to ensure The Kings can be enjoyed by future generations to come.”

Preserving the pastWhen it came to the restorative work, the people involved in the Trust were determined to use the services of local businesses wherever they could. When it came to restoring the auditorium they were careful to retain as much of the wear and tear as they could, Ian explains: “The Auditorium has such a fantastic feel about it, we didn’t want to lose that by creating a chocolate box effect, filling in every single nook and cranny would have taken away the history that makes The Kings so unique and so we simply enhanced and stabilised what was already there.A lady called Joanne Surridge from Gosport came and applied all of the gold leaf and we had companies like Campbell Smith and Co Ltd in Fleet to spruce up the paint job. Throughout the whole restoration experience has been clear that without the team spirit and community atmosphere, the Kings may well have been lost to a particular public house. As it stands, the Trust is able to plan for the future and one of the most exciting things on the agenda is the impending refurbishment of the Irving Room. Since the initial work has been completed, the Trust has received countless number of requests for guided tours and educational talks from all over the country. Ian says: “The Irving Room will be an excellent space for both young and old to come and learn about the theatre’s fascinating past. It is one of the few working Edwardian theatres left in the UK and it is a joy to know that so many will be able to enjoy it for, hopefully, another century.”

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