ALHAMBRA THEATRE IN BRADFORD CELEBRATES 100 GLORIOUS YEARS
The Alhambra Theatre, the jewel in Bradford's crown, was the vision of Francis Laidler, a local impresario and theatre manager who had been running the Prince's Theatre in the city centre since 1902. Laidler had the idea and vision to build a brand new theatre in 1912 and it was two years later that his dream was realised.
The Alhambra Theatre was officially opened at 2pm on 18 March 1914. Five days later, it opened its doors to the general public on 23 March for a Variety show, which ran for a week. The show included various acts and also a Revue called A Year in the Hour - a totally new type of show for Bradford. Performers included principal boy performer, Alice Wyatt who opened the show with the National Anthem, Yeadon-born comic Sydney Howard, Mamie Watson, Leslie Barker, Nellie Wallace and the Benedetti Brothers (acrobats).
The theatre prospered throughout the 20's which was known as The Golden Age of Variety. 'Throughout the thriving years of variety there was hardly a star or a star-in-the-making who did not appear on its stage'* including the greats such as George Formby, Florence Desmond, George Lashwood and Randolph Sutton who wowed Bradford audiences. Variety was a favourite throughout the decades going in to the 1950's when the Alhambra played host to American comedy legends, Laurel and Hardy.
It wasn't just variety shows at the theatre.
In October 1930 Prima ballerina Anna Pavlova performed The Dying Swan. The theatre has since welcomed The Royal Ballet, Scottish Theatre Ballet and in 1968, the stars of the Russian Bolshi and Kirov Ballets. Today the venue programmes the worlds best dance companies including the critically acclaimed Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and Northern Ballet.
The Alhambra Theatre's name is synonymous with pantomime. Francis Laidler was known as 'The King of Panto' and started the charming tradition of using Sunbeams (the juvenile dance troupe) in his pantomimes in 1917 at the Prince's Theatre in Bradford. It wasn't officially until 1930/31 that the Sunbeams came to the Alhambra, when Laidler switched his pantos to this venue. He even toured his Sunbeam troupes into Theatre Royal Leeds (which he also ran having taken over the lease in 1909). The Sunbeam tradition still flourishes today. Cont'd overFor half a century, Francis Laidler delivered panto after panto in his Bradford venues, as well as venues in Leeds, Keighley and London. His last Alhambra panto was Red Riding Hood, which opened on 27 December 1954. Sadly, just a few days after its opening, on 6 January 1955, Laidler passed away, just one day before his 88th birthday. In true showbiz style his widow Gwladys Stanley Laidler announced that the show must go on.
In the 1960's Bradford Metropolitan City Council took ownership of the Alhambra Theatre. The venue prospered into the early 80's with the biggest panto stars of the day, Les Dawson, Little & Large, The Krankies and Russ Abbot; as well as other notable performances including one by Joanna Lumley in Noel Coward's Private Lives.
Before the theatre closed for extensive refurbishment in 1984, it was to enter the world of film and the venue was chosen as the setting for the 1983 British film The Dresser, starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.
On Thursday 30 October 1986, the refurbished Alhambra Theatre officially reopened, and Cannon and Ball took centre stage in Babes in the Wood, that year's pantomime.
Throughout the 80's, 90's and 00's right up to the present day, the Alhambra Theatre has played host to some of the biggest shows in the world and the best names in entertainment: including An Evening with Tommy Steele in 1986, the world-wide phenomenon Les Miserables in 1998 for 12 weeks, the National Theatre's The History Boys in 2006 and Will Young in Cabaret in 2013.
Adam Renton, General Manager Bradford Theatres comments:
"It's an honour for me to be general manager of this prestigious theatre in such a wonderful year. We have two of the biggest touring shows coming to the Alhambra in 2014, with Disney's The Lion King and National Theatre's War Horse. Everyone at Bradford Theatres is planning a year of celebration to acknowledge this magnificent milestone."
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Portfolio Holder Employment, Skills and Culture, Bradford Council adds:
"The Alhambra has a tremendous history and therefore significance to Bradford people. I'm looking forward to this year and the blockbuster shows which we have coming. Tickets are selling really fast so there will be literally thousands of people joining in the celebration."
Through the golden age of variety, the 1980's refurbishment and up to the present day, the Alhambra Theatre has had a wonderful and varied history. It remains an iconic venue, attracting the very best in star names and live entertainment to the city of Bradford. Plans to celebrate all this and more throughout the Alhambra Theatre's 100th anniversary year (2014) will be announced in due course. Keep checking the Bradford Theatres website for updates and announcements on forthcoming events and activities: bradford-theatres.co.uk
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