The Beginning - 1920s
In the 1920’s a private company called Bournemouth Little Theatre Limited was formed and only Club members were allowed to own the ordinary shares with voting rights. The proceeds of a bank loan and a preference share issue raised enough funds for the building of the Club’s own custom-designed, 565 seat theatre in Hinton Road which was opened in 1931 as The Little Theatre. This was two years after the opening of the much larger municipal Pavilion Theatre in 1929 in the Lower Gardens.
Unfortunately The Little Theatre was situated in a minor road away from public gaze and proved hard for visitors to find. The name was soon changed to The Palace Court Theatre to signal the fact that the premises backed on to the famous Palace Court Hotel, now the Premier Inn, in Westover Road.
To achieve financial viability the theatre was regularly let to touring companies.
Both directors and actors had to prove themselves with small shows in the theatre’s basement space before they were permitted to participate in the main hall activities. A committee chose the plays, selected the directors, then offered them the plays. A director either agreed to put on the play offered or did nothing - there was no alternative! So great was the use of the premises that permanent paid staff were employed on a full-time basis to do those important but under-appreciated tasks that most amateur actors hate to do - taking bookings, managing the building, constructing sets, running the very active bar, and cleaning the place.
Inevitably, World War II affected social activities but the Club remained in business, and resumed in full flight after hostilities ceased. By the mid 1950s the picture was one of seasons packed full of productions by the Club, professional shows, basement starter plays, morning teas and coffees on the Club premises.
The Club was, in fact, so successful that a limit of 1500 had to be placed on membership. The creation - and promotion - of a waiting list lent added value to membership.
The heyday both of the Club and English provincial theatre is often considered to have been in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, when the Club continued to enjoyed high membership numbers.
The Club adopted its present name in 1992, when it formed itself into a private company limited by guarantee, and also achieved charitable status.
The Middle Years - 1960s
The 1960s witnessed a big change in social behaviour. Television had now come to dominate domestic entertainment, and, with declining revenues from touring companies, it proved increasingly difficult for the Club to meet the ever-escalating running costs of its premises. Moreover, the pattern of tourism changed. Where it had been the practice for families regularly to come to Bournemouth for two weeks vacation each year, it now became the period of the short-break tourist and convention delegate. There were, therefore, less visitors looking for one night of family entertainment after a day at the beach. In 1970 the decision was taken to sell the building, and the sale was completed in 1971 providing the Club with a modest fund of cash to back its future activities.
The Club then moved to temporary premises in the town centre - to a location that proved too small for the staging of plays but which served as a useful base from which to conduct a vigorous touring programme, taking live theatre to many towns and villages in the vicinity.
By 1972 it was clear that the UK was entering a long period when amateur theatre could no longer make a profit. However, in 1975 BLTC found itself a new home in Winton, Bournemouth where it was lucky to secure the upper floor of an industrial building at a low rent.
The Club has been located in its present leased first floor quarters in Jameson Road since mid 1975. The property was originally designed during the 1930s for use as the staff canteen area of the garage below. The floor of what is now the auditorium is actually a superbly sprung dance floor. Over the years since 1975, a continuous series of alterations has adapted the original, rather stark premises into today’s intimate theatre. The auditorium has a capacity of 95 seats, with all but the back row of 9 bench seats being very comfortable (ex-cinema) tip-up seats. With the exception of the front row, all seats are raked to give optimum viewing of the stage. There is an area for serving interval teas and coffees behind the auditorium and a corridor leads to the Green Room Bar and other facilities.
In 2019, Bournemouth Little Theatre celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Over the years, there have been those inevitable changes of fortune experienced by all organisations. Indeed, at one time, we were homeless but, thanks to the hard work and determination of a stalwart few, the Theatre managed to stay in existence until new premises came along.
We are very proud of our ‘Intimate Theatre’ and the productions that we stage. Come along and see for yourself just why Bournemouth Little Theatre continues to ‘Be Alive to Live Theatre and Keep Theatre Alive’.
Our History in Pictures