Watford Palace Theatre is a registered charity. We have been at the heart of the Watford community since 1908.
The theatre has given the local community entertainment and inspiration for 113 years; championing new work on-stage and in the streets of Watford.
“When it was was first built in 1908, the Palace was a modest music-hall, evolving through a period as a lively repertory theatre until today, the Palace is a producing house with a national reputation.”
– Ian Scleater, ‘The Story of the Palace Theatre Watford’
Take a step back in time:
The Music Hall Years 1908-1938
The Palace’s foundation stone was laid on 6th June 1908, and the theatre opened for the very first time on 14th December.
At first, the auditorium only had the stalls and the circle. The top-price tickets were one shilling and six pence (which would be £39 today).
The theatre closed briefly in 1911 to build the Upper Circle – the true ‘cheap seats’, which could only be reached by climbing the stone staircase outside the building.
The theatre spent the first part of its history as a music hall, hosting legendary musical theatre stars of the day like Marie Lloyd.
There were rumours of appearances by Charlie Chaplin although this has sadly been disproved. However, it’s likely that his less famous brother Sidney performed at WPT, alongside stars like Gracie Fields, Lottie Lennox and even Stan Laurel (most known for being one half of legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy).
The music hall proved a great success, with performances twice nightly.
The management explained why:
‘the First Performance will commence precisely at 7 o’clock and will terminate at 8.45, thus allowing for the Working Man who has to rise early in the Morning (…) to enjoy a rational Entertainment without interfering with their daily toil; whilst Tradesmen, who are occupied in their businesses until 7 or 8 o’clock, can attend the 9 o’clock Performance’!
All classes of society had the chance to enjoy the theatre.
The Repertory Years 1939-1968
Winifred and Andrew Melville took over the management of the theatre in March 1939 and under their direction the theatre reached new heights – on average 50 plays were produced per year.
The Theatre stayed open throughout the Blitz. Despite the Luftwaffe, the show went on!
This was an important new era in the history of the theatre as Jimmy & Gilda Perry arrived at the theatre to join the company.
In 1956 they took over as joint Artistic Directors (Jimmy Perry would later find fame as writer of the beloved British sitcom Dad’s Army in the 1960s and 70s).
Despite some brilliant and well-known actors appearing at the Theatre – Glenda Jackson, Tom Bell, Rodney Bewes – during this time, the theatre was no longer a viable financial concern.
In 1964, recognizing the importance of the theatre to the town, Watford Council took over the management of the building.
Watford Palace Theatre Makes the Future
The 1970s were a time for discovering and supporting exciting new talent.
The theatre became a Producing Theatre, creating its own productions.
At this time, the auditorium was “future-proofed” with new seats and wiring.
During this time, the theatre moved away from traditional plays towards creating new works, and opening up to the diverse local community.
During this time, the theatre had a major refurbishment. Changes included the stage being extended and the controversial arrival of the Light Sculpture which still hangs over the Stalls today.
The newly refurbished theatre enters the future.
From 2014 the theatre begins producing Imagine Watford, a festival of exciting and colourful performances every summer.
Recordings made in 2018 for the Palace’s Centenary.