Thorndike Theatre

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Leatherhead Theatre
Theatre, Church Street, Leatherhead - - 430379.jpg
Leatherhead Theatre
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Leatherhead Theatre
Location within Surrey
Former namesThorndike Theatre
LocationChurch Street, Leatherhead, Surrey
Coordinates 51°17′42″N0°19′43″W / 51.295074°N 0.328706°W / 51.295074; -0.328706
Type Theatre
Capacity 495 + 3 wheelchairs
Opened17 September 1969 (1969-09-17)
Architect Roderick Ham
Listed Building – Grade II
Official nameThorndike Theatre
Designated8 July 1988
Reference no. 1028904

The Thorndike Theatre, now known as the Leatherhead Theatre, is a Grade II listed building in Leatherhead, Surrey, England. [1] Roderick Ham designed the theatre within the shell of the disused 1930s Crescent Cinema. Named after Dame Sybil Thorndike, the theatre was opened on 17 September 1969 by Princess Margaret. [2] [3]


The theatre closed in 1997 after the loss of public funding. A charitable trust was set up to operate it and the theatre re-opened as the Leatherhead Theatre in 2001, with seating reduced to 495 plus three wheelchair places. [4]


The Thorndike Theatre opened in 1969 as a replacement for the 300-seat Ace Cinema in Leatherhead High Street. The cinema had originally been built in 1890 as the Victoria Hall [5] and as performances became more popular, its size had become restrictive and there was a need for a new and better-equipped performing arts venue in the town. [6]

The Thorndike Theatre, in Church Street, was designed by Roderick Ham in the modernist style. [7] It was rebuilt from the former Crescent Cinema, which was originally constructed in 1939 and which was run by a local family until the 1960s. [8] [9] Although the exterior walls of the Crescent were retained, the interior, including the 526-seat auditorium and lobby, was built anew. [6] Named for the actor Sybil Thorndike, its construction was primarily paid for by private donations, with some additional funding from the Leatherhead Urban District Council and the Arts Council. [6] The building also included a studio theatre, the Casson Room, for smaller-scale performances including youth productions. The Thorndike Theatre was opened in September 1969 by Princess Margaret. [8] [10]

Although it was initially popular, the Thorndike Theatre regularly ran operating deficits. [6] Following several years of cuts in public subsidy, [6] it launched an appeal for £350,000 in February 1988, which was supported by the playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, actors, Prunella Scales and Timothy West, and the local MP, Kenneth Baker. [11] The theatre briefly closed in July 1990, [12] [13] but reopened three months later following a rescue bid led by the producer and businessman, Bill Kenwright. [14] It closed again in April 1997 with a total debt of almost £1.2 million. [6] [15] [16] A second reopening followed in October 1997, [17] [18] but closed just over a month later after the new operators, Screenworks, entered voluntary liquidation owing £400,000. [19] [20]

The theatre was Grade II-listed in July 1999. [21] It reopened in 2001 as a part-time theatre, [15] cinema, community space and meeting place for the evangelical group, Pioneer People. [7] [8] The annual Leatherhead Drama Festival, for amateur theatre groups, was launched at the theatre in 2004 and ran for 16 years. [22]

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  1. Historic England (8 July 1999). "Thorndike Theatre (Grade II) (1387322)". National Heritage List for England .
  2. "Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead — The Twentieth Century Society".
  3. "Leatherhead Theatre (ii)". The Theatres Trust.
  4. "Information". Leatherhead Theatre. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  5. Vardey 1988, pp. 89, 194.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Turnbull 2008, pp. 129–131.
  7. 1 2 Calder, Barnabas (June 2004). "Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead: Building of the Month". 20th Century Society. Archived from the original on 27 August 2021. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  8. 1 2 3 Vardey 2001, pp. 123–124.
  9. Powell, Goff. "The Crescent Cinema, Church Street, Leatherhead" (PDF). Leatherhead & District Local History Society. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 November 2021. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  10. "A royal day for theatre". Cobham News and Mail. No. 1742. 25 September 1969. p. 1.
  11. "Theatre appeal backed". Leatherhead Advertiser. No. 5057. 18 February 1988. p. 16.
  12. King, Debbie (13 June 1988). "It is curtains for theatre unless...". Leatherhead Advertiser. No. 5187. p. 1.
  13. "Funds problem closes theatre". Surrey Herald. 26 July 1990. p. 30.
  14. "£100,000 deal for theatre". Leatherhead Advertiser. No. 5192. 19 September 1990. p. 1.
  15. 1 2 "History". Leatherhead Theatre. Archived from the original on 11 September 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  16. Gurney, David (10 April 1997). "Thorndike's shock debts". Leatherhead Advertiser. pp. 1, 3.
  17. "Thorndike gets a spring clean". Leatherhead Advertiser. 2 October 1997. p. 1.
  18. Fryer, Jennifer (23 October 1997). "Future looks rosy for revived theatre". Leatherhead Advertiser. p. 3.
  19. Gurney, David (11 December 1997). "Second cash crisis closes Thorndike". Leatherhead Advertiser. p. 1.
  20. Gurney, David (8 January 1998). "Theatre creditors told their investments lost". Leatherhead Advertiser. p. 9.
  21. Gardner, Claire (8 July 1999). "Thorndike is listed but the doubts remain". Leatherhead Advertiser. p. 1.
  22. "Leatherhead Drama Festival". Leatherhead Drama Festival. October 2021. Archived from the original on 16 November 2021. Retrieved 16 November 2021.