A host of well-known names and familiar faces will come together on Swansea’s best-loved stage to celebrate 125 years of Swansea Grand Theatre on Saturday 23rd July.
Places change over the years, civic buildings come and go and the landscape of a city can become unrecognisable over a relatively short time.
Then there are the buildings that stand the test time and become so ingrained in the life of a place that you cannot imagine that it was ever not there. For people in Swansea there are few places of which that is truer than Swansea Grand Theatre.
For 125 years this pastel-hued beauty of a building has brought talent from across the globe to Swansea, and to celebrate this milestone, resident company Grand Ambition has brought together a host of Welsh talent to say thank you to the theatre and to inspire a new generation of audiences.
On Saturday 23rd July, Grand Ambition is producing a night filled with music, dance, drama, song and entertainment from a star-studded line up, including Ria Jones, Mike Doyle, Kev Johns, Mose1time, Ify Iwobi, Valley Rock Voices, Karl Morgan & Who’s Molly?, Mal Pope, Crossing Borders, Hayley Gallivan, Bronwen Lewis, Steve Balsamo and Lee David
As well as established artists, a debut performance from The Rising Stars Theatre Co and the brilliant Fluellen Theatre Co, the Gala will also showcase young talent from the city, including resident companies Harry’s Youth Theatre, Mellin Theatre Arts and many, many more.
With a programme combining West-End show stoppers with Dylan Thomas, rap and powerful choral numbers, the Grand Gala promises to be a joyous celebration of Swansea.
Grand Ambition is a new and exciting creative collective based at The Grand Theatre with a focus on developing audiences by telling Swansea stories and developing young and existing creative talent.
The company has been created in collaboration with Swansea City Council and Swansea based professional artists – Richard Mylan, Steve Balsamo, Michelle McTernan and Christian Patterson.
We asked them to tell us what inspired them to produce the Gala.
Michelle explained: “We all started our careers here at the Grand. It has a very special place in all our hearts. The fact that we have the opportunity to create “in house” engagements and work in this beautiful building is an absolute honour. Swansea Grand Theatre has stood the test of time and served our people and its city when she needed it the most. She has proved
to be a great institution and we must celebrate her in all her glory. The 125th birthday celebration will be a night to say thank you to her for always being there for us.”
“I feel now more than ever we should celebrate this theatre having been there for us for the last 125 years. We must honour its past and it’s incredibly bright future. The talent that we have on stage for this one-off event will reflect just that” actor and director Richard Mylan continued.
Musician Steve Balsamo is the third director of Grand Ambition and will perform on the night. He said “The Grand has always loomed large in my life and it’s always been a thrill to perform here. It’s so important to mark this 125th birthday and to pay tribute to this beautiful building, to remember the past and look forward to the future. Personally, to be able to sing my own song on this special night and to leave a thumb print on the legacy of The Grand will be an absolute honour”.
Directing the event is writer, director and actor Christian Patterson. “It is an honour to be directing this Gala in the theatre that inspired me to be an actor. The Grand Theatre has graced Swansea for 125 years! It has entertained, delighted & enthralled people every single day of its existence and will continue to do so for many, many years to come. It will be a joy to
commemorate its glorious past and look toward its glittering future. Happy Birthday & long live Swansea Grand Theatre!” he enthused.
That future is fired by a new desire to connect with communities across Swansea. Cabinet Minister for Regeneration, Robert Francis-Davies commented, “These are exciting times for our city. Swansea Grand Theatre has always played a key role at the centre of Swansea’s cultural life, offering lots of opportunities for creativity for all of our communities.”
Recently appointed manager of the theatre, Grant MacFarlane, summed it up nicely: “I am immensely proud to be associated with the Grand Theatre and to be a part of its future. The Grand speaks directly to people’s emotions, is inextricably linked with the fondest and most vivid memories of Swansea’s citizens, and is at the heart of the city and its people”.
Tickets for the Grand Gala are available now for Swansea Grand Theatre box office, online, by phone and in person. Full details can be found at swanseagrand.co.uk/BirthdayGala. All line up announcements and updates will be available on Grand Ambition’s social media channels.
The History of The Grand Theatre: A timeline
125 years at the very heart of Swansea, thrilling countless generations of theatregoers along the way from Shakespeare to Pantomime.
1897: Mouillot and Morell, two entrepreneur actor/managers, seized an opportunity to build a Theatre in Swansea. They purchased the former Drill Hall in Singleton Street, demolished it and employed William Hope – an experienced Theatre architect to design The Grand – it is the only surviving example of his work. The estimated capacity was 2,500.
1897: Swansea Grand Theatre was opened by the opera star Adelina Patti. She arrived at Swansea train station and boarded an open top horse and cart, the streets were lined with all her fans. It was a truly grand event.
Despite early success the Grand Theatre has had a chequered history.
1930: Swansea Grand Theatre was a full time repertory theatre.
January 1933: the Theatre closed for six months because of the flu epidemic. The audiences seem to miss the regularity of attending and after this break, there was a noticeable decline.
1933: The theatre became a “Cine Variety Theatre”
1934: The theatre closed. It lay empty for a while with just occasional use
1947: Bought by Captain W.E.Willis
1950s: The struggles continued. The problem – apart from television, was the public investment and civic support that was happening for theatre in Cardiff. The privately owned Grand was falling behind in terms of attractions and the physical state of the building. It was
showing its age.
1957: Actor/director – John Chilvers presented a successful repertory season at the Grand. And eventually became the manager and stayed for over 25 years.
1970: Vivian Ellicott the Front of House Manager wrote:- “We have just reported on our first year’s business. The actual loss to the ratepayers has been £5.900 – chicken-feed! Thanks to John Chilvers, the figures are healthy”.
1978: At the end of a 10 year lease, the local council bought the Grand – making it Swansea’s civic theatre.
1982-1986: £5million worth of renovation and building was carried out. The impressive new look Grand re-opened on 17th December 1986 with the pantomime Aladdin.
1999: A new arts wing was added housing a new box office, studio theatre (capacity 150), exhibition area, rehearsal rooms and café.
2020: The Grand Theatre stage became a testing centre for Covid19 during the pandemic until Aug 2021 with the public entering through the scene dock doors where sets along with their builders and technicians would normally have entered.
2020/21: The Multicultural Hub was built and became home to (RCC) Race Council Cymru, Chinese in Wales and The African Community Centre.
2022: The Theatre has a new manager Mr Grant McFarlane. Grant will undertake the leadership of the new manager for Swansea Grand Theatre and The Brangwyn Hall, in conjunction with the Council’s Cultural Services’ management team.
2022: Grand Ambition become the theatre’s resident production company. Swansea Grand Theatre is steeped in history and the future looks bright.
Heres to the next 125 years!
(All images: Swansea Council)
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