History

A Theatre of National Importance

In 1907 the Kings Theatre opened its doors and has ever-since been a magnet for theatregoers from in and around Portsmouth and Southsea. For 110 years audiences have enjoyed musicals, plays, comedy, opera, dance, talks and film in the sumptuous surroundings of a beautiful Grade II* listed proscenium arch theatre, designated by the Theatres Trust as a ‘theatre of national importance’.

J W Boughton conceived and brought to fruition the building of the theatre which was designed by the notable theatre architect Frank Matcham. The theatre stayed in the control of its original owners, The Portsmouth Theatre Company, until 1964 when it was purchased by Commander Reggie & Mrs Joan Cooper. In 1990 it was sold to Hampshire County Council. In 2001, after a successful campaign by AKTER (Action for Kings TheatrE Restoration) to keep the theatre open, the theatre was purchased by Portsmouth City Council and leased to the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd who undertook the restoration of the building, whilst the Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd operated it on a day-to-day basis.

Since 2003 it has been managed by the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd as a voluntary charitable Trust. The Trust has invested over £2.25 million in an extensive restoration programme of this Edwardian playhouse, the majority of costs being met through the Theatre’s own Box Office revenue.

But that’s not all… the Kings Theatre has a vibrant community engagement programme, to make the arts (particularly visual and performing arts) accessible to all. Exhibitions, workshops, theatre tours, summer schools, work-based learning & apprenticeships, local, national and international partner-projects are all an integral part of our work here.

The Big Project was launched in 2015, which will be the start of a whole new chapter in the Kings' life.

 

Southsea’s Box of Delights

Read more about the history of the Kings Theatre in The Kings: Southsea’s Box of Delights by Lesley Burton.

Published in 2003 this beautifully illustrated guide provides a fascinating insight in the history of the theatre and the famous faces who have trodden its boards.

Snap up a copy from the Box Office or buy one on-line here.

 

Stepping back in the time

The dignified and beautiful Kings Theatre, with its Italian Renaissance style of decor, is one of the best examples of an elegant Edwardian playhouses to be found in the British Isles and has most of its original features intact. It is the result of the vision and business acumen of John Waters Boughton and the architectural prowess of Frank Matcham, one of the greatest of theatre architects. Although Frank Matcham is much respected and his work is well documented, J W Boughton remains largely unknown outside Portsmouth. 

 

John Boughton

In the mid-1850s, the theatre manager Henry Rutley arrived in Portsmouth and took over the Landport Hall. His previous experience in both theatre and circus persuaded him that a theatre could not only be made profitable but would also be a social asset to the town. With only a licence for a limited period he had the faith to re-open the Landport Hall as the Theatre Royal in 1856. John Waters Boughton became his assistant and, after the death of both Henry Rutley and his successor J C Hughes, Boughton took over the reins of Portsmouth Theatres Company in 1882. 

One of Boughton's first decisions was to undertake a major rebuild of the Theatre Royal, re-opening it as The New Theatre Royal in 1884. To do so he engaged the most famous theatre architect of the day, C J Phipps, who had earlier built London’s Gaiety, Theatre Royal and the Haymarket. This was the Boughton style - to go for the best and to be commercially bold.

In 1891 Boughton employed the rising theatre architect Frank Matcham to rebuild and enlarge the Princes Theatre in Lake Road which had been destroyed by fire several years before. He employed Matcham yet again to remodel the New Theatre Royal in 1900, and took him into his confidence early in the new century when he began to discuss the building of a Drama and Opera House in Southsea. So confident was he that Boughton paid for the initial design out of his own pocket, only disclosing his action to his company directors in June 1906. He was reimbursed for every penny and his foresight was approved, so that this new theatre - the Kings - became the third theatre owned by the Portsmouth Theatres Company.

The Kings Theatre opened on 30 September 1907.

Boughton died in 1914 but the Company continued to operate the Kings Theatre until 1964 when Commander Reggie & Mrs Joan Cooper purchased it.

 

What They Say

Many stars of stage and screen have performed at the Kings during its first century including Sarah Bernhardt, Noel Coward, Sean Connery, Rex Harrison, Spike Milligan, Ivor Novello, Sybil Thorndike and HB Irving.

As we enter into our second century here’s what some of our 21st century stars have had to say about the Kings Theatre.

Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers “One of the Great Theatres.”

Kit Hesketh-Harvey “Matchless Matcham!”

Alan Carr “Wow! What an amazing venue and audience.”

Dillie Keane “Well, you know this is my favourite theatre … Wonderful to be back and to see more of the beauties enhanced and revealed. Love Dillie Keane”

Charlene Tilton “What an honour to be on stage at the beautiful Kings Theatre.”

Syd Little “My Favourite Theatre.”

Dara O Brian “Always a delight to play a “proper” theatre. Long may it remain so….”

Des O’Connor “Thank you Kings it’s been Great. A fun night. I loved the theatre and the crowd.”

Su Pollard “Still great, still fab acoustics & STILL HERE. Great, great staff. Will be back again soon, I hope.”

Alan Davies “Thank you. Lovely theatre. Highly intelligent clientele.”

 

 

“To everyone at The Kings. Thank you once again for your wonderful welcome and hospitality. How very plumptious.”

Ken Dodd

Timeline

2016   Following her star turn as the Wicked Stepmother in the 2015/16 pantomime Cinderella, Actress and Singer Anita Harris became a patron.

2015   The Big Project launched.

2015   The Kings Theatre co-produced with the Teatro Nuovo-Verona the first-ever promenade production of Romeo and Juliet, performed in and around Juliet’s Courtyard in Verona.

2015   The Kings Theatre welcomed two new champions as Comedian Hugh Dennis and the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth became patrons.

2014   No 28 opened as a hub for the Theatre’s Community Engagement projects.

2011   The Kings Theatre co-produced the first of a number of national and international tours with Icarus Theatre Collective. 2011/2012 Macbeth. 2012/13 Romeo and Juliet. 2013/14 Othello.

2010   The Kings Youth Theatre was launched, giving the young people of Portsmouth and Southsea opportunities to train and perform at the Kings.

2010   Actress and Strictly finalist Lisa Riley became a patron of the Kings.

2008   The Kings Theatre won Best Restored Building by the Portsmouth Society’s Annual Design Awards, and was presented with a Blue Plaque.

2003   After a seemingly successful 18 months the operating company, Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd, went bankrupt and the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd took over the full operation of the theatre.

2001   Actress Dillie Keane, who grew up in Southsea and was an usher at the Kings in her youth, became a patron. 

2001   Restoration work began under the guidance and auspices of the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd. This work continues, and more details can be found in our Restoration Timeline.

2001 Actress Kate O’Mara became the theatre’s first patron. Her grandfather was J W Boughton and she has many memories of her time at the theatre. 

2001   After a successful campaign by AKTER (Action for Kings TheatrE Restoration) to keep the theatre open, it was bought by Portsmouth City Council and leased to the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd who took responsibility for the building’s restoration and repair. This trust leased the building in turn to an operating company, Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd, who operated the building on a day to day basis and put on the programme of shows. 

1998 The statue originally mounted on the top of the Tower, was found by chance in a Hampshire scrapyard. Missing for many years the original statue, renamed ‘Aurora’ is now on display in the foyer, whilst a glass-fibre replica was installed at the top of the tower.

1990 Hampshire County Council bought the Theatre with Mrs Cooper and Mr Barnes staying on as Co-lessees.

1987 Commander Cooper died and Mrs Cooper brought in local businessman Mr Ivor Barnes to run the theatre.

1974 Director Ken Russell filmed the Pinball Wizard sequence of the rock opera Tommy at the theatre, featuring The Who and Elton John on the stage.

1964 The theatre was purchased by Commander Reggie and Mrs Joan Cooper.

1939 The Kings closed at the Government’s behest when the war began in what became known as the "phoney war". It re-opened in 1940. Jessie Matthews was performing when the Luftwaffe made the first of its excursions across the channel, reaching Portsmouth. She swiftly returned to London.

1914 J W Boughton died, but the Company continued to operate the Kings Theatre until 1964 when Commander Reggie and Mrs Joan Cooper purchased it.

1907 The Kings Theatre opened on 30 September with a production Charles the First starring H. B. Irving. He then appeared in two further plays, The Lyons Mail and The Bells, which had been made famous by his father, Sir Henry Irving.

1906 Construction work began.

1900 J W Boughton commissioned architect Frank Matcham to design the Kings Theatre.