The Alexandra Theatre
The Alexandra was built in 1871 as a basic community meeting place and was originally called the Alexandra Hall. In 1883 as a major upgrade of the building took place which included the addition of a stage with dressing rooms below, more dressing rooms in extensions at the side of the main building and an orchestra pit.
The stage area was constructed by incorporating part of the adjoining Market Hall and building a full height brick wall which separated the stage from the market. As the market building was higher than the Alexandra, the stage area had the added advantage of a built-in fly tower which enabled the ‘flying’ of backdrops – an essential feature of any theatre worthy of the name.
The next major alteration to the theatre took place in 1928 when fixed raked seating was fitted in the stalls and a balcony was added – again with fixed raked seating.
In those days the theatre had a doorman and a full time orchestra.
The Newton Abbot Operatic Society had been using the theatre since they began regular productions in 1922 and played alongside the professional touring companies that frequently came to Newton Abbot before the war.
The theatre was also used as a cinema and as the years went by and the touring companies grew fewer, it was the moving pictures that provided the main income for the theatre.
After the war the Operatic Society continued to use the theatre, but it was as a cinema that The Alexandra spent most of its time. Another refurbishment took place in 1978 when, as part of the town centre redevelopment scheme, a new foyer was built at the back of the stalls area and the seating was reduced from 515 to 365 seats.
New seats were fitted and the orchestra pit – which had for many years been covered over – was re-instated. The dressing rooms were also re-fitted with new wash basins and lighting and on stage the wooden steps to the fly-bridge were replaced with steel ladders.
New dressing rooms were built just off the stage together with a new entrance to the stage area which had the effect of increasing the off-stage area, or wings, by about 50%.
In 1995 the theatre was once again altered into a two screen cinema by separating the balcony area with an acoustic wall. This means that the stalls area only is now used for live stage performances and that the number of seats available for stage shows is down to 175.
In spite of these constraints the Newton Abbot and District Musical Comedy Society – the society’s name was changed in 1959 – manages to present musical shows for the people of Newton Abbot as it has since the 1920’s and will hopefully continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
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