Palace Theatre

Cheapside,
Reading, RG1 7AB

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Located on the edge of the town centre. The Palace Theatre of Varieties was opened on 30th September 1907 with a variety bill, which included the Bioscope, screening pictures of “H.M. the King on board HMS Dreadnaught”. Top artistes appeared at the Palace Theatre of Varieties over the years, including George Robey, Harry Tate, Marie Lloyd, Florrie Ford, G.H. Elliott, Houdini, Cecily Courtneidge, Gracie Fields, Jack Buchanan, Max Miller, Tommy Trinder and many more. The Bioscope was part of the programming for many years.

The theatre designed by noted theatre architect W.G.R. Sprague, and its exterior was almost similar to Sprague’s Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. The auditorium was decorated in an Adam style, and had seating provided in orchestra stalls, dress circle and upper circle levels, with boxes on each side of the 29 feet wide proscenium. There were six dressing rooms and three chorus rooms which could acommodate 60 artistes.

In October 1935, the Palace Theatre was purchased by Oscar Deutsch, who was building his new Odeon Theatre next door, requiring a side passage that was part of the Palace Theatre for use by the Odeon building. However Odeon Theatres had no interest in operating the Palace Theatre, and it continued as a live theatre in independent management. In 1939, it was taken over by County Theatre (Reading) Ltd. (the Royal County Theatre had been destroyed by a fire in January 1937). The Palace Theatre presented plays, revues and concerts, and artistes such as Richard Tauber and Myra Hess as well as big dance bands of the day led by Jack Payne, Joe Loss and Harry Roy appeared.

Repertory theatre was also popular for many years. Once television was introduced in the mid-1950’s, business at the Palace Theatre began to fall, like most others live theatres around the UK. After a brief run of presenting nude shows, and the final gasps of variety, the pantomime "Babes in the Wood" was the final production at the Palace Theatre, which was closed on 9th January 1960. The theatre was demolished in 1961, and an office block was built on the site.

Contributed by Ken Roe
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