4-12 Chapel Street,
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Located in the Little Germany district of Bradford city centre. The current Bradford Playhouse is built on the site of the 1837 Temperence Hall which was converted into a cinema in 1909 having screened films intermittently since 1900. The hall was destroyed by fire on 25 March 1935.
The Civic Playhouse and Film Theatre was opened with the world premiere of J. B Priestley’s “Bees on the Boat Deck” on stage on 29 January 1937 with the first film “Whom The Gods Love” being screened 8 February 1937. The two art forms have continued together ever since.
The stark 1930’s exterior, somewhat reminiscent of London’s Whitehall Theatre, was designed by architect Eric Morley and behind it lies a small Art Deco style foyer. The two tier auditorium is rather plain, the balcony has 8 rows and is flat fronted but with projecting loges at either side. The rectangular proscenium has quarter columns without caps or bases and is 7 metres wide.
Following another major fire in 1996 the building was restored, with improved facilities, and reopened in 1997 as the Priestly Centre for the Arts. It now seats 291.
In the basement is a very trendy bar with a thriving live music scene. This is fortunate as the theatre has hit a crisis. The Pictureville Cinema (qv) has usurped the art house role of the Priestley and the opening of two multiplex cinemas in the city has further eroded the audience for films. Meanwhile the Alhambra Theatre took over the former Majestic Cinema abutting its rear stage and has converted it into the Alhambra Studio taking some of the live theatre which would previously have occupied the Priestley. The opening in a few years of a new Civic Theatre in nearby Leeds may also affect it if amateur groups based between the two cities opt for the new theatre.
Looking on the brighter side the area in which the theatre is situated, Little Germany, is a heritage site and investment is taking place and Bradford is contending for the City of Culture status which will bring a massive investment to the arts, benefiting the now re-named Bradford Playhouse.
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