King’s Theatre, Southsea

 A couple of weekends ago, I was privileged to be involved in a gig at the King’s Theatre, Southsea – with thanks to the indefatigable Jonathan Barry and his amazing shoestring opera company, Vox Lirika.


The King’s Theatre is a beautiful little gem, designed by Frank Matcham, doyen of theatre architects at the beginning of the 20th century – responsible for the Buxton Opera House, the Grand Opera House, Belfast, the Hackney Empire, the London Coliseum, and many others, each with its own atmosphere and decorative ‘theme’, and every one a satisfying masterpiece in its own right.


There must be a book on Frank Matcham and his theatres?  If not, someone should write one!


The King’s Theatre is built on a very unpromising triangular corner site:  entrance is through a small door, Tardis-like,  in the sharp end of the ‘wedge of cheese’, backstage spaces are tight and oddly-shaped, but the auditorium itself is a miracle of cramming the maximum possible number of seats into the minimum space.  The effect is a cosy and welcoming little dark red crucible where great theatrical experiences can happen.


Nonetheless, the stage is a decent size and there’s even a biggish orchestra pit (well, Wagner would be a bit of a squeeze…).  And the foyer, bars and front-of-house areas are lively and welcoming.



Whereas the London Coliseum’s decorative scheme is an idiosyncratic mix of ‘ancient Roman’ and ‘ancient Egyptian’, the King’s Theatre goes for ‘Italian Renaissance’ angels and cherubs, and very sweet it is too – much red velvet, marble and swags, with a big oval ceiling piece like an 18th-century drawing room.


Parts of the theatre have been helpfully restored, others are in an endearing state of crumbling quaintness…  The burghers of Portsmouth and Southsea are a cultured lot, and they welcome the busy schedule of things to be seen at their local theatre.  For example, I spotted Sondheim’s Passion coming up – which I would have loved to get to.


More power to them.  There is more fascinating history and information on their website:


Many thanks too to the backstage staff for going out of their way to make my job seem easy.  And to Bob and Di for their hospitality!  I’ll be back…


Explore posts in the same categories: buildings, history, opera, theatres

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5 Comments on “King’s Theatre, Southsea”

  1. jonathanburton Says:

    My brother Tony reminded me that Southsea’s other theatrical claim to fame is that the town can boast the first all-amateur company to have staged all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays: the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, directed by their founder K Edmonds Gateley, completed the cycle with Cymbeline in October 1966.

    K Edmonds Gateley (‘Peter’ Gateley) was an old friend of our parents. He was awarded an MBE in recognition of his feat, which is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records.

  2. jonathanburton Says:

    Thanks to my dear Southsea friends Bob and Di for lending me Peter Gately’s autobiography, ‘To Play At Will’. Absolutely fascinating. Even though he doesn’t actually mention our parents, there is lots of his early history at the Maddermarket in Norwich which rings huge bells from the tales we used to hear in our childhood.
    In his book (which could have doen with some severe editing! Too many exclamation marks!), ‘K E G’ comes over as perhaps not a very pleasant or sociable man but certainly a talented and obsessive one, who did achieve his dream.

  3. […] King’s Theatre, Southsea July 2008 2 comments 5 […]

  4. Diana Burton Says:

    I have just found this webpage after looking through my step mother’s Executers file. She was Nancy Glenister (latterly Burton). I understand she used to play lead roles with Peter Gately before she met my father. I think they were great friends.
    I was wondering if Peter is still alive.
    Diana Burton.

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