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Leicester Special Collections

Case Study - Theatre

There were many cinemas and theatres in Leicester after the war and it was only towards the end of the 1950s that this changed. The Theatre Royal on Horsefair Street closed for the last time in 1956, the Palace Theatre on Belgrave Gate closed in 1958, and the Opera House in Silver Street closed in 1960. Only the Little Theatre on Dover Street remained until an experimental ‘Living Theatre’, a forerunner of the Phoenix (1963), opened in 1960.

A rehearsal at the Little Theatre in 1945

A rehearsal at the Little Theatre in 1945.

Link to video about the Theatre Royal -
Link to video about the Royal Opera House -

Video about the Royal Opera House.

Leicester Drama Society

The Leicester Drama Society (LDS) was founded in 1922 and moved to their current premises, The Little Theatre on Dover Street, in 1930. Membership increased after the war and, for a while, rationing meant the canteen’s menu was limited and the Dover Castle pub served as the bar. While the LDS had generally regarded its audience as ‘intelligent but anti-intellectual’ - no Strindberg or O’Neil – it did produce John Osborne’s ground breaking ‘Look Back in Anger’ in 1959, only three years after the play’s debut. In 1960 there was a production of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, which had premiered in London in 1955. It was ‘quite well attended’ although ‘there was the usual handful of customers who did not come back after the interval that we get when we present a play that outrages the conservative’.

By 1960 The Little Theatre was the only theatre in Leicester as the Opera House had closed in 1953, the Theatre Royal in 1956, and the Palace in 1959. For a couple of years, if you wanted go to the theatre in Leicester, the Little Theatre was the only option. Professional theatre returned to Leicester in 1961 when the Living Theatre was set up in temporary premises and in 1963 the Phoenix Theatre was built (now the Sue Townsend Theatre).

Information about the LDS taken from ‘Before My Time. The Story of the Leicester Drama Society’ by John Graham.

Link to film of Little Theatre opening after fire, 1958 -
Link to a history of theatres in Leicester -
Link to news report about The Living Theatre, 1962 -  

A performance at the Little Theatre in 1945

A performance at the Little Theatre in 1945

The cover of Theatre Royal Leicester programme

 The cover of a programme form the Theatre Royal, Leicester.

Page compiled by Charlotte Wei

Case Study - Theatre