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The story of Chipping Norton Theatre

chippytheatreThis fabulous building began life as a Salvation Army Citadel, with the first stones, still visible on the front exterior of the building, being laid on 3 August 1888. In a strange quirk of fate, its designers and engineers had also worked on many Victorian Music Halls, leaving it perfectly proportioned for its future theatrical life.

The Salvation Army left the Citadel in 1962, and for some years the building was used as a furniture warehouse. In 1968 two Royal Shakespeare Company actors, Tamara and John Malcolm, discovered the building was up for sale and realised its potential. An anonymous benefactor provided them with a loan, and they submitted an application for planning permission to convert it into a theatre. In September 1973, fundraising for the new theatre began in earnest, and the year was crowned with The Theatre’s first Christmas Show, Beauty and the Beast, staged in the town hall. The Theatre began as a true community resource, with residents of Chipping Norton each asked to contribute £1 towards the conversion.

From concept to reality
In June 1974, a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation enabled the purchase of an adjoining cottage in Spring Street, which was converted into the Bar and Gallery areas. The charity was first registered on 23rd September 1974 and The Theatre was opened officially in 1975 by Tom Baker, who was then Dr Who, and began with a light programme including films and lunchtime jazz concerts. The Theatre continued to grow and flourish, expanding its programme and reputation and purchasing, in 1990, the building in Goddards Lane that now serves as the main daytime box office, green room, offices, dressing rooms and rehearsal space.

1996 saw a major refurbishment, funded in part by The Arts Council, improving many aspects of the building, particularly the stage and wing space. Graham Rust, one of Europe’s finest muralists, was commissioned to produce a set of murals in the bar. In May 2002, not long after receiving a well deserved MBE for her services to The Theatre, Tamara Malcolm passed on the mantle of Artistic Director to Caroline Sharman.
The Space was constructed in 2007 following a major leak through the flat roof of the Gallery. In order to resolve the problem a pitched roof was required so it was decided to raise funds to insert a new room above the existing Gallery. As well as successfully resolving the problem, this much needed room is now used on a daily basis for the Youth Theatre and other Take Part sessions and workshops.

A living theatre
The Theatre has built a strong reputation over the years for producing its own creative work, and notable performances of Yerma, Don Giovanni, Taste and Huck live in the minds of our audiences. These stand alongside perhaps our greatest claim to fame, the world-renowned Chippy family pantomime, which draws on a long history of traditional values, top-notch creative teams, and original, daring twists to make it an irreplaceable part of countless family Christmases.
In 2008, John Terry took over from Caroline as Artistic Director, overseeing a period of further growth and professional development, and receiving on behalf of The Theatre, the 2009/10 TMA Stage Award for Achievement in Regional Theatre. The Theatre now stands as a rare example of a successful rural ‘receiving and producing’ theatre, funded and supported almost entirely by local people, local councils and local businesses as well as the Friends Membership scheme and Patrons. The Theatre also receives some support from charitable trusts and foundations, and some show-specific funding from Arts Council England.

All our own work
In Autumn 2012 The Theatre took its first plunge for six years into producing its own home-grown professional work, with the production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. As a small rural theatre we have a fundamental role to play in the community and, despite continued funding cuts, it is imperative to provide arts and entertainment specifically suited for our local audiences. Our plan is to continue producing our own work here in the Cotswolds, with our annual pantomime, and Spring and Autumn productions always selected to suit both our audiences and our venue.

Today we take pride in our existence as a theatre, an art-house cinema, a gallery and a concert hall. We are a resource for our community and a registered charity, but we are also a professional venue, welcoming over 50,000 visitors every year. We are something unique, but we are also different things to different people. We are the cause and subject of many arguments and debates, and a fair amount of acclaim and affection. We are complicated and a little eccentric. We are not a little theatre. We like to make a big noise.

“A programme of distinctive artistic adventure” – The Guardian
“So charming it almost hurts” – The Daily Mail
“More intelligent, more esoteric and more intellectually exciting than many a theatre several times its size” – Oxfordshire Life

We are a hub where local people, businesses and organisations can meet, work, volunteer, play and be entertained. Come and join us and see why so many people have fallen for The Theatre Chipping Norton, and why it remains a local and regional treasure.

Jo Ludford
General Manager

June – July 2017