|Address||Chapel Street, Little Germany|
|Other names||Bradford Civic Playhouse
Bradford Playhouse is a 290 seat proscenium arch theatre with circle and stall seating based in Little Germany, in the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Formerly known as The Priestley, the theatre also has a studio space which has flexible lighting, sound, and seating arrangements.
The theatre was founded by an amateur group, the Bradford Playhouse Company, in 1929, renting Jowett Hall – an ex-Temperance Hall previously used as a cinema – as its premises. The Bradford company was an offshoot of the Leeds Civic Playhouse Company, and became independent of its parent in 1932.
Association with J. B. Priestley
J. B. Priestley became President of the theatre in 1932,on its separation from Leeds, and remained President until his death in 1984. His sister Winnie, who had been the Secretary of the Bradford branch of the Leeds Civic Theatre, went on to serve as Secretary to the independent Bradford Civic Theatre, and is commemorated by a plaque in the theatre.
In 1934, Priestley wrote of the Bradford Civic Theatre in his book English Journey.
"Bradford has a Civic Theatre, of which I happen to be President... Even now, many people do not realise that there is a chain of such theatres, small intelligent repertory theatres organised on various lines, stretching across the country. Most of them have to struggle along, … this dramatic movement, … is of immense social importance – To begin with, it is a genuine popular movement, not something fostered by a few rich cranks. The people who work for these theatres are not by any means people who want to kill time. They are generally hard-working men and women … whose evenings are precious to them … and they are tremendously enthusiastic, even if at times they are also like all theatrical folk everywhere – given to quarrelling and displays of temperament ...These theatres are very small and have to fight for their very existence, but … I see them as little camp-fires twinkling in a great darkness. Readers … may possibly not care twopence if every playhouse in the country should close tomorrow. The point is that in communities that have suffered the most from industrial depression, among younger people who frequently cannot see what is to become of their jobs and their lives, these theatres have opened little windows into a world of ideas, colour, fine movement, exquisite drama, have kept going a stir of thought and imagination for actors, helpers, audiences, have acted as outposts for the army of the citizens of tomorrow, demanding to live."
Fires and rebuildings
Jowett Hall burned down in April 1935. With help from Priestley, who donated royalties from several plays, the organisation bought the site and rebuilt. The new premises, a combined theatre and cinema called the Priestley, was opened by Sir Barry Jackson in January 1937.
The company ran as an amateur theatre, with film showings between plays. The latter continued until 2001, despite losing its status as a Regional Film Theatre a few years before, when the National Museum of Television, Film and Photography – now the National Media Museum took over that role.
On the night of Friday, 19 July 1996 during a run of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, the theatre had another major fire, but the company rebuilt the set in their Studio theatre so that the final show of the run took place.
During the 1996–97 season, although the main auditorium was closed for reconstruction, a full season of plays was presented in the Studio, then on Friday 31 October 1997 the main auditorium re-opened with J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls.
However, public interest in amateur theatre was unavoidably on the wane. By 2003, the theatre's finances had become critical. The current board of directors recommended that the company closed, but a rescue plan was accepted by the membership. The theatre's days as an amateur producing house were over, but it has continued as a receiving house, while the production function was devolved to a new company: Bradford ACT. The same fate met other aspects of its existence, such as its theatre school (once presided over by Esme Church and alma mater to actors such as George Layton, Gorden Kaye, Duncan Preston and Billie Whitelaw) such activities became independent of the theatre itself.
Bradford Playhouse relaunched in October 2012, as a multi-disciplinary community arts centre, encompassing drama, music, film, dance and visual arts. The organisation's focus is community-led. The bar opens an hour before productions and stays open until midnight afterwards.
- "THE PERFECT FORMULA Hiring the Bradford Playhouse". Bradford Playhouse. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- "Priestley". Theatres Database. The Theatres Trust. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
- Watkins, Glyn. "An Inspector Calls A history of Bradford's Playhouse". Wayback machine archive: Priestley Theatre. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- Priestley, John Boynton (1934). English Journey. Harper & Brothers.