On Great Clowes Street in the Broughton Bridge area of Salford stands the Victoria Theatre. Designed by architect Bertie Crewe (d.1937), it is one of his forty theatres (other survivors include Glasgow Pavilion and the Palace, Redditch). This Grade II listed building has a chequered history as a repertory theatre, cinema, variety theatre, clothing store and bingo hall. Danger: since 2008, this homely theatre has been closed - now forlorn and mothballed.
During 1970, I was a member of a short-lived, totally unsubsidised weekly repertory company at the 775-seat Victoria, directed by the prolific pantomime producer Aubrey Phillips. As an Assistant Stage Manager, I obtained an Equity membership card (provisional for one's first 40 weeks work) through the contract issued by the general manager, Norman Williams. I am grateful to Norman for discussing a career in theatre management, and for my first opportunity to work in the North West, where the theatregoers are the friendliest in England.
Company members for the pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, included Alex Munro (from the Happy Valley Theatre Llandudno), Paul and Danny Denver (escapologists), the actors Matthew Kelly and Bryan Johnson (ex-Donald Wolfit tours and second in the Eurovision Song Contest, 1960 for Looking High, High, High) and dancers from the Russell Leite Drama School. The pantomime often played three performances daily, and ran twelve weeks.
The Victoria Theatre was owned by Alderman Sam Goldberg, who tried unsuccessfully to sell the freehold to Salford City Council, in the hope that they might operate the building as a civic theatre and arts centre. What a missed opportunity. Instead, in 1973, the building was purchased by Palatial Leisure Limited, to be the Victoria Palace Bingo and Social Club. The Great Yarmouth-based owners cared for the theatre very well, but the growth of online bingo and casinos led to the building's closure in 2008.
During the time of Aubrey Phillips' company, the Great Clowes Street area was still a bustling area, but demolition of nearby terraced housing has left the theatre - and the adjacent stage door pub that is also boarded up - isolated in an area still awaiting urban regeneration. Only a mile from the excitements of Manchester city centre, the Victoria Theatre could, for instance, have been a temporary home for the Library Theatre Company. But they are in separate local authorities, and after Salford City Council's championing of the £106 million Lowry Centre and the Quays, there seems little prospect of revival at Broughton Bridge. The Theatres Trust has included the Victoria Theatre as one of its seventy entries on the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register, but at the lowest of four categories. Is it time to place this theatre in the Top Ten?
See this Salford City Council discussion forum about the Victoria Theatre.