A host of well-known names and familiar faces will come together on Swansea’s best-loved stage to celebrate 125 years of Swansea Grand Theatre this evening, and quite a show it’s going to be.
Places change over the years, civic buildings come and go and the landscape of a city can become unrecognisable over a relatively short time. Then there are the buildings that stand the test time and become so ingrained in the life of a place that you cannot imagine that it was ever not there. For people in Swansea there are few places of which that is truer than the GRAND THEATRE.
For 125 years this pastel-hued beauty of a building has brought talent from across the globe to Swansea, and to celebrate this milestone, resident company Grand Ambition has brought together a host of Welsh talent to say thank you to the theatre and to inspire a new generation of audiences.
Later this month, Grand Ambition is producing a night filled with music, dance, drama, song and entertainment from a star-studded line up, including Ria Jones, Mike Doyle, Kev Johns, Mose1time, Ify Iwobi, Valley Rock Voices, Karl Morgan & Who’s Molly?, Mal Pope, Crossing Borders, Hayley Gallivan, Bronwen Lewis, Steve Balsamo and Lee David Bowen.
As well as established artists, a debut performance from The Rising Stars Theatre Co and the brilliant Fluellen Theatre Co, the Gala will also showcase young talent from the city, including resident companies Harry’s Youth Theatre, Mellin Theatre Arts and many, many more. With a programme combining West-End show stoppers with Dylan Thomas, rap and powerful choral numbers, the Grand Gala promises to be a joyous celebration of Swansea.
GGRAND AMBITION is a new and exciting creative collective based at The Grand Theatre with a focus on developing audiences by telling Swansea stories and developing young and existing creative talent. The company has been created in collaboration with Swansea City Council and Swansea based professional artists – RICHARD MYLAN, STEVE BALSAMO, MICHELLE MCTERNAN and CHRISTIAN PATTERSON.
We asked them to tell us what inspired them to produce the Gala.
“We all started our careers here at the Grand. It has a very special place in all our hearts. The fact that we have the opportunity to create “in house” engagements and work in this beautiful building is an absolute honour. Swansea Grand Theatre has stood the test of time and served our people and its city when she needed it the most. She has proved to be a great institution and we must celebrate her in all her glory. The 125th birthday celebration will be a night to say thank you to her for always being there for us.”
Actor and director Richard Mylan continued……….
“I feel now more than ever we should celebrate this theatre having been there for us for the last 125 years. We must honour its past and it’s incredibly bright future. The talent that we have on stage for this one-off event will reflect just that”
Musician Steve Balsamo is the third director of Grand Ambition and will perform on the night. He told us……
“The Grand has always loomed large in my life and it’s always been a thrill to perform here. It’s so important to mark this 125th birthday and to pay tribute to this beautiful building, to remember the past and look forward to the future. Personally, to be able to sing my own song on this special night and to leave a thumb print on the legacy of The Grand will be an absolute honour”.
Directing the event is writer, director and actor Christian Patterson…….
“It is an honour to be directing this Gala in the theatre that inspired me to be an actor. The Grand Theatre has graced Swansea for 125 years! It has entertained, delighted & enthralled people every single day of its existence and will continue to do so for many, many years to come. It will be a joy to commemorate its glorious past and look toward its glittering future. Happy Birthday & long live Swansea Grand Theatre!”.
Find out more about the show below.
That future is fired by a new desire to connect with communities across Swansea. Cabinet Minister for Regeneration, Robert Francis-Davies told us……
“These are exciting times for our city. Swansea Grand Theatre has always played a key role at the centre of Swansea’s cultural life, offering lots of opportunities for creativity for all of our communities.”
Finally, the recently appointed manager of the theatre, Grant MacFarlane, summed it up nicely……
“I am immensely proud to be associated with the Grand Theatre and to be a part of its future. The Grand speaks directly to people’s emotions, is inextricably linked with the fondest and most vivid memories of Swansea’s citizens, and is at the heart of the city and its people”.
Tickets for tonights Grand Gala are available now from Swansea Grand Theatre box office, online, by phone and in person. Full details can be found HERE. All line up announcements and updates will be available on Grand Ambition’s social media channels.
As for the theatre itself: Having staged everything from Shakespeare to Pantomime and the promise of bigger and better still to come, here’s a look back at the life of this incredible building, and the people who really do put the Grand into the Swansea Grand.
- 1897: Mouillot and Morell, two entrepreneur actor/managers, seized an opportunity to build a Theatre in Swansea. They purchased the former Drill Hall in Singleton Street, demolished it and employed William Hope – an experienced Theatre architect to design The Grand – it is the only surviving example of his work. The estimated capacity was 2,500.
- 1897: Swansea Grand Theatre was opened by the opera star Adelina Patti. She arrived at Swansea train station and boarded an open top horse and cart, the streets were lined with all her fans. It was a truly grand event.
Adelina was born in Spain of Italian parents in 1843 and died in Wales in 1919. She was one of the most highly regarded opera singers of the 19th century, earning huge fees at the height of her career.
Adelina made a number of recordings at her home – Craig-y-Nos Castle, during 1905 & 1906, but by this time she had lost much of her renowned voice. She had purchased the castle and surrounding park land for – are you ready for this? £3,500 in 1878.
Despite early success the Grand Theatre has had a chequered history.
- 1930: Swansea Grand Theatre was a full time repertory theatre.
- January 1933: the Theatre closed for six months because of the flu epidemic. The audiences seem to miss the regularity of attending and after this break, there was a noticeable decline.
- 1933: The theatre became a “Cine Variety Theatre”
- 1934: The theatre closed. It lay empty for a while with just occasional use 1947: Bought by Captain W.E.Willis
- 1950s: The struggles continued. The problem – apart from television, was the public investment and civic support that was happening for theatre in Cardiff. The privately owned Grand was falling behind in terms of attractions and the physical state of the building. It was showing its age.
- 1957: Actor/director – John Chilvers presented a successful repertory season at the Grand. And eventually became the manager and stayed for over 25 years.
- 1970: Vivian Ellicott the Front of House Manager wrote:- “We have just reported on our first year’s business. The actual loss to the ratepayers has been £5.900 – chicken-feed! Thanks to John Chilvers, the figures are healthy”.
- 1978: At the end of a 10 year lease, the local council bought the Grand – making it Swansea’s civic theatre.
1982-1986: £5million worth of renovation and building was carried out. The impressive new look Grand re-opened on 17th December 1986 with the pantomime Aladdin.
- 1999: A new arts wing was added housing a new box office, studio theatre (capacity 150), exhibition area, rehearsal rooms and café.
- 2020: The Grand Theatre stage became a testing centre for Covid19 during the pandemic until Aug 2021 with the public entering through the scene dock doors where sets along with their builders and technicians would normally have entered.
- 2020/21: The Multicultural Hub was built and became home to (RCC) Race Council Cymru, Chinese in Wales and The African Community Centre.
- 2022: The Theatre has a new manager Mr Grant McFarlane. Grant will undertake the leadership of the new manager for Swansea Grand Theatre and The Brangwyn Hall, in conjunction with Cultural Services’ management team.
- 2022: Grand Ambition become the theatre’s resident production company. Swansea Grand Theatre is steeped in history and the future looks bright. Heres to the next 125 years!