The Kenilworth Players' first production - The Rising Generation by Wyn Weaver and Laura Leycester.

The Kenilworth Players' first production - The Rising Generation by Wyn Weaver and Laura Leycester.

Our History

The Kenilworth Players

The Priory Theatre Company gave its first performance, as the Kenilworth Players, on 13th January 1932 on a portable stage in the old Abbey Hotel Ballroom. After six productions, the Players disbanded in 1939 leaving their stage and equipment in a timber yard near the centre of Coventry where miraculously, most of it survived the war!

 

The Priory as a Chapel

The Priory as a Chapel

A New Theatre

Late in 1945 work began on converting a disused Chapel (built in 1816) into a Theatre as a permanent home for the newly reformed Players. Using the original stage equipment and timber from the cases which housed aircraft being convoyed across the Atlantic during the war, a stage and raked auditorium were built and the Priory Theatre opened on 8th April 1946.

 

Theatre Improvements

Work continued to improve the Theatre. In 1947, the rear of the stage was extended. In 1951 the Dress Circle was built, upholstered seating installed throughout and by the summer of 1952 there was a kitchen and two first floor Dressing Rooms.

By 1965 the stage had been extended once again to more than double its original depth and a new foyer built at the front of the building.

 

Priory Young Stagers

A 'Graduate Section' had been in existence in the early 1950's, but it was not until 1967 that the 'Young Stagers' were formed to encompass the talents and enthusiasm of the young people who had appeared in a major production that year. Now called the Priory Youth Theatre, they are a flourishing part of the Theatre, contributing to Main Theatre productions as well as staging major productions.

 

The Priory Theatre in 1976

The Priory Theatre in 1976

Priory Theatre Company

In 1968, the Kenilworth Players became the Priory Theatre Company and in 1972 gained admission to the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain. By 1974 a Lounge Bar had replaced the Dressing Room off the Circle Foyer.

 

The Theatre after the fire - courtesy of Coventry Evening Telegraph

The Theatre after the fire - courtesy of Coventry Evening Telegraph

The Fire of 1976

But on 4th September 1976 came the destruction of thirty years work when fire gutted the Theatre. Undaunted, the members set about the rebuilding, making great improvements to all areas, especially the back stage facilities. Four full scale productions were staged at local Amateur and Professional Theatres while rebuilding continued and the Gala Re-opening took place on 28th September 1978.

One year later, the Company was hosting its first Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain National Conference and welcoming delegates from all over the country to a packed weekend of activity.

 

Theatre post-fire

Theatre post-fire

Rehearsal Room and Wardrobe Department

Early in 1979, the Company purchased the old National School (built in 1832 and subsequently Kenilworth Library) just one hundred yards from the Theatre. This now provides the Rehearsal Room and Wardrobe Department.

 

Dave Willetts at 1990 Official Opening of the Priory's New Bar and Foyer - image courtesy of Stuart Lawson

Dave Willetts at 1990 Official Opening of the Priory's New Bar and Foyer - image courtesy of Stuart Lawson

1980s

In 1982, the Golden Jubilee was celebrated with a bumper season of twelve plays including Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests Trilogy in repertoire for a month.

Disaster struck again in the summer of 1984 when the Theatre was closed to build foundations under a small section at the side of the building. Re-opened in March 1985, the Theatre has gone from strength to strength. In 1989, Dave Willetts, our Patron who appeared in two productions at the Priory before turning professional, held a Gala Evening at Warwick Arts Centre for the benefit of the Theatre. The proceeds of this evening greatly contributed to a new Foyer and Bar.

 

Foyer and Prop Store Extensions

With the assistance of a grant from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England, work was completed in 1999 on further development of the foyer area and extension of the rear of the Theatre to accommodate a new Property Store. Access for wheelchairs via a ramp and lift was added, and a toilet for the disabled accessible from the auditorium.

 

Refurbishment of the auditorium - image courtesy of Chris Parker

Refurbishment of the auditorium - image courtesy of Chris Parker

Dressing Room and Auditorium Overhauls

Unseen by the public but greatly appreciated by those appearing on-stage, the theatre dressing rooms were given a complete overhaul in 2006 followed by a complete overhaul of our auditorium using seats donated by the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.

 

The cast of Calendar Girls with one of the original Calendar Girls, Angela Baker.

The cast of Calendar Girls with one of the original Calendar Girls, Angela Baker.

80th Season

In 2012 we celebrated our 80th Season starting with one of the country's first amateur production of Tim Firth's Calendar Girls. We were lucky to welcome original Calendar Girl Angela Baker to one of our performances.


Theatre today

Many hundreds of people have made the Priory Theatre over the years, and many more continue to make it what it is today. If you are interested in finding out more, and get involved take a look at our Membership pages.