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!
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Unseen by the public but greatly appreciated by those appearing on-stage, the theatre dressing rooms were given a complete overhaul in 2006.
In 2008 we have been working really hard to make sure that our theatre is a welcoming place to visit. As well as carrying out an overhaul of our wardrobe department, which now generates a thriving income for us through costume hire, we have also undertaken a complete refurbishment of the auditorium. With comfortable new seats, donated by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, plush new tabs and a complete clean, paint and recarpeting throughout to set them off, we are sure that this season your visit will be even more comfortable.
Many hundreds of people have made the Priory what it was in the past and what it is today. Their contribution, whether large or small has been extremely valuable.