The first records of a theatre in Tewkesbury refer to a building which 'extends from the fives-court, at the back of the Wheat Sheaf Inn, to the Oldbury' in 1823.
Local historian James Bennett, in his ‘History of Tewkesbury’, refers to an 'interior [that] displays much taste and judgement in its arrangement; appropriate devices from the Plays of Shakespeare ornament the panels above the front boxes'. In its early heyday, the theatre saw many names of the day perform, including Edmund Kean, John Braham and Maria Foote. However after 1831 the theatre rapidly declined in popularity and in February 1838 it closed its doors.
In 1880, The Music Hall on Barton Street, which sold to Messrs, Grey and Watson, became the Philharmonic Hall. Upon George Watson’s death in 1910 this was renamed George Watson Memorial Hall. In 1961 major renovation works were carried out to equip the building with theatre provisions. For a time, this formed the cultural gravitation point for Tewkesbury music and theatre lovers and it continues to serve amateur dramatic groups today.
In the prime of the 1930’s Art Deco period, a cinema was erected on the site where The Roses Theatre now stands. The architecture was designed by Cheltenham architect Leonard William Barnard and could seat 700 people in its impressive auditorium. The white washed building stood proud and tall on the outskirts of the High Street and was named The Sabrina Cinema, the Roman name for the Severn. In a picture taken from the grand opening of The Sabrina on the 20th July 1934, crowds of children from Tewkesbury and the surrounding villages gathered in front of the doors in their Sunday best. In the latter decade of the Second World War, the cinema boasted over 800 members. The cinema eventually dwindled in popularity and sadly closed in August 1963.
The Roses Theatre Is Born
The Town Council decided that entertainment needed a permanent home in Tewkesbury and commissioned work to start on the building in 1973. The current Roses Theatre building as we know it now was completed in June 1975 on the old site of The Sabrina. The Roses Theatre was born.
On the 30th October 1975 The Roses Theatre proudly opened with an Official Opening Gala Performance with guest of honour, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. Over the following years the theatre changed hands and experienced many different management groups. Stan Stennett, the well-known comedian and soap star, managed the theatre for a number of years. In 1984 he invited the legendary comic Eric Morecambe to play to The Roses’ audience. Sadly Eric suffered a heart attack while backstage and later died in Cheltenham General Hospital. In honour of the man and his last performance here, various areas of the theatre have been named after him - most recently Eric’s Bar.
Financial difficulties resulted in closure in 1993, where Stan Stennett was succeeded by The Crummles Theatre Company who took charge for 18 months refurbishing the cinema and growing audience numbers. They reopened the new look theatre in November 1994 after its extensive works with a Gala featuring guest stars Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay.
In the May of 1995, The Crummles Theatre Company was forced into liquidation and the town’s beloved Roses Theatre closed.
Rebirth And Celebration
The Tewkesbury town folk rallied round in response whereby The Roses Theatre Trust was formed and the theatre became a registered charity in November 1995. The Borough Council offered a long lease and financial support and local commerce and industrial businesses matched this with sponsorship. Robert Hamlin took up the post as Director for the theatre and grew a strong team of professional staff to lead The Roses forward. The late and dearly missed Rodney Leaver became Chairman for The Roses Theatre Trust and worked closely with Director Robert Hamlin to introduce business disciplines to the running of the theatre.
1997 marked another milestone for the theatre as it celebrated its 21st Anniversary in the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, who first opened the theatre. A show-stopping Gala performance was put on featuring Jasper Carrott as well as variety performances from local performers and choir groups from Tewkesbury School. It showcased the theatre’s strength within the community and launched the new varied programme for the year ahead.
Today the theatre continues to operate as a trust and registered charity. The Roses presents a varied programme of live events, film and workshops year on year and attracts an audience of 80,000 a year. The theatre continues to seek trust funds as well as money from donors and corporate businesses.