FROM ‘A PAIR OF SPECTACLES’ TO ‘GREASE’

Downside School’s Performing Arts venue has seen something of a change over the last 100 years.

In 1919, the School’s Lent Term production was A Pair of Spectacles, which took place in Downside’s Theatre-Royal, known as the Palace. The play was written for Broadway by English dramatist Sydney Grundy and subsequently made into a silent comedy film starring John Hare.

A few years later, in 1926, Downside’s Palace was transformed into the new Petre Library, where it remains today – a far cry from its original purpose – and School productions moved to the Gymnasium. Open air productions continued, like the Twelfth Night, fifty years ago and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, ten years ago in the Monastery rock garden. 

When the Gymnasium burnt down in November 1955, a variety of different performance spaces were used including the Gasquet, the old Art Attic, the Old Chapel, the Junior house dormitory and day room, until the the new Theatre was built in 1960, which included a 25 foot long cinemascope screen. 

In 2015, thanks to funds generously donated to the School via our Annual Fund Project, the Theatre, now known as the fantastic Fleischner Theatre, was renovated. This two-tiered theatre, seating 400, is also used for large events, such as the weekly Head Master’s Assembly and, just recently, this year’s Lent Term production, Grease. Without a doubt, this was a different experience from the plays performed in the Palace, but nevertheless continues Downside’s tradition of exploring a wide-range of drama, music and dance.