Lifting the curtain on the 1930s at Blackpool Grand Theatre

Sir John Gielgud (right), pictured with Lord Olivier (centre) and Sir Ralph Richardson in Wagner, in 1982Sir John Gielgud (right), pictured with Lord Olivier (centre) and Sir Ralph Richardson in Wagner, in 1982
Sir John Gielgud (right), pictured with Lord Olivier (centre) and Sir Ralph Richardson in Wagner, in 1982
For the first time in years opera was heard at the Grand Theatre, in the week beginning January 16, 1939.

The Universal Grand Opera Company would normally have appeared at the Opera House – but it was being rebuilt.

So in the 125th anniversary trawl through my Grand Centenary history we find that the Universal performed eight operas; six evening shows plus Wednesday and Saturdays matinees.

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This amazing workload was normal in touring theatre in those days.

A few weeks later, Donald Wolfit and his company performed seven plays by William Shakespeare in one week.

I’ll be mischievous here and wonder how many passages of dialogue got transposed – and did audiences notice?

Because of the Opera House rebuilding, two local operatic shows and two drama festivals moved to the Grand and the theatre worked through 1939 without having to show films, apart from a four-day pre-Christmas run.

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Plays and musical shows changed weekly. There were several post-London tours and four shows that were touring prior to London.

All theatres closed for a week by Government edict, after war had been declared on September 3.

When the Grand reopened on Monday, September 11, it was with the attraction of Rex Harrison, Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook in Noel Coward’s menage-a-trois comedy Design for Living, on tour before opening at London’s Haymarket.

On September 18, an even bigger star cast came to the Grand in Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, direct from London’s Globe Theatre.

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John Gielgud starred as John Worthing in his own production with Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Jack Hawkins, Margaret Rutherford and Clive Woods.

Ivor Novello filled his time between musicals by making a short tour in his own farcical comedy Second Helping, with Dorothy Dickson, Ursula Jeans and Martin Walker, in the second week of November.

The decade ended with an acclaimed London success, the family comedy Dear Octopus, by Dodie Smith, providing the Grand’s Christmas attraction, opening on Saturday, December 23.

The cast were headed by Dame Marie Tempest who gave an unforgettable performance as the matriarch of the family, according to a Gazette reviewer.

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The playwright had given a moving tribute to the family – “that dear octopus from whose tentacles we are never quite able to escape, nor in our hearts do we wish to.”

It was the best play in an unusually brilliant autumn season and would be long remembered, added the reviewer.

Dodie Smith (1896-1990) would also be long remembered. The playwright was born in Whitefield, when it was part of Lancashire.

In 1956, she published The Hundred and One Dalmatians. And who hasn’t seen the film versions?

In a couple of weeks we will lift the curtain on the Forties at the Grand.

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