Another of Blackpool’s ‘Grand old ladies’ is today celebrating a big birthday.
The story of Blackpool’s Grand Theatre reads like one of the thousands of prestigious productions that have graced its famous stage and as the page turns today on its 125th milestone, a small fraction of its most loyal followers, dignitaries and special guests will gather to celebrate its rich and wonderful history.
Meanwhile, birthday wishes have been flooding in from those quick to highlight the impact it has had on the arts scene on the Fylde coast.
The theatre has offered generations of young stars their own chance to enjoy the thrill of the stage and given plenty a taste for the entertainment industry.
Local talent to have started out in local theatre include actresses Jenna Colman and Switch-On star of 2019 Lucy Fallon.
The award-winning actress, 23, started out as a member of the Barbara Jackson theatre company.
Principal Lorraine Hill said: “A very happy, happy 125 birthday to the Grand Theatre – the most beautiful old lady who has given audiences so many memories over the years. We are so proud to have this beautiful theatre.”
Former headmaster of King Edward VII School in Lytham and organiser of Lytham Hall’s open air season Julian Wilde added: “I am a bit of a fan of The Grand Theatre, which is central to the whole entertainment industry in Blackpool.
“I love the way that it has such a diverse and appealing programme - local, national and international - throughout the year.
“Where else has had Sir Ken Dodd, the Moldova National Ballet, the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Blackpool Scout Gang Show as regular attractions?
“It lives up to its name as the National Theatre of Variety. My congratulations to all the Friends of the Grand who work so hard to sustain it as a centre of excellence.”
But the Grand’s story has had anything but the perfect script. There have been highs and lows, the successes and failures, troubles and strife but a lot of magic too.
It began as a rags to riches tale, a simple clerk Thomas Sergenson set out with a vision to turn showman and build his own theatre in 1894.
Such was his ambition to create his masterpiece, he secured the talents of Frank Matcham – the finest architect of the Victorian era – to fulfil his dream. Today, audiences still marvel at the intricacy of its design, for every seat in this magnificent theatre comes with a view.
As the Grand’s chief executive Ruth Eastwood, its trustees and ‘Friends of The Grand’ embark on a new era for the spectacular venue she says: “We want to talk about and to the people who have been instrumental in the past but moving the theatre forward and helping support it day after day so that we can say the first 125 years were just the beginning.”
The theatre team and guests will celebrate today with a six tier, Blackpool Grand Theatre cake, which is being made by Lancashire baker One Sweet Day.
The company was selected from many across the North West and commissioned to create a memorable cake for the ‘Grand Celebration’.
The cake, to serve over 300 people, has been designed to emulate the theatres golds, creams and external architecture of the building.
The birthday will see a host of VIPS, Blackpool mayor Amy Cross, celebrities and theatre supporters in attendance and there will also be special performances including Love Letters From Blackpool by comedian, musician and theatre maker Ruth Cockburn, a rendition by BBC Philharmonic harpist Mollin Rose and speeches from Friends of The Grand Patron and BBC Radio Lancashire presenter Steve Royle, theatre board members and chief executive Ruth Eastwood.
Bosses at The Grand launched their appeal to raise £125,000 to make repairs to the roof at the start of the year.
Money raised will be used to help repair the decorative copper tiled roof and iconic pineapple.
Both the dome and pineapple suffered damage during Storm Doris last year - slates were blown off the roof as were a number of leaves off the pineapple.
The dome has been part of the Grand since it first opened its doors.
Constructed from an oak frame, it is covered by 980 copper fish scales and the pineapple, at the very top, is covered in 42 copper leaves.
Funds raised will go to repair the dome but the theatre is also looking to raise more cash to pay for further improvements in the theatre itself to improve accessibility.
The campaign has already been given a major boost with a £12,500 donation by The Friends of the Grand, while Roger Lloyd-Jones, The Grand Theatre Trust chairman also personally donated £1,250.
Chief executive Ruth Eastwood, said: “We’ve had a tremendous start to reaching the £125,000 target with generous donations from both Roger and The Friends of the Grand.
“It’s a huge job and the work needs to be carried out by specialist craftsmen which is why it is so costly.
“There are various ways in which people can donate. Every penny counts and is greatly appreciated.
“The repairs will go a long way to ensuring that the theatre is here to serve the community for many years to come.”
To make a donation, visit www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/support-us/donation