Chris Lloyd never fails to bring a story of local history to life and this talk was right up to the mark. As Chief Features Writer to the Darlington and Stockton Times he has access to a treasure chest of records to bring detail and colour to the peoples, places and times.This story time provided a picture of the evolution of drama and musical entertainment in the town, from the days of strolling players performing in the yard of the Green Tree Inn in the 1760s to the newly revitalised Hippodrome theatre.
Efforts to legitimise the work of the street players by the building of a theatre met serious opposition, largely from the Pease family, their Quaker ethics affronted by the perceived licentiousness of actors and audiences. The police, the licensing authorities and even the Gas & Electricity Board were all chaired by the negative family members, but despite all the pressures the project was approved in 1859, to open in1865 and to be burnt down only two years later.
After such beginnings the theatre was to become an instant success, offering plays, dramas, music and the music hall. The building itself went through several modifications and locations until in 1907 the present magnificent structure was built as it stands today..
It attracted the theatrical stars of their day. Reputations could be made in Darlington with its courageous variety and range of programmes. The period of the 1930s depression hit both audiences and earnings. In such times the theatre waned and barely survived., But wartime entertainments found a new market of humour in worrying times. A fresh peak came after 1945, with new money and new ideas, but gradually the impact of the cinema and TV was felt in Darlington as in many other towns. The Town Council took over the declining business and brought about a massive upgrade to today’s facilities.
“Of fish and actors “ Yes, theatre and actors – but what about the fish ? At the theatre’s heyday the new staging and all the artefacts for the new week’s production would arrive, often with the actors, by the Sunday night train at Darlington Station – along with the fish !.