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Happy Birthday to Retford's Majestic Theatre watch the video

UNDOUBTEDLY one of the finest theatres in this part of the country, Retford's Majestic has been one of the town's best assets for the last 80 years.

But although it is now a firmly estblished feature of the town, it has seen several changes since it was built in 1927 and has more than once been shut down.

Built by local craftsmen, the New Majestic Theatre, as it was known at the time, is celebrating its 80th anniversary in October 2007.

It was originally the brainchild of entrepreneur, Cyril Getliffe, who was also the driving force behind the town's two picture houses, the Roxy and the Ritz.

Right from the start the Majestic was built and run as a theatre and stayed that way for a number of years.

It had been constructed to take both stage plays and moving pictures and contained all the latest equipment. However, after two years the projectors had to be converted to take sound movies once silent 'flicks' became obsolete.

The Majestic was, however, by no means the town's first theatre.

The honour for that goes to a small building on Carolgate where, from 1789 theatrical performances were staged for over 50 years.

It was quite a small affair and was not looked on as being important enough to be visited by leading touring companies.

But it was somewhere to go to see all kinds of performances ranging from Shakespeare to Victorian drama and comedy.

The building eventually closed, but it was not the end of the theatre in town as musical concerts continued to be held in the Town Hall, and the Assembly Rooms at the Crown Hotel.

Performances continued through the 1800s and into the following century, but by this time live theatre was starting to lose its appeal.

For a while it looked as if it was dying - families, men, women and children wanted more. The golden age of cinema and moving pictures was about to begin.

In towns and cities across the length and breadth of the country cinemas soon ruled the roost as far as entertainment was concerned.

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to make some money, Mr Getliffe soon realised that moving pictures were the in-thing and started work on building his two picture houses and also the Majestic.

Before long, in common with everyone else, Retford audiences were queueing up to take in more of this exciting new medium.

The town now boasted four places where moving picture houses could be seen.

There was The Regent on Carolgate Bridge which became the Ritz, The Picture House on Carolgate, which was later renamed the Roxy, The Picture Drome on Exchange Street and the Majestic.

Although it went on to screen movies, Initially the Majestic was first and foremost a theatre.

With its boxes, ornate carvings and spacious orchestra pit it was fully equipped to handle live productions on stage with seating for around 1,000 people.

It's first production was No, No, Nanette, staged by the local operatic society to a full house.

But as popular as occasional productions were, in order for the Majestic to survive it too had to follow the current trend, and it too become a picture house.

Throughout the war years, cinema continued to be the principal form of entertainment for the masses – a situation that would continue until the 1950s and the advent of television.

In 1943 the Majestic was bought by the Midland Empire Theatres Ltd who staged professional and variety shows, along with pantomimes, circuses and even ice shows.

About that time an uproar occured in town after a decision to open the theatre for films on Sundays.

As TV tightened its grip, the popularity of the nation's picture houses diminished and one by one, they closed.

The once popular entertainment centres that for years had been so busy, eventually shut their doors for the last time.

In Retford, the Ritz and the Roxy found it impossible to continue – the Ritz stood empty for a number of years before being taken over by the Masons, while the Roxy was eventually demolished to make room for town centre improvements.

But through it all, the Majestic kept going even though audience figures were not what they had been before, through and soon after the war.

Eventually, it too was forced into closure.

In order to keep going, half of the theatre had been turned over to a bingo hall – a move that had led to many of the fine building's historic features being badly neglected, covered up or being removed completely.

In the 1990s many local people started to take a closer look at the old buidling, realising there still was life under the accumulated debris caused by the closure, and the Majestic Theatre Trust was set up.

The idea was to raise enough money to buy the empty theatre and get it up and running again.

Shortly afterwards, the theatre was once again forced into closure – this time for safety reasons.

But even though it was closed, fundraising continued to the point when renovation started in earnest in 1996.

The goal was to stage at least one professional production a month, with the profits going back into restoration and safety work.

But this was by no means the end of the story as the theatre nowadays is a living institution – still alive and well.

It is now in the hands of a caring group of individuals who are determined to not only keep it open, but also to follow through a programme of continual improvement.

It is back to its original splendour with an amosphere all to itself and receives regular praise from the many entertainers who frequently tread its boards.

It is an institution Retford residents are justly proud of that has stood the test of time and is set to go on for many more years to come.

Make sure you don't miss out on the fun.

 
 
 

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