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History of the Theatre

Opera House historic

Opera House historic

Buxton Opera House opened amidst great celebration on 1 June 1903. An appreciative full house was treated to The Prologue written specially for the occasion followed by the first plays to be staged, Mrs Willoughby's Kiss and My Milliners Bill. This set the scene for the next three decades with the Opera House running as a successful and vibrant theatre. Touring Shakespeare companies, West End successes, ballets, concerts and musical comedy were regular visitors to the Opera House and in 1925 the great Anna Pavlova performed the Dance of the Dying Swan.

In 1927 the theatre was turned into a cinema. Silent films were shown at first and in 1932 the theatre was wired for sound and 'talkies' took over. The demand for live theatre persisted though, and Lillian Bayliss, a woman of immense energy and vision, and manager of London's Old Vic, presented summer Festivals in Buxton in 1937 and 1939. Among the stars to delight Buxton audiences at this time were Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Robert Donat, Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley and Alec Guinness.

Despite its success as a cinema through the fifties and sixties, audiences began to diminish and the Opera House fell into disrepair. In October 1976 the theatre was closed until the Spring and rumours began to circulate that it would never reopen. In 1979 following dedicated work by many people both locally and nationally the Opera House was lovingly restored and an orchestra pit was added to th original Frank Matcham design, otherwise largely unaltered since 1903.

In the late 1990s however it became apparent that the Opera House required further urgent restoration work in order to secure its future into the next century and beyond. An extensive programme of external and internal restoration was undertaken between October 1999 and June of 2001.

Since the completion of this restoration work Buxton Opera House has been at the centre of a remarkable success story and has developed as a community theatre catering for wide-ranging tastes and ages. The theatre continues to attract a host of famous names including Elvis Costello, Steven Berkoff, Peter Kay, Patricia Routledge, Bill Wyman, Ken Dodd, Sarah Millican, Razorlight, Courtney Pine, The Osmonds and Aled Jones.

Find out more:

If you would like to have a look around the theatre and find out more about the history of this beautiful Edwardian building, we'd be delighted to welcome you to one of our coffee mornings or tours.

Both events are organised by the Friends of Buxton Opera House and run on most Saturdays between 10am and 12 noon. The tours of the theatre cost £2.50 per person and leave at 11am. 

We can also arrange private tours of the theatre for groups of 10 or more people at £5 per head. 

All money raised from these events is put towards purchasing equipment for the theatre.

Please book in advance please call: 01298 72050 or email:

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