Our Story

  • 1903 timeline-deco

    Designed by celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham, Buxton Opera House opened amidst great celebration on 1 June 1903. 

    A full house audience was treated to The Prologue, written specifically for the occasion, followed by the first plays to be staged, Mrs Willoughby’s Kiss and My Milliners Bill.

    Touring Shakespeare, West End successes, ballets and comedy were popular on the Opera House stage right up until the great depression of 1921.

    Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were in the audience to watch Anna Pavlova perform the Dying Swan in 1925.

  • 1930 timeline-deco

    “Frank Matcham’s glorious Opera House at Buxton, with its warm and intimate design, always guarantees a night to remember for theatregoers”

    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Knutsford Guardian

    Opera House staff in 1932

    The theatre was converted into a cinema in 1927 – at first showing silent films, until 1932 when the auditorium was wired for sound and the ‘talkies’ took over.

    In 1937, Lilyan Baylis, Director of the Old Vic, brought George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, starring Robert Morley and Diana Wynyard to Buxton for the first Buxton Theatre Festival.

  • 1970 timeline-deco

    Despite its popularity as a cinema during the 1950s, the theatre sadly fell into disrepair and the theatre closed in the mid-1970s.

    Poet John Betjemen meets campaigners for the restoration of the Opera House including Margaret Milican and Michael Williams.

    In 1979, following dedicated work by many people both locally and nationally, the Opera House was restored – with a new orchestra pit added to the original Frank Matcham design. 

    1979 also saw the inaugural Buxton Festival, staged at Buxton Opera House. On the programme: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and a community opera production of The Two Fiddlers (Maxwell Davies).

  • 2000 timeline-deco

    During the late 1990s further restoration work was carried out, to secure the future of the Opera House for generations to come. 

    Since reopening in 2001 Buxton Opera House has been at the heart of a remarkable success story, developing as a community theatre catering for wide-ranging tastes and ages.

    In 2003, to celebrate its 100th birthday, the theatre presented a year-long programme of centenary events.

    With a growing ambition to share the arts with as many people as possible, our second theatre – the Pavilion Arts Centre – opened in September 2010, and is housed in the former Paxton Suite of the Pavilion Gardens complex, just behind the Opera House.

    The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attend the 2005 Royal Gala at the Opera House the day before their engagement is announced. 

    In 2015, and again in 2016, Buxton Opera House & Pavilion Arts Centre was crowned Most Welcoming Theatre in the East Midlands – as voted for by the public – at the UK Theatre Awards.

    “We are thrilled to be officially recognised as the 'Most Welcoming Theatre in the East Midlands' … this accolade is a wonderful tribute to our staff and the 190 volunteers that have given an unmatched level of customer service”

    Emma Oaks, Head of Marketing and Audiences
  • Today timeline-deco

    Buxton Opera House is today one of Britain's leading receiving theatres, presenting around 450 performances each year – including dance, comedy, children's shows, drama, musical concerts, pantomime, and opera – all alongside a lively Fringe Theatre and Community and Education Programme

    Visit What's On to find out what's coming up next …