The Swan

Theatre

Est. 1965

Founder: Sara Knight MBE

Since 1965 the Swan Theatre has served as an artistic hub at the centre of the community in Worcester and from 1967 the Worcester Repertory Company, founded by John Hole, has called this venue "home".

As well as housing the Worcester Repertory Company, the theatre plays host to a number of touring productions and provides a much needed performance space for amateur groups from across Worcestershire.

Below is more information regarding the venue and its work over the past 50 years.

The Swan Theatre Today

The Swan Theatre continues to provide a home for the Worcester Repertory Company as well as an eclectic mix of touring productions of various genres including music, theatre, dance, spoken word, and comedy. The theatre is one of the busiest in the area with sometimes six performances taking place in the main house and studio spaces during a single day. It also continues to provide a much needed performance space for a host of amateur theatre companies.

 

In 2011 the building was given a new lease of life with new air handling, interior seating, balcony and the refurbishment and development of the theatre's studio block. The Swan Theatre remains a vibrant hub of creative activity in Worcestershire and continues to provide a home to both professional and amateur artists. 

Building of the Theatre | 1960s |

In 1957 the City of Worcester closed the doors on the Theatre Royal which had been built in 1779 and started life as the Angel Street Theatre. The Theatre Royal had fallen into disrepair, considered a financial burden and closed its doors before being demolished shortly afterwards. The idea for a new theatre for city has been considered for sometime until, in 1962, a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Music and Arts (SAMA) and the City Council endorsed a resolution to create a holding company to plan and raise £50,000 for the building of a new theatre. The Worcester City Council pledged £10,000 to the campaign and the search for a suitable site and architect commenced. 

Henry Gorst was appointed as the theatre's architect and the resulting plans showed the first theatre in England specifically designed with disabled patrons in mind. A suitable site was found in an area next to the Worcester Racecourse and in 1963 the foundation stone was laid by Dame Peggy Ashcroft

Fundraising continued and in 1965 the theatre opened its doors. The theatre was run entirely by volunteers until 1967 when a more professional approach to theatre management was required to ensure the smooth running of the venue and stronger financial stability. John Hole was appointed as the theatre's director and with his tenure came the founding of the Worcester Repertory Company. With David Wood and Sam Walters as Associate Directors the company went from strength to strength and it was not long until it made its first West End transfer with A Present from the Corporation, Terence Brady and Julia McKenzie

 | 1970s

By the beginning of the 1970s the theatre became so busy that fundraising began to expand the premises. A workshop block was planned which would house a general meeting room, a dress-making room, a rehearsal area, toilet facilities and a workshop space that would be able to build and store the sets required for the Worcester Repertory Company productions. This meant that the WRC could rehearse on site rather than in other venues across the city and that administration and production could expand. By the middle of the 70s the Swan Theatre received funding for more inclusive equipment in the form of an induction loop hearing system and a disabled toilet. The Swan Theatre was one of the first regional theatres to accommodate the induction loop system.  

1980s | 

At the beginning of the 1980s it was decided that the Swan Theatre's Front of House area needed development. With the theatre so busy the public areas were proving inadequate. Plans were made to expand the Foyer, Box Office and Bar at an estimated cost of £90,000. Again, more fundraising began and in 1984 the work began. A new purpose built kitchen was built in the upstairs area of the venue and additional toilets were added to cope with the vast numbers of audience the theatre attracted. During the extensive building work patrons entered the venue via a temporary entrance through the bar lounge windows. 

The Swan's renowned Youth Theatre continued to go from strength-to-strength and the studio block started to develop its professional and amateur programme. At various points during the 80s the theatre was so busy that actors would often do two children's theatre performances, a matinee and an evening performance and then a late night cabaret in the bar. 

New writing, pro-am productions and innovative, nationally renowned productions very much defined the 1980s at the theatre and lifted the Worcester Repertory Company to a national level. 

 | 1990s

Money, particularly lack of it, has always been an issue within the artistic community and at the beginning of the 90s was no different. From 1989 through to 1990 a campaign was run by the City Council to save the Swan Theatre. Although finances were a constant issue the Swan Theatre's programme was an exciting and diverse one with many exciting productions taking place. Cast members throughout the 1990s included David HarewoodAlistair McGowan, Emma Rice, Deborah McAndrew and Tamsin Greig along with Associate Directors Paul Clarkson, Mark Babych and Jenny Stephens who later became the theatre's artistic director.  

2000s | 

Finance reached breaking point in the early part of the 2000s and with the Arts Council pulling funding from the theatre's budget the Swan was forced to go dark in 2002 for a period of six months. During this period of uncertainty many options were considered for the theatre's future and in April 2003 it was reopened, but primarily as a receiving house with production severely limited. 

Now linked with another leading Worcester City venue, Huntingdon Hall, the financial position of the theatre began to improve and companies such as Hull Truck, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and Middleground Theatre started returning to the Swan and with it, so did the audiences. Production began to return in a limited capacity and the Youth Theatre was reformed having taken a 6 month break. 

In 2008 it became apparent that the theatre was in dire need of refurbishment with an unsafe roof (full of asbestos) and a very tired front of house area. The Worcester City Council generously voted to commit the theatre for refurbishment and development with a £700,000 grant and in 2009 the work began. 

2000s | 

Finance reached breaking point in the early part of the 2000s and with the Arts Council pulling funding from the theatre's budget the Swan was forced to go dark in 2002 for a period of six months. During this period of uncertainty many options were considered for the theatre's future and in April 2003 it was reopened, but primarily as a receiving house with production severely limited. 

Now linked with another leading Worcester City venue, Huntingdon Hall, the financial position of the theatre began to improve and companies such as Hull Truck, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and Middleground Theatre started returning to the Swan and with it, so did the audiences. Production began to return in a limited capacity and the Youth Theatre was reformed having taken a 6 month break. 

In 2008 it became apparent that the theatre was in dire need of refurbishment with an unsafe roof (full of asbestos) and a very tired front of house area. The Worcester City Council generously voted to commit the theatre for refurbishment and development with a £700,000 grant and in 2009 the work began. 

 | 2010s

Half way through the decade the Swan Theatre celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Through all the financial struggles and threats to the venue's future the Swan found a new lease of life and production returned in earnest. New patrons were found in Imelda Staunton CBE (who began her professional career with the Worcester Repertory Company) and Rufus Norris (Director of the National Theatre and former Youth Theatre and Rep Member) and a wide variety of professional and amateur productions continue to be staged at the venue.  

Sources & Support | 

From Little Acorns - A concise history of the first 25 years of the Swan Theatre

Ann Moore,1990

The Swan Theatre - Fifty years of passion, optimism hard work and creativity. 

978-0-9576086-9-6

Chris Jaeger MBE , 2014

The Worcester Repertory Company is generously supported by the 

CONTACT US

The Swan Theatre, The Moors, Worcester, WR1 3ED

Tel: 01905 726969 ||| Email: info@worcester-rep.co.uk

© 2019 Worcester Repertory Company

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ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Ben Humphrey

CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Sarah-Jane Morgan

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