History of the New Theatre

"God bless this house. May it be the nurse, the feeder And the moulder of the Soul of Cardiff. "

Speech by Mr Herbert Beerbohm Tree after the opening performance at the theatre in December 1906.

1825 Cardiff has its first theatre, in a loft over a stable!

1826 The Old Theatre Royal is built in Crockherbtown.

1877 The Theatre Royal burns down.

1878 The 'new' Theatre Royal opens in Wood Street.

1898 Robert Redford takes over as manager of the Theatre Royal.

Robert Redford

1904 Redford commissions theatre architects Runtz and Ford to design his New Theatre.

1906 29 March: the foundation stone of the New Theatre is laid by Grace Redford.

10 December: the first public performance-William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night- is performed by the company of Mr Herbert Beerbohm Tree, followed by the New Theatre's first pantomime, Red Riding Hood.

A contemporary description of the theatre:

The Building is of brick and Bath Stone. Seating accommodation is for 1,570. Principal elevation is to the south-east; the lower portion around the chief entrance is of Bath Stone…the top of this elevation is surmounted by two towers, which are utilised for ventilation purposes, and rise in height to nearly 50 feet above the pavement…

Inside, both the corridor and staircase are richly carpeted, and are draped at the entrance; brass handrails being fixed at the sides. Each Portion of the House is provided with a spacious Saloon Bar; these for the Dress Circle and Orchestra Stalls being handsomely decorated…special mention should be made of that for the Dress Circle, which is immediately over the Crush Room and which, like it, is circular. The mural decorations for this, which are cream and gold, are extremely tasteful. The Dress Circle, Orchestra and Balcony are all furnished with tip-up seats, luxuriously upholstered in crimson velvet…

The stage is one of the largest in the country, being no less than 76 feet in width and 54 feet in depth, while the height of the stage to the grid where the pulleys work is 57 feet. In only three or four of the very finest London theatres is there a larger stage…The 17 dressing rooms, all are fitted with hot and cold water, electric light, gas etc…

Anna Pavlova

1907 The first amateur performance at the New is Cardiff Operatic Society's production of The Yeomen of the Guard.

1908 The divine Sarah Bernhardt visits-a single matinee performance on 17 June.

1912 Members of the Russian Imperial Ballet dance at the New, including the celebrated Anna Pavlova. They enjoy the experience so much they make a return visit the following year.

1913 Horses, camels and a cast of 100 take to the stage in the Drury Lane production of Ben Hur.

1917 The New shows its first film, D W Griffiths' blockbuster Birth of a Nation-silent of course, but with a full live orchestra.

1923 Jelly Roll Morton, legendary jazz pianist, appears at the New.

1929 The arrival of 'talking pictures' introduces new competition for audiences.

1930 Robert Redford retires from active management of the theatre.

1931 Structural alterations are made to allow the New to show films and, until 1935, the theatre is leased variously as a picture house, music hall and theatre.

1935 Prince Littler leases the premises and, with his manager William Henry Rousseau Youngman, brings prosperity back to the theatre with his policy of twice-nightly variety and the occasional spectacle show.

He reinstates the pantomime tradition, beginning with Aladdin in 1935, allegedly seen by 25,000 people, due in no small measure to the policy of arranging coach parties to visit the theatre.

1936 Death of Robert Redford.

1939-1945 During World War II, the theatre has its own team of firewatchers who are paid 2s 6d (12p) a night. The New Theatre never closes and plays host to entertainment legends Vera Lynn and Tommy Handley (from the enormously popular radio show ITMA = It's That Man Again!)

Prince Littler is appointed Chairman and Managing Director of the Stoll Theatre Corporation.

Comedian Benny Hill is arrested during a run of Send Him Victorious in November 1942.  Benny's call up papers had failed to reach him as he travelled the country in the show.  He is held for 4 nights in Cardiff Police Station before being sent to Lincoln Barracks to begin his service.

1949: Hollywood star Peter Lorre makes his British stage debut at the New Theatre reading Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart as part of a variety bill in July.

1950-1962: Many stars from both home and abroad appear at the New, including Rose Murphy, Billy Daniels, Slim Whitman, Frankie Vaughan and Cardiff's own Shirley Bassey.

1952 Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, despite both being in their sixties, receive a wonderful reception from several generations of fans for their unique brand of slapstick comedy.

1954 The Welsh National Opera makes the New Theatre its home.

1956 The Redford family agrees to sell the New Theatre to Stoll Theatres Corporation Ltd for £20,000.

The theatre hosts the first ever performance in Wales of Dylan Thomas' 'play for voices', Under Milk Wood.


The New celebrates its Golden Jubilee year.

Birthday - Thumbnail

1961 With losses building up, Prince Littler puts in a planning application to Cardiff City Council, proposing to knock down the theatre and build offices instead. There is a huge outcry, particularly from a group called 'Theatre Now', which includes several Welsh actors.

Littler's plans are rejected but he appeals; the appeal is turned down, but Sir Derek Walker Smith MP (on behalf of the Stoll Corporation) suggests that the city council itself should take over the New Theatre.

Meanwhile, the council is persuaded to put a Preservation of Use Order on the theatre to prevent it being used for anything other than theatrical purposes.

In September Littler accepts an offer on the theatre from Mecca Ltd.

1963 Cardiff City Council negotiates the lease of the building for seven years at an annual rent of £5,750. The New Theatre Trust is formed, under the chairmanship of Sir James Collins, to manage the theatre.

23 September: The New Theatre reopens with Welsh National Opera.

1963-1966 A high standard of product is maintained, including two visits from the National Theatre, classical seasons from the Royal and Festival Ballets, D'Oyly Carte's repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the world premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, variety shows with top of the bill Tommy Cooper, pop music concerts featuring the likes of Tom Jones and the return of pantomime.

1965 The Cardiff New Theatre Society is formed to 'stimulate and encourage an interest in the theatre and to increase the number of regular patrons of all ages and from all walks of life'.

1966 A Council of Management of the Theatre Trust is appointed for a term of three years, including in its membership representatives from the city council and from various sections of Welsh cultural life.

1969 After six years of successful operation, Cardiff City Council purchases the theatre and releases it to the Theatre Trust. The total cost is £104,000, partly met by a grant of £40,000 from the Arts Council on condition that £100,000 is spent to refurbish and modernise the theatre. The Welsh Office also provides a loan of £64,000.

24-year-old Martin Williams takes over as Theatre Administrator.

1970 In July the theatre closes for renovation, which includes the installation of a ventilation system, the construction of a new sunken orchestra pit, new seats throughout the auditorium, the modernisation of dressing rooms and a new lighting system. Cardiff New Theatre is now one of the best fitted and equipped theatres outside London.

1971 13 September: The theatre reopens with Welsh National Opera's production of Verdi's Falstaff.

1972-3 Theatre accounts show that the outstanding deficit has been nearly halved.

1976 Administrator Martin Williams directs an in-house production of Toad of Toad Hall, involving a large number of Welsh artistes, including comedy actor Howell Evans in the title role.

In August a new stage is installed.

1977 Death of Martin Williams at the tragically early age of 32; Peter Lea is appointed as his successor in the role of Theatre Administrator. 

1982 A sister venue to the New opens. St David's Hall grows rapidly in stature to become one of the finest concert halls in Europe, complementing the programme at the New and taking over the symphony concerts and one nighters.

On the whole, however, the early 1980s mean fluctuating success for the New, reflecting the economic conditions in the country and the dearth of good drama available. Some of the standouts from the period include Rattle of a Simple Man (John Alderton and Pauline Collins), Deathtrap (Gordon Jackson), A Coat of Varnish (Peter Barkworth and Anthony Quayle), Quartermaine's Terms (Michael Williams), Barefoot in the Park (Peter Davison and Sandra Dickinson), Amadeus (Keith Michell) and Children of a Lesser God (Elizabeth Quinn).

1985 Judi Richards is appointed General Manager of the New; her association with the venue is a long one as her grandfather worked on its construction!

1986 Welsh National Opera premieres Verdi's Otello and performs Wagner's Ring Cycle in its entirety for the first time ever in Wales.

Cardiff City Council takes over direct control of the theatre and announces major repairs.

1987/88 The theatre is closed for 12 months for refurbishment.

1988 Theatr Clwyd brings Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval to the New.

The Peter Hall Company tours Orpheus Descending with Vanessa Redgrave; the production subsequently goes on to the West End and Broadway.

1989 The Welsh premiere of Evita.

The New Theatre at night

1990 Richard Harris in Pirandello's Henri IV.

J B Priestley's Time and the Conways features Joan Plowright, Julie Kate and Tamsin Olivier, and is directed by Richard Olivier.

The National Theatre's Richard III stars Ian McKellen (who had previously appeared here as Edward II and Richard II in 1969 and as Hamlet in 1971).

1991 An Evening With Peter Ustinov sells out for a whole week.

1993 This year's pantomime, Snow White, marks a return to the stage for Marti Caine.

1994 Anthony Hopkins appears in Theatr Clwyd's August, adapted from Chekov's Uncle Vanya, which also features Leslie Philips and Richard Burton's daughter Kate.

1995 Vanessa Redgrave returns to the New in Shakepeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

1996 Welsh National Opera present their 50th anniversary season.

The New Theatre's 90th birthday production is Marlene starring Siân Philips (Dietrich herself had appeared here in 1973).

1997 Cardiff East by local playwright Peter Gill is presented in a special visit from the National Theatre - the only venue outside London to see the performance.

Maggie Smith appears here in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (she is also a returnee, having played Desdemona to Laurence Olivier's Othello in the late 1960s).

1998 The first Youth Dance Summer School enables young people throughout South Wales to work with professionals for a week, culminating in their own production. This is an Education Outreach project that is still running.

Robert Lindsay is Richard III in the RSC's touring production.

1999 Susan Lewis becomes manager of the New Theatre.

2000 Clwyd Theatr Cymru brings Welsh writer Alexander Cordell's powerful trilogy to the New and all three plays are performed in a single day.

The Welsh premiere of Yasmina Reza's Art with Nigel Havers, Barry Foster and Roger Lloyd-Pack.

The first ever BBC Radio 2 Voice of Musical Theatre Competition is staged here and won by Laura Michelle Kelly, who goes on to appear in Mary Poppins in the West End.

2001 The National Theatre brings its controversial production of Mother Clapp's Molly House to the New.

2002 Whilst appearing here in La Cage aux Folles, Julie Goodyear announces her impending return to Coronation Street.

The theatre launches its own website.

The Play What I Wrote, with its original cast, comes to Cardiff, prior to its Broadway transfer - the mystery guest star here is Charles Dance.

The New Theatre takes part in the first ever Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre.

2003 BBC Singer of the World branches out into the New Theatre.

Wales Theatre Company stage their inaugural production of Under Milk Wood at the New, starring Matthew Rhys.

The theatre launches online sales.

2004 Wales' Millennium Centre opens to complement existing artistic provision. Welsh National Opera makes its final appearance before moving to the Millennium Centre.  It is almost 50 years to the day since the company first appeared at the New Theatre.

Wales Theatre Company perform a Shakespeare trilogy in a single day on the final day of their run.

The New Theatre continues to thrive, recording even higher figures than previously

Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, with Simon Callow as Charles Dickens, film part of the Doctor Who episode The Unquiet Dead at the New Theatre (screened on television in spring 2005).

2005 Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons starring Martin Shaw visits the New prior to the West End.

Wales Theatre Company's production of Hamlet is, on some nights, performed in Welsh.

2006 A major refurbishment of the exterior of the building prior to celebration of the New Theatre's 100th birthday in December.

Cardiff premiere of CATS runs for 4 weeks in the summer.

A record-breaking Jack & the Beanstalk panto starring John Barrowman (Doctor Who, Torchwood)

2007 Orbit Theatre's production of High School Musical has people queuing round the block for tickets

Dallas legend Linda Gray stars in Terms of Endearment.

Warren Mitchell appears in the heartfelt comedy Visiting Mr Green.

2008 Tommy Steele plays 2 weeks in the title role in the spectacular musical Doctor Dolittle

Rock legend Brian May of Queen makes a surprise cameo in Hello, Dolly! on 21 June.

2009 The New Theatre hosts the Cardiff auditions for Britain's Got Talent.

The original cast of Calendar Girls play for a sold out week in March ahead of their triumphant West End opening.

Robert Redford, grandson of the theatre's founder, pays a visit to see Singin' in the Rain in March. He also donates his family's archive of cuttings and playbills from 1906 - 1935 to the theatre.

The return of John Barrowman in the Robin Hood pantomime results in a new box office record.

2010 In May the new National Theatre Wales company perform the world premiere of the uncut version of John Osborne's long lost first play, The Devil Inside Him.

In October the theatre stages a special one night concert to remember the late Olive Guppy, whose Olivettes appeared in over 30 pantomimes.

The musical Scrooge starring Tommy Steele becomes the New's highest-grossing two week musical ever.

2011 Susan Lewis steps down as Theatre Manager in January after 12 years in the post.

A campaign is launched to raise funds to replace the Upper Circle seating

Tracie Bennett appears as Judy Garland between the West End and Broadway runs of End of the Rainbow

2012 Hollywood star Stefanie Powers appears in On Golden Pond

The theatre goes 'dark' for 14 weeks to install new Upper Circle seats, a customer lift and repaint the auditorium

Shakespeare's Globe make their New Theatre debut with an electrifying Henry V.

October sees a record-breaking week as 9 performances of The Mousetrap completely sell out when the play visits as part of its first ever UK tour

The New Theatre Building