Harborough Theatre stands in Church Square, adjacent to the magnificent parish church, Saint Dionysius, and the Old Grammar School – one of only a few remaining ancient buildings standing on massive legs. There have been buildings on the theatre site for centuries, including The Green Dragon, an old inn with a dodgy reputation and, allegedly, the ghost of a murdered patron, which still haunts the theatre.
It is appropriate that this building is the home of make-believe. Although it looks like an old merchant’s house from the Elizabethan period, with stone walls, mullioned windows, leaded lights and stout oak doors, it was, in fact, only constructed in 1935 as a cycle-shed and store for the local corset factory! The Managing Director’s office looked out into Church Square, he insisted that the building be designed to resemble an old town-house to disguise its rather mundane purpose and to provide an attractive frontage in this pleasant square. An early example of “heritage architecture”. MHDS has been presenting plays here since its early days, hiring the first-floor hall as a performing space. Later, a lease was arranged to make it the regular home for the Society.
In 1969, after a fund-raising appeal, MHDS purchased the freehold. To mark this major event, we erected, above the front door, the Harborough Theatre logo (by local designer and theatre stalwart, Alec Riddett), and a modern art sculpture of Harlequin, by local artist Ralph Thurston, above the display window. In 1980 another fund-raising exercise provided the money for a substantial rebuild, increasing the size of the theatre and creating a true little theatre auditorium with raked seating and a proper lighting box. The building frontage was maintained, of course, whilst a larger and more practical theatre was created behind it.
In addition to the 118-seat auditorium and a smallish stage (about 18 feet square as the acting area and almost no wing space) Harborough Theatre includes a Lounge on the ground floor, with a bar and a kitchen, and a dressing room which is perfect for a small cast and tolerable for a large cast ~ if you are on friendly terms!
In recent years we have acquired the adjacent premises and have re-developed internally to enlarge the theatre lounge, create a new bar, install two accessible toilets (one on ground floor, the other on the first floor next to the auditorium, the Harlequin Room for meetings and rehearsals, and, most recently, a long-awaited lift to give access to the auditorium for patrons who do not wish to climb two flights of stairs. There is a wheelchair position in Row A – directly accessible from the lobby – and a hearing loop system. The front of the building has been enhanced with a two-storey glass and steel display area, and the harlequin sculpture now sits proudly in its upper window.