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  • At the time of its construction in 1973, the Haymarket had the largest theatre stage in the country
  • The theatre’s musical director Rupert Mandell created many successful shows for London and Broadway, such as Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and My Fair Lady
  • The Metal Tree sculpture unveiled outside in 1974 was the first piece of abstract public art in Leicester

A New Home for Theatre

In the mid-20th century, Leicester had been without a home for professional theatre for some years, with the closure of older traditional theatres such as the Theatre Royal in 1957. The Haymarket Theatre opened on 17 October 1973, opposite the site of the old Victorian Palace Theatre on Belgrave Gate. It was built as part of the wider Haymarket Shopping Centre scheme, which opened in June that same year.

The new Haymarket Theatre was designed by Stephen George and Dick Bryant from Leicester Corporation’s Architects Department. They had previously converted a former warehouse in Newarke Street into Phoenix Arts, intended as a temporary home for professional theatre whilst the Haymarket was being constructed.

The Haymarket Theatre still under construction in 1973

The Largest Theatre Stage in the Country

At the time of its construction, the Haymarket Theatre had the largest theatre stage in the country, and its overall design was imaginative and ground-breaking. The large foyer and bar areas were able to accommodate large numbers and wide stairs, reminiscent of many classic cinema foyers, led into the main auditorium. This fan-shaped auditorium provided an unobstructed view of the entire stage area from every seat. The balcony gave an architectural ‘nod’ to classic theatres of the past, with five blocks at different levels which all cleverly linked. Together with an orchestra pit at the front of the stage, the Haymarket was capable of staging large-scale productions with ease.

The high fly tower extended over part of the auditorium which provided creative directors with an opportunity to design sets which connected very effectively with the audience. It was not unusual for actors in a play to enter from the back of the auditorium! Backstage, as well as offices, dressing rooms and storage, a large rehearsal space was available which was later converted into a studio theatre accommodating 120 people. Many local theatre groups and youth workshops were able to use this space instead of the main stage.

Inside the theatre auditorium, 1992

The Metal Tree sculpture at the entrance to the theatre was one of the last works by Hubert Cyril Dalwood. Unveiled in 1974, the sculpture was the first piece of abstract public art in Leicester.

The Metal Tree sculpture outside in 1982

Famous Directors and Performers

In the first season of the theatre opening, theatregoers were able to see The Recruiting Officer, the classic comedy play from 1706 by the Irish writer George Farquhar, Economic Necessity, a new play in 1973 by John Hopkins and starring Anthony Bate, and the musical Cabaret.

For many years the Haymarket’s musical director was New Yorker, Robert Mandell. He created a string of successful musicals, some of which transferred to the London stage and even Broadway. They included Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat; The Boyfriend with Mariam Harlin and Elaine Paige; My Fair Lady; Oklahoma; and Oliver, starring Roy Hudd as Fagin.

The Haymarket Theatre attracted many young people who aspired to a career on stage including Parminder Kaur Nagra, known for playing Jess Bhamra in the film Bend It Like Beckham and Dr Neela Rasgotra in the NBC medical drama series ER. Other actors were Rakhee Thakrar who is best known for portraying the role of Shabnam Masood in the BBC soap opera EastEnders and Emily Sands in Netflix series Sex Education.

A Fine Legacy of Productions

The theatre was operated by The Leicester Theatre Trust, but productions were transferred to the new and larger Curve Theatre when it opened in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. The Haymarket Theatre closed in 2007. The last production was The Wizard of Oz with Helena Blackman and Ceri Dupree.

The theatre remained closed until the city council funded an extensive refurbishment programme. It re-opened in 2018 and operated for two years until it was forced to close in March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2023 it re-opened as a teaching and performing base for a dance school in the city.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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