The Angles' History
1793: Mr. Robertson, manager of the Lincoln circuit, built the Wisbech Theatre.
1836: To re-kindle a flagging interest in provincial theatre, circuit managers began engaging some of the 'names' from the London stage. William Macready was one such 'name'. He performed Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Virginus in Wisbech.
1837: James and Caroline Hill, local philanthropists & parents of Octavia Hill, built a school for under privileged children, in front of the Wisbech Theatre.
1846: Was the last recorded performance in the Wisbech theatre and closed two years later.
1850: The theatre was used as a concert room.
1870s to 1910: The theatre building was used for many non-theatrical purposes including a grain store, tent making and a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.
1890: Local dignitary, Alexander Peckover, bought the front school building and used it as the School of Science and Art.
1920s: The theatre building was bought by the Christian Spiritualists as a meeting-room.
1940s: It was used by the Red Cross including during WWII.
1950s and 60s: It became the County Library.
1970s: It was used by the Wisbech Boxing Club.
1978: Re-discovered and re-opened as a theatre - the Angles Theatre.
The original 1970s Angles Theatre Company
The inside of the theatre as used by the Christian Spiritualist Church
The front building when it was used as a library
A group of drama enthusiasts, mostly based on the Isle College, Wisbech, were looking for a place to rehearse in. The group initially came together as 'Isle College Entertainments', staging shows in the college’s hall at the Teachers’ Centre and on one occasion with a Mike James musical entitled Double Act at the King’s Lynn Festival.
They formed themselves into the 'Angles Theatre Company', with plans to tour Shakespeare. In 1977 they took a production of Othello to the following venues: the Maltings in Ely; the South Holland Centre in Spalding; the Huntingdon Drama Centre. It was a great success.
They were then hit with a serious problem. The commitments of the Isle College precluded use of their hall for regular rehearsals. So the group began looking for a rehearsal space elsewhere in the town.
When they came across the room that the Christian Spiritualist Church were offering. None of the group had any idea that the space being leased, tucked away behind the former town library, had once been a Georgian theatre!
As soon as the Angles Theatre Company secured the lease the members discovered the wonderful and related history. They set to work preparing the space not only for use as a rehearsal room, but also for performances. Scaffolding poles were used to build stepped seating. They created a stage area and a backstage area and stage door with a newly created entrance to the 'theatre' down the side of the building.
In November of 1978 the re-vamped Wisbech Theatre re-opened its doors with She Stoops to Conquer. 130 years after it was closed in 1848. This was a particularly appropriate choice of show since rumour had it that Goldsmith fashioned his plot, of a private home mistaken for an inn, from an incident that had occurred many years before at Leverington Hall, near Wisbech.
The group then secured the James Hill Building, at the front of the theatre, to further extend the offering of a revamped theatre and rehearsal space.
From the beginnings in 1978 scores of productions, both amateur and professional, have followed. Among the earliest were two fund raisers for the Angles, The Hollow Crown, which launched Jill Freud’s successful company, and the West End show, Songbook, with its star cast led by Anton Rodgers who moonlighted from London to Wisbech for a memorable Sunday night performance. Right from the start the Angles has not only been about shows. Its remit was, and still is, to provide a focal point for the theatrical arts for the local community, with a special accent on the young.
FAMOUS ASSOCIATIONS WITH THE WISBECH THEATRE
Tom Robertson (1829-1871), son to James Robertson, who built the Wisbech Theatre, first appeared on stage at Wisbech when he was five, as Hamish, the infant son of Rob Roy. He became a noted playwright. He revolutionised the style of plays with his ‘cup-and-saucer’ dramas. Heavy delivery and broad gestures were replaced by a quieter and more natural style of acting, and more realistic settings.
William Henry West Betty (1791-1874) performed in Wisbech in 1808. Known as ‘Young Roscius’ and 'Master Betty', he was famous for playing major Shakespearean roles when still a child. When he arrived in Covent Garden in 1804 troops were called to preserve order, such was his popularity. He performed in Wisbech as one of his last events as a child.
William Charles Macready (1793 – 1873) performed at the Wisbech Theatre on June 13th 1836: It was 7 o’clock when I got to the Inn, made myself a little more comfortable, breakfasted, and began to make up arrears of my journal. Mr Robertson called, having hunted me out, where he says a great excitement is produced. I am not used to produce “excitements”, but my penny trumpet has a sound of awe among Lilliputians.
July 1835 James Hill, father of the famous social reformer and philanthropist Octavia Hill, bought the Wisbech Theatre just days after marrying his third wife, Caroline Southwood Smith. In 1837 Hill erected a new building in front of the theatre as an Infant School for the poor.
For three years this building was the centre of the Hill’s reforming activities. The school became known as the Infidel School. In 1840 James Hill became bankrupt and the theatre was put up for sale.
The theatre finally closed in 1848.
EIGHT OLDEST WORKING THEATRE IN BRITAIN
The Wisbech Theatre (now the Angles Theatre) is accepted as the eight oldest working theatre in the country.
The seven older theatres are:
1. The Theatre Royal York (1744)
2. The Bristol Old Vic (1766)
3. Stockton on Tees Georgian Theatre (1766)
4. Stamford Arts Centre (1768)
5. Grand Theatre Lancaster (1782)
6. Theatre Royal Margate (1787)
7. Theatre Royal Richmond (1788)
Angles Theatre Wisbech
A group of drama enthusiasts based at the Isle College, Wisbech, were looking for an appropriate place to rehearse in. They formed themselves into the 'Angles Theatre Company', with plans to tour Shakespeare and needed a rehearsal space in Wisbech.
When they came across the room the Christian Spiritualist Church were offering not knowing that the space being leased, tucked away behind the former town library, had once been a Georgian theatre!
As soon as the Angles Theatre Company secured the lease the members immediately set to work preparing the space not only for use as a rehearsal room, but also for performances.
In November of 1978 the re-vamped Wisbech Theatre opened its doors, 132 years later, with She Stoops to Conquer. The group then went about securing the James Hill Building, at the front, to further extend the offering of a revamped theatre and rehearsal space.