A SINGER who represented the UK at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest and the actor and puppeteer who went on to become Basil Brush’s right hand man were amongst those sharing their memories of the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester last night (Sunday 19 November).
Molly Smitten-Downes, a former member of the Haymarket Youth Theatre, and Michael Winsor, who sung in the Haymarket Leicester Youth Choir, took to the stage as part of a presentation to mark 50 years since the theatre’s opening in 1973.
The event, hosted by BBC Leicester’s Ady Dayman, also featured performances by students from the Addict Dance Academy.
Invited guests, including representatives of the city’s arts organisations and former members of theatre staff, joined City Mayor Peter Soulsby to celebrate the landmark anniversary and to re-visit the theatre, which closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Happily, the lights went back on in September 2023, when the theatre became home to Leicester-based Addict Dance Academy, which is leasing the Haymarket’s auditorium, stage, studio and foyer areas from the city council to deliver its degree and diploma-level courses.
City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “I’m very pleased that we were able to get the lights back on in time for the Haymarket Theatre’s 50th anniversary.
“This brilliant building had been empty for far too long, so it’s great that it’s now being used as a teaching hub for the performers of the future, while generating much-needed income for the city council.
“The agreement we have with Addict is working well and we’re going to be exploring ways to further support their teaching ambitions, as educational and training uses could be key to securing a sustainable future for the theatre.
“Bringing the venue back into public use remains my ambition, but it’s clear that that will take time, as well as investment.
“The Haymarket Theatre has begun its revival – but it’s going to be a gradual process. I hope that our relationship with Addict will give us a good base to build on, as we gradually open up the theatre for wider public use over the next few years.”
The Haymarket Theatre opened to the public on 17 October 1973, with a production of the classic comedy The Recruiting Officer.
Guests at last night’s ceremony included David Moore, who was part of the Haymarket Theatre’s lighting crew in the 1970s and who now works as a lighting designer at the Little Theatre in Leicester.
He said: “By the time I joined the Haymarket’s lighting crew on one of the followspots in around 1974, it had already established itself as Leicester’s main theatre.
“I was lucky enough to work on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – the first Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to be performed publicly, and the first time it was performed outside London.
“It was a huge success, with a full house in this wonderful theatre every night.
“I was terribly sad when the theatre trust moved to Curve in 2008, effectively making the Haymarket Theatre redundant, so it’s lovely to be back in the building with the lights on again.”
Picture caption: City Mayor Peter Soulsby, centre, meets actor Michael Winsor and singer Molly Smitten-Downes, who both started their careers at Leicester's Haymarket Theatre, at an event marking the theatre’s 50th anniversary on Sunday (19 November).