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The Playhouse

This wonderful local theatre was renamed "The Cecil Hepworth Playhouse" following a refurbishment in 2011.

The Playhouse at Hurst Grove Walton-on-Thames KT12 1AU is the last surviving building from Cecil Hepworth's film studios which flourished in Walton on Thames between 1986 and 1924. Formerly the Hepworth studio electricity generating house, constructed in 1920 to house two 800 kilowatt diesel generators which Hepworth had acquired from a captured German U-boat, to supply the studios with lighting and power, it was bought and turned into the home for the local amateur dramatic society Read the newspaper stories about the opening below, which set the scene for an amateur arts venue that is still thriving 85 years on.

It is available for hire from Elmbridge Borough Council.

See more information from the Theatres Trust.

The Playhouse was bequeathed to local dramatic societies by Cecil Hepworth, and opened by Dame Ellen Terry in 1925. This wonderful gift to the community is still supporting a thriving local Arts culture including Light Opera, Plays, Comedy, Dance, Art, and many more activities.

The Playhouse is the home of the Walton and Weybridge Amateur Operatic Society, Elmbridge Youth Theatre, and many other performing arts organisations. WWAOS counted Hepworth as a member for many years and possess some fascinating memorabilia about the beginnings of the theatre. Hepworth conducted the first ever performance by the society, "The Mikado". [And it seems he met his second wife at that performance too!]

This wonderful local theatre, situated just off Hepworth Way in the heart of Walton Town Centre, is Elmbridge Borough's dedicated performing arts venue and is superbly equipped for theatrical, dance or music productions. With everything needed to hold 'professional' events, this hall comes with its own box office, large stage, a large orchestra pit, professional lighting and sound system, raked seating for 180 people and a bar area. The hall also possesses changing/dressing rooms, separate toilet facilities for performers and the general public and a reasonably sized car park.


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The Playhouse at Hurst Grove Walton-on-Thames KT12 1AU


Laying of the Foundation Stone

Dame Ellen Terry and the film camera this week will have been an important one in the history of Walton's growth, for yesterday (Thursday) a commemoration stone was laid on the wall of a building which is to become a theatre where better-class dramas and musical comedies are to be presented. It has been a source of wonderment in the district lately as to what the building on the main road, abutting the Walton Football Ground, was to become and it was here that Dame Ellen Terry, the greatest living actress, came to lay the commemoration stone, yesterday.

The building was at one time, the powerhouse which supplied electrical power to the Hepworth Film Studios, and the conversion into a theatre has been carried out by Sir (?) T.J.Smith, of Walton, for Mr. G.B.Carvill, the well known architect.

Mr. Carvill explained to our representative that it was hoped this building, which belonged to the "Little Theatre" movement (Ed. note not the same as the Little Theatre Guild which came much later), to encourage local talent and also to considerably benefit the neighbourhood. He particularly emphasised that only the higher-class of drama and musical comedy would be portrayed there. The building, which will provide seating accommodation for 250 or more persons, has electric light and central heating, as will have a lounge and a bar as well as being up to date with a large stage and dressing rooms. The main floor too, has been constructed for dancing, whilst the lighting arrangements have been supervised by Mr Cecil M. Hepworth, the film producer.

Dame Ellen Terry was introduced by Mr. Carvill who thanked her for coming that day, to encourage them in their undertaking. It would be an omen of goodwill for the future and an an encouragement to them, he said. Dame Ellen, who laid the stone with a silver trowel, said she was honoured and grateful that se was asked to do so. Dame Ellen was them presented with a handsome bouquet of chrysanthemums by Master John Trigg, who was presented to her by Miss Alma Taylor, the star of "Coming Thro' The Rye" and other equal to well known Hepworth films. A film record was taken of the proceedings, and after the little ceremony, the veteran actress was asked to have a "close-up in taken. The film camera was apparently a novelty to her for she first expressed surprise it was so close, then asked Mr. Hepworth if she might move whilst the "close-up" was being taken. Upon being assured that "the more she moved, the better" she underwent the ordeal in a confident way, borne of her long experience on the stage. After this, an inspection of the new theatre was made by Dame Ellen, and the company present.

This article was published in the Surrey Herald in 1925

The Opening

Here's what a local paper, the Surrey Herald, had to say on the occasion of the opening of the Walton Playhouse on 18th December 1925 by Lady Richardson.

"The Playhouse" at Walton, looking vastly different in its interior appearance from the day when Dame Ellen Terry, the famous veteran actress laid the commemorative stone, was opened before a large and distinguished assembly who gathered within the building on Saturday afternoon.

Possibly, what most took the eye was the simple shaded curtain on which two giant tulips - pink and blue - were designed. The interior of the building itself was adorned with a dark coloured tapestry, designed in a dull shade of cold.

The opening ceremony - at which Sir Phillip and Lady Richardson were present, to be called away by a telephone call immediately afterwards to the disastrous fire which destroyed their residence - took the form of music and tea whilst a happy event was the exhibition of the film showing Dame Ellen terry laying the foundation stone. As will be remembered, The Playhouse was designed by Mr. G.B.Carvill, who was the prime mover in the selection and the building, carried out by Mr. T.J.Smith of Walton, was the system of fading electric lights being installed my Mr. Cecil Hepworth, the film producer.

"The Mikado" is to be produced for one week early in the new years - although not so early as was at first supposed - and the profits handed to local charities. Other pays are to follow as soon as it is ascertained to what extent these entertainments are supported by the public. In addition, dances are to be held.

The patronage membership is to be formed of residents who may be willing to give the scheme their interest and support. A limited list of likely members who it is thought may extend their good wishes to the enterprise, has been carefully compiled and an annual subscription of 2 2s. will entitle these members, with other advantages, to reduced prices for their theatre seats, for certain performances and to invitation dances. The curtain was rung back by Lady Richardson, the lights gradually dimming in the hall as this was done, and afterwards Sir Phillip addressed the gathering from the stage. He was accompanied by Lady Richardson and supported my Mr. and Mrs. G.B. Carvill.

Sir Phillip, in wishing the enterprise and its originator "!all good speed" said he was sure the whole district was very much indebted to Mr and Ms Carvill (applause) and those who had been associated with them in such a splendid building. He as sure they would join with him in wishing Mr Carvill and the enterprise every success. He [Sir Phillip] has been before them for four years now, and he had always felt there had been a need for a place where people could join together and obtain reasonable  enjoyment. there had been a great want of such as place in various parts of the constituency, and he hoped the example set at Walton would not be long in being followed.

Sir Phillip concluded by asking for a vote of thanks to Mr. G.B. Carvill for all he had done.

Mr Carvill, in returning thanks said he had lived in Walton for 23 years and certainly for 20 years he had heard the cry that there was no place where people could amuse themselves, act and sing. There had been places, but these had not been quite up to date. An entertainment has to be attractive, and now the building they were in could be said to be "the better" than other places round about.

 (continues).....

From: The Surrey Herald 18th December 1925

The Policy of the Playhouse

Mr. Carvill, in explaining the policy of The Playhouse, said they were not going to try and do what was done at the Coliseum and Empire. They united to present simple plays - some musical plays and they wanted to keep up some kind of reputation. They wanted people to realise that when they came to The Playhouse, they would always see something worthy of being seen.

The building had not been put up, Mr Carvill added, for any money-making motive, but he was not a philanthropist and this building made a good little investment. The degrees of membership - patronship and associateship - were then explained and Mr. Carvill continued that he wanted them to realise that they were not going to placard the neighbourhood with what they were going to do, but he again emphasises that they wanted to do things in future that would be worth coming to see, and ended by very kindly thanking Sr Phillip and Lady Richardson and the assembly for attending that day.

The following artistes submitted an enjoyable musical programme: Miss Olivia Bamford, Miss Kathleen Bamford, Mr Kendal Grimstone, Mr Paul Bennett, (orchestra selections), Mr Paul Bennett (violin solo), Miss Betty Waller (dances).

From: The Surrey Herald 18th December 1925



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