College Theatres

04 January 2021

Wellington has seen a number of theatres over the years, giving many students an opportunity to try their hand at acting, stage management or lighting, and allowing a few well-known actors their first taste of stardom along the way.

In 1947 a wooden building which had started life as a Victorian swimming pool, and later been used for woodwork, was converted into a theatre – possibly the first dedicated school theatre building in England. The sloping floor of the pool lent itself perfectly for conversion to raked seating, culminating in an orchestra pit at the deep end with the stage above it. The first production to be staged there was a rather dull affair called ‘The Duke In Darkness,’ but this was soon followed by the much more popular ‘HMS Pinafore’ and from then on, house and school productions proliferated. The interior of the theatre is well illustrated in this 1950s drawing by Bryan de Grineau.

By the 1970s this building had seen better days, and was described as ‘a cold, isolated workshop… where actors shuffled around in several layers of clothes attempting to create atmosphere above the outbursts of an old, raucous boiler.’ However, drama received a boost in 1974 when the Queen’s Court complex opened, with an up-to-date theatre including flexible seating, a modern lighting rig, make-up rooms and a wardrobe store. Drama went from strength to strength under the creative genius of its Director, Hugh Atkins, and the young Adrian Lukis was much acclaimed for his performance as Atahualpa in ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun.’ In 2013 this theatre was renamed the Christopher Lee Theatre in honour of another notable OW actor.

As student numbers grew, a larger auditorium was needed, and 2018 saw the opening of the G W Annenberg Performing Arts Centre, a modern circular theatre with 21st century lighting and backstage facilities which has already seen a plethora of memorable College productions.