BACKGROUND HISTORY OF THEATRES IN ILFORD
Like many London suburbs, Ilford expanded rapidly with the rise of the Railway. By 1909 it was a large community, certainly large enough to support a Theatre. The Ilford Hippodrome opened on November 8th, 1909. The building was designed by Frank Matcham and cost £35,000 to build. It had 2,500 seats and a further 500 standing places.
The Hippodrome survived for 35 years – during some of which it was forced to show films as interest in live Variety waned – and finally met its end during a performance of the pantomime on January 12th 1945. It was destroyed in the blast from a V2 rocket. One person was killed and over a hundred were injured. (A further fifteen people were killed in the housing immediately behind the theatre.
THE LITTLE THEATRE
The town was left without a theatre for nine years, during which Ilford Town Hall served as a stopgap. A “permanent” home was created in 1954 when a building close to the High Road was converted into The Little Theatre. This small venue, used exclusively by amateurs, was demolished in 1968 to make way for a supermarket.
THE CRANBROOK THEATRE/ILFORD PLAYHOUSE
There were plans to build a brand new theatre alongside the Town Hall, but it was clear these would take several years to reach fruition. Accordingly, the local Council took a seven year lease on a disused Church and created a temporary theatre in Cranbrook Road called The Cranbrook Theatre. Again, this was used exclusively by amateurs.
The new Theatre was ready within six years, and was to be called the Kenneth More Theatre. The KMT would be used for amateur and professional shows, and the town’s leading amateur company felt the “professionalism” of the new venue would seriously damage the spirit of amateur theatre. The Renegades Theatre Company decided not to move into the KMT and negotiated their own lease on the Cranbrook Theatre. They renamed it the Ilford Playhouse, and for the next ten years kept it running in opposition to the KMT. They finally lost the venue to redevelopment in June, 1984.
THE KENNETH MORE THEATRE
Ilford’s civic theatre, the Kenneth More, opened on the very last day of 1974 with a preview of “The Beggar’s Opera”. There were further previews on January 1st and 2nd, and the official opening was on January 3rd, 1975.
The theatre seated 365 and was fully equipped with a fly-tower and all the latest “state of the art” equipment. It also contained a 50 seat Studio Theatre for experimental work. The building cost £500,000.
In the years since then the KMT has been very successful. It has balanced its commitment to amateur theatre by providing 26 weeks each year for local amateur companies. The remaining half of the programme has consisted of a mixture of visiting professional shows and professional in house productions.
Several in house productions have then gone on to undertake national tours, beginning with a 26 week tour of “Hair” in 1978. Its major touring success was the KMT production of “The Rocky Horror Show” which toured the UK non-stop between 1983 and 1989, and in 1990 undertook a European tour.
The KMT also created a company of young opera singers, and a company specialising in contemporary musicals, earning a considerable reputation for its operas and its productions of works by Stephen Sondheim.