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Rows of vacant seats inside the Palace Court Theatre.

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Palace Court Theatre

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Palace Court Theatre

The Palace Court Theatre is a 1930s Art Deco building, situated in Bournemouth town centre. It's now owned by Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) and has been reactivated as a civic venue for educational and cultural engagement. The theatre will be used as a teaching, learning, research, and innovation resource, and as a venue for local artists to develop new ideas. Our presiding vision is "Education by day and community by night".

AUB’s purchase of the Palace Court Theatre in 2020 forms part of our civic ambitions, to support the development of the creative industries and the regeneration of Bournemouth’s town centre through educational and cultural activity. 2023 was also the first time that the theatre has been available for public performances in almost 40 years.

In time, AUB hopes to work with partners to undergo more extensive restoration, so that it can be used as a fully functional theatrical performance space.

We welcome local creatives and the public to join us in redeveloping the theatre, to offer support and sponsorship, and embark on a programme of imaginative adventures, to fully reactivate this beautiful but as yet unrefurbished 1930s playhouse.

History of the Palace Court Theatre

The Palace Court Theatre is rare survivor of 1930s Art Deco theatre building in Bournemouth.

The building, which originally opened in 1931, owes its existence to the Bournemouth Little Theatre Club, for whom it was commissioned as a permanent base for their 1,000-strong membership. It was an important focal point for drama on the stage and screen for over 50 years, offering a repertory season of plays and entertainment, including many new works, both on the main stage, and in the club room downstairs.

The theatre was designed by local architects Seal & Hardy, who were also responsible for more than 50 other local buildings, including the Regent Centre in Christchurch, the Bournemouth Daily Echo offices, Westover Ice Rink and the Palace Court Hotel (now Premier Inn).

The first Seal and Hardy design, published around 1930, had a vaguely Egyptian cinema-style façade. However, owing to budgetary restraints, it was simplified to emulate the Portland stone façade of London’s Whitehall Theatre. Inside the venue was a fairly plain, typically 1930s modernist interior with a single balcony. Specifically commissioned as a playhouse, rather than a cinema, (sound cinema came along in 1929), the acoustics are excellent for the spoken word. It remains the only theatre in Bournemouth fully suitable for plays.

At the time of opening in June 1931, there were administrative offices and accommodation facilities alongside the theatre in the building next door. In the ensuing years, the Edwardian villas of Westover Road were replaced with hotels, cinemas, theatres, dance halls and an ice rink, as well as the sports facilities at the YMCA. Locals and visitors were attracted to "the strip". A place to see and be seen.

In the 1960s, changing holiday habits and rising costs meant that the amateur drama company could no longer afford to run the theatre, and in 1970 the building was sold to Louis I. Michaels’ LM Theatres. The former clubroom on the lower ground floor was converted into the Galaxy Cinema, whereas the main 595-seater theatre was renamed The Playhouse and operated as a repertory theatre for eight years. After this, in light of dwindling attendances, The Playhouse eventually became a full-time cinema.

In 1983, upon the death of Louis Michaels, the building was put on the market and sold to the Assemblies of God, who'd been hiring it for Sunday services. Change of use to a church was allowed on appeal, and was also made personal to the owners so that, upon any change of ownership, the permission would lapse.

In 2020, AUB purchased the building, and has since begun restoring its use as a theatre venue.

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News and events

The inside of a theatre auditorium, with three columns of seats on the ground floor and a balcony with further seating above it.

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The eclectic programme of Bournemouth Writing Festival events includes talks hosted by AUB at its recently acquired Palace Court Theatre.

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A series of ticketed and free-to-attend events will celebrate the many ways that AUB contributes to the town’s diverse creative arts scene.

Acting Course Leader Katharine Piercey with Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Gough sit opposite one another on stage at the Palace Court Theatre, Bournemouth

AUB to restore Bournemouth’s iconic Palace Court Theatre

Arts University Bournemouth supports local arts and culture with purchase and restoration of Bournemouth’s iconic Palace Court Theatre

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