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Alexandra Theatre

Location: Birmingham

The Alexandra Theatre was built in 1901 by William Coutts at a cost of £10,000 and was originally called the Lyceum.  Its opening production was a play entitled The Workman, which ran from 27th May 1901, with tickets ranging in price from two shillings to four (old) pence.  Unfortunately, insufficient public support resulted in the theatre being offered for sale just over a year later.  The sale attracted no great interest, and the Lyceum was bought by Lester Collingwood for just £4,450.

Collingwood was a flamboyant personality who sported a magnificent moustache.  He had extensive theatre experience and was particularly associated with the melodrama When London Sleeps, in which he toured for some time, playing the role of the villain.  Many theatres at the time had a royal connection, and Collingwood bowed to tradition by renaming the theatre to honour Queen Alexandra.

The Alexandra Theatre opened in 1902 with a melodrama called The Fatal Wedding.  Public taste greatly favoured this genre of entertainment, and the new manager quickly established his personality within Birmingham, such that the venue was soon tagged ‘The People’s Theatre’.  Collingwood also initiated the Alexandra’s panto tradition, beginning with Aladdin, which ran for eight weeks.  It is rumoured that Charlie Chaplin was one of the actors to have starred in these pantomimes. Sadly, this golden age came to an abrupt end when Collingwood was involved in a traffic accident at the age of 56.  On his way to visit an actress friend in Sheffield, his car collided with a milk float and he was killed instantly.  It was revealed some time afterwards that he had amassed the considerable personal fortune of £12,000.

A new era in the history of the theatre began in 1911 when the Alexandra was bought by Leon Salberg in association with his two brothers-in-law, Joshua and Julias Thomas.  Salberg had been born in Warsaw to a Jewish family and was 36 when he took over the theatre.  He had great theatrical flair, coupled with acute business sense.  He was especially good at discovering artists, and could usually tell whether a production would succeed, even though he hardly read a play himself.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the theatre’s output altered to reflect the national mood.  Tommy Atkins and Home from the Trenches were two of the many plays produced.  A few years later, shows such as The Tommy Came Home and Safe Again celebrated the end of the conflict. Around 1921, melodrama was gradually replaced by touring reviews such as Flirts and Skirts and High Heels and Stockings.  The post-war transformation in trends and public taste was the motivation behind Leon Salberg’s decision to change the Alexandra into a repertory theatre from 28th March 1927. After a while, however, business declined considerably, and Salberg decided to introduce a form of entertainment known as ‘non-stop variety’, employing a basic permanent company and a resident comedian, Dan Leno Jnr.  Prices remained the same and patrons could stay all day if they so wished.  Sadly, this venture failed and provoked a drop in staff morale, but things improved drastically with the start of a new pantomime, Red Riding Hood.

As productions at the theatre became increasingly ambitious, it became clear that the old building could no longer cope with the demands placed upon it.  Consequently, the theatre was rebuilt in 1935 at a cost of £40,000.

Alexandra Theatre
Station Street 
Birmingham
B5 4DS

Box Office Number:
0844 8713011

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