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50 DRAMATIC YEARS
1972-2022

Our Theatre's History

The Apollo Theatre’s story began around the time that another Apollo was landing on the Moon in July 1969.

In 1967, John and Patricia Hancock had moved to the Isle of Wight from Birmingham, where they were active members of a Little Theatre – an amateur group that owned its own premises.  When a Victorian Methodist church came up for sale in Pyle Street, Newport, two months before the Moon landing, John quickly saw the potential to create a Little Theatre on the Island.

Thanks to his drive and energy and commitment, the money was raised to buy the church in May 1970.  But it was a close run thing: the Apollo won with an offer just £65 more than its rival.  A small army of volunteers – some of whom are still with the Apollo, forty years on – worked all hours to convert the building, and the Apollo Theatre opened its doors in April 1972 with a trial run of plays, music and an art exhibition.

And the rest, as they say, is history …

1967

John and Patricia Hancock move to the Isle of Wight from Birmingham

1969

April

The Isle of Wight County Press advertises sale of Victorian Methodist church at Pyle Street

1969

june

Isle of Wight Society welcomes new theatre proposal for the church

1969

august

Closure of the church, as congregation merges with Quay Street Methodist Church

1970

may

The Apollo wins the bid to buy the church, with an offer just £65 more than the rival bid, from the Bethany Chapel

1970

september

Work starts to gut most of the inside of the building; the church organ is sold for £150 to be installed in a cathedral in Uganda; pews are sold as garden seats; every floorboard is denailed

1970

christmas

The Apollo stage is built and work continues.  Tip-up seats are acquired from Shanklin Pier Theatre for 10/- (50p) each; the team of volunteers works through the national power strike with the help of car headlamps powered by batteries

1971

march

Extract from an Apollo volunteer’s diary … ‘lay auditorium floors: it is becoming more difficult to find any two boards that match each other in thickness or width. The ‘girls’ start to wash seat frames … using a baby’s tin bath found in the vestry! How did that get there?’

1971

june

Another extract … ‘a month of digging ditches and laying sewers … dirt piles to the top of the forecourt railings … barked knuckles and aching backs …’

1972

april

The theatre opens for a trial run with a Spring Festival of two plays: The Tiger and the Horse, by Robert Bolt, followed by Anouilh’s The Waltz of the Toreadors, starring John Hancock, and in between the plays, events including orchestral, jazz and folk music, and an exhibition of paintings

1972

 september

On the 9th September 1972, it was official opening of the theatre, and the launch of a seven-performance run of Hotel Paradiso, billed as ‘a rollicking French farce with a large cast’

1972

October

The Apollo receives formal notice that the outside of the theatre is Grade 2* listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, and cannot be altered

1975

The Apollo becomes the 33rd member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain.  Lorca’s Blood Wedding is performed.

1976

september

Two Apollo founder members, Hilary Sloper and Roger Simpson, get married.  Both are still actively involved (with all their children) and now Life Members

1977

The Apollo stages its first musical, Salad Days

1979

The Apollo goes on tour to Shanklin Theatre, with a performance of Separate Tables, by Terence Rattigan;  the tours were repeated several times, including 1984, when the Apollo took Rattle of a Simple Man to the home of the South London Theatre Centre

1980

John Hancock retires as Director of the Apollo Players

1982

An appeal is launched to raise £2,000 to fund new lighting

1983

The Apollo hosts its first production by another theatre group, as the South London Theatre Centre performs a musical revue, Starting Here, Starting Now

1984

The Dramathon is staged over the weekend, starting at 9am on Saturday and finishing at 10pm the following night; it includes performances of theatre and an all-night jazz session

1985

John Hancock’s final appearance on stage, in Spirit o’ the Wight, a play with music, written by Apollo member Betty Pryde

1987

The first drama workshop for children is held, soon to become the Apollo Children’s Theatre (ACT); the Methodist church lifts the covenant to allow the theatre a drinks licence, and the Apollo’s first bar manager is appointed

1988

ACT divides into juniors and over-12s

1990

Tributes are paid to John Hancock, who dies in January. The then Director, Anne Smith, said ‘There can be no doubt that if it had not been for his zest and enthusiasm, the theatre would not be here today.’

1992

The Apollo buys the building next door, 124 Pyle Street, for half the asking price because of the recession, providing a new home for props, costumes and furniture previously stored at Palmer’s Brook Farm, and creating a new rehearsal room

1993

Anthony Minghella becomes a Patron of the Apollo after seeing his play Two Planks and a Passion performed at the theatre

1998

The practice of having play readings in advance of auditions begins; the Apollo Players portrayed characters from history as they joined Marconi’s daughter Princess Elettra Marconi to re-enact the first royal wireless transmission, from Osborne House

2000

The new bar and coffee lounge is opened by Kenneth Kendall, the then BBC newsreader

2001

Barbara Turner is awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to amateur theatre. Barbara was one of the founder members of the Apollo and directed 28 plays for the theatre, her last at the age of 90 in 1999.  That production, The Business of Murder, won Best Play at that year’s County Press Theatre Awards, where Barbara also picked up the first-ever award for Services to the Island Stage.

2002

The Apollo’s 30th anniversary year.  ACT becomes Apollo Junior Theatre; the building next door to the theatre is renamed Hancock House

2003

A legacy of £35,000 enables the creation of the Mick Parkin scenery store

2004

The mortgage on Hancock House is paid off

2005

The new concept of Honorary Members is introduced

2006

Building improvements include reinforcing the roof and installing a staircase up to the new costume storage area in the attic

2007

may

Pat Hancock dies

2008

september

Edward, Earl of Wessex, makes a Royal visit to the Island and visits the Apollo.

2010

A new window in the dressing room is installed along with air-conditioning and new paving for the forecourt, dedicated to Pat Hancock

2011

The Apollo hosts an evening with Ralph Fiennes, as part of the Minghella Film Festival. The 40th season begins.

2012

Premises are found to support the theatre’s ever-expanding need for space – a unit on the Dodnor industrial estate is purchased in December and the stalwart team start work on converting it to make the best use of the space for storage, set construction and rehearsal so that we can generate more income from the theatre, making it available for more productions.

2017

A very special moment in the history of the Apollo Theatre takes place at a Gala Night when Julia Holofcener very generously donates a bas-relief sculpture by her late husband, Lawrence, entitled Faces of Olivier.

2020

The Covid-19 Pandemic saw the closure of the theatre and cancellation of performances. Some productions were filmed and shown online.

2022

A celebration of 50 Dramatic years of the Apollo. The anniversary season was opened with a sellout production of Lionel Bart's Oliver! 

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