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History Hot Spot- The Kings Theatre, Southsea

Words by: Victoria Doxat Photos: Derek Rogers

Southsea’s Kings Theatre is an iconic landmark and, according to the Theatre’s Trust, is a “theatre of national architectural importance”. The Kings was designed by Frank Matcham, the most prolific theatre designer of all time, and first opened its doors on 30th September 1907. Matcham designed over a hundred theatres including the Brighton Hippodrome and the Victoria Palace Theatre in London and although no two of his theatres are the same, he demonstrated a distinct personal style. Sadly, many of Matcham’s theatres were demolished in the 1950’s and 1960’s but ones such as The Kings, that have survived, are very much admired and many have been refurbished. The Kings now enjoys Grade II Listed status.

The theatre has changed ownership many times. It was first owned by The Portsmouth Theatre Company until 1964 when it was bought by Commander Reggie and Mrs Joan Cooper. In 1990 it was sold to Hampshire County Council and was then passed into the ownership of Portsmouth City Council who leased it to the Kings Theatre Trust. The Trust, in liaison with the Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd, undertook to restore and manage the building and over £2.25 million has now been invested in the theatre’s restoration- most of the money coming directly from the theatre’s own Box Office revenue.

The first ever performance at the Theatre was ‘Charles I’ which starred HB Irving, the son of Sir Henry Irving the actor and theatre manager. For well over a century the Kings has provided theatre goers with a wide variety of performances and in recent years has played host to a number of West End touring productions including Chicago and Grease.

In 1974 the Kings gained international fame when the Pinball Wizard sequence of The Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’ was filmed at the theatre. Elton John and The Who were on the stage and Ken Russell directed it. 

If you would like to learn more about this historic theatre and find out what goes on behind the scenes you can book onto a Theatre Tour at the Box Office.

Victoria is a writer and lecturer and has lived in and around Portsmouth for most of her life. You can read her blog ‘Jelly Nightmares’ at

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