According to one Haiku writer, you only live twice: but not if you’re an impressive lump of red brick, portico and sandstone which stands as a landmark in the middle of Colwyn Bay you don’t.
Theatr Colwyn’s just the latest name: it was once known as the Public Hall – as the old Rialto – as the Prince of Wales theatre.
Among other claims to fame and history, it’s the oldest continuous working cinema in Britain – they used it on the nights the Territorial Army weren’t drilling there.
That was back in 1909: when movies moved at twenty one frames a second – that’s why old film seems so hypnotic now as it flickers along – and sound was still two decades away with that new fangled Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.
And when the stage wasn’t being filled by cinema audiences – two-bob for the expensive seats, extra shows when it rained – crowds of 800 watched the out of London try-outs. The Old Vic’s company visited. Actors went from Colwyn Bay to Broadway. This stage has history.
For the past year it’s been dark, as actors say – hidden behind developer’s boards. Well, today our cameras were there when the boards came down and the public started coming in to see how the three quarters of a million spent on a face lift’s been used – some a bit nervously at first, as the last few signs were being fixed in place.
You only need to spend an hour or so there to realise this is what the concept of theatre – or entertainment’s – about….somewhere right in the middle of a community that’s used by that community. You also don’t have to look too far – any archive photo of most high streets in Wales will show you some square building, reshaped by art deco, that was once a cinema – then maybe a supermarket or a carpet warehouse – now mostly vanished.
Where are the Empires and the Roxys of the past? Well, Colwyn Bay clung to its theatre – and now it’s looking pretty impressive, restyled at the front, intimate for actors – just doing a quick piece to camera on stage was enough to demonstrate just how good the acoustic there is….a theatrical whisper will get pretty well heard.
And an awful lot has changed: I remember being terrified there by Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (it was a pantomime in the 70’s, but I can’t remember there actually being 40 of them – it’s a big enough stage but I don’t think the budget could stretch quite that far.) Now the seats are comfortable and don’t creak with the least breath you take; they’ve opened the front up to a lot of light – and the town’s taken possession again of the place where you could watch Tom Mix, Marlon Brando, Dracula rising from the grave, Jaws (and Jaws two and three), James Bond, Groucho and Harpo….their new old theatre and cinema. And long may the memories flicker.