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Now playing an important role on the global stage

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 05, 2012

  • Sir Ian McKellen in October 1991 during a run of Richard III

  • Barbara Windsor played Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls in April 1991 – already a Carry On star but three years before she became Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders

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As long ago as 1966, the desperate need for a cultural centre in Plymouth was identified. It was nearly another two decades before the city had what it wanted.

Today the Theatre Royal marks 30 years since a gala opening by Princess Margaret. It's been a bumpy ride – there was huge opposition to it even being built in the first place – but it has weathered the storm and is now a big player on the international stage.

A 2004 University of Sheffield survey listed Britain's biggest theatres in terms of economic turnover. At the top, as you would expect, was the Royal National Theatre. Second, again predictably, was the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.

Third was the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. It's all the more impressive when you consider the size of the available audience in other cities on the list including Birmingham, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield and Cardiff.

In three decades, there have only been three general managers and three artistic directors, each building on the success of the previous incumbents.

In Westcountry Life today, Andrew Welch talks about turning the theatre's fortunes around after taking over the reins in 1984. He and the then artistic director, Roger Redfarn, built up a reputation for musicals and the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate gave the Theatre Royal permission to stage productions of The Sound of Music and South Pacific.

"It gave Plymouth a reputation for producing large- scale shows for both touring and for the West End," says Andrew.

"Buddy started in Plymouth and it's still playing. What was nice about the success was that people were now coming to us to do things."

People are still coming to Plymouth to ask them to "do things". The theatre, under the present management team of general manager Adrian Vinken and artistic director Simon Stokes, work closely with the Cameron Mackintosh group, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, choreographer Matthew Bourne and top companies such as the Royal National Theatre, Welsh National Opera and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The Theatre Royal is asking people with memories of the theatre, the stars and the shows over the last 30 years to get in touch.

As for the familiar building on Royal Parade... it maybe a happy 30th birthday, but the show must go on, so tonight it's curtain up as usual.

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