25 years in the life of the Lawrence Batley Theatre has seen our family grow, spaces transformed, and stories told.
Wind back the clocks to 1819… A Methodist chapel is erected in the heart of the community. After more than a century Queen Street Mission falls into disuse and thinking begins about how best to revive the building as a space for congregation and celebration. The basement is briefly transformed into a nightclub filled with late-night revellers. Eventually party-goers and ghost-trailers make way for Kirklees Theatre Trust, who have a different vision for the site. It is decided that Huddersfield needs a place filled with music, drama and art. With the help of a fundraising drive from amateur dramatics groups work is started to convert Queen Street Mission into the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
In 1994 the ribbon was cut by theatre giants Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Judi Dench, who commented, as she laid the foundation stone, “I long to do a play there someday”. Since then life has been brought into every corner of the impressive building: comedy in the cellar, rehearsals in the attic, offices in the North Wing, and coffee in the courtyard.
The magnificent auditorium has been the setting for hundreds of love stories, comedies, adventures and mysteries. Our varied programme brings audiences cutting-edge performance across a variety of genres, from plays and musicals to opera and circus. Contemporary dance is an exciting chapter in the story of the Lawrence Batley Theatre and ever since the theatre was born comedy greats have been heading downstairs once a month to take the mic in the Comedy Cellar.
A joyous moment in the history of the Lawrence Batley Theatre came in 2016 when we started producing pantomime in-house. The annual pantomime, filled with colour, movement and plenty of laughs, is now a much-anticipated feature of the festive period. When asked what makes pantomime so important to Huddersfield, director Joyce Branagh said it is the feeling of togetherness she treasures: “it makes you really feel as though you are a part of something, you leave thinking that you just sang and shouted and danced with a whole room full of strangers.” As Christmas 2020 fast approaches we look forward to Robin Hood and the theatre bursting at the seams with audiences young and old from Huddersfield and beyond.
Over the years the Lawrence Batley Theatre family has grown and grown. Our Front of House, Box Office, and Steward teams have created a space that’s warm and inviting for audiences. The building is home to innovative theatre-makers such as Dark Horse Theatre, a national touring ensemble of actors with learning disabilities, and Chol, who bring magical drama workshops to people in Kirklees. Our Young Company shape the next generation of performers. Now our Storytellers are in the building devising electric new work that’s tailored to our spaces.
In 2014 the Lawrence Batley Theatre partnered with local organisations to devise a plan for increasing arts engagement in the area and Creative Scene was born. Dewsbury-based Creative Scene make theatre an everyday feature in North Kirklees, gathering audiences in social clubs and town squares to experience spectacular performance.
Amateur theatre is a pillar of the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Groups like Huddersfield Thespians were integral to the theatre’s establishment and today showcase local talent through spectacular musicals and plays. We’re proud to be a performing home for Woodhouse Musical Theatre Company, who celebrated their centenary in 2019.