NOSTALGIA: Those Were the Days

THEATRE in Worthing has faced years of ups and downs, but at the Ritz, part of the Connaught complex in Union Place, things are definitely looking up.

Inside the Ritz in Worthing, two months before it reopened in 1995
Inside the Ritz in Worthing, two months before it reopened in 1995

The cinema venue is now being developed for live entertainment as well, with comedians and high-profile talks among the options on offer there.

And, keeping the link with the past, those performers are now standing on the original stage, since it was carefully stored over the years and has recently been put back in.

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In 1914, the excitement of cinema had begun to sweep the UK and the Picturedrome was built in Worthing, with one entrance on Chapel Road, another on Union Place.

As the popularity of the town increased, so did the demand for entertainment, which led to the Connaught Hall being built adjacent to the Picturedrome in 1916 for amateur drama and dances.

After more than a decade of repertory companies struggling to make a success in the town with live theatre, Charles Bell and William Fraser presented the first full season of repertory productions there in 1932.

Their company went from strength to strength and in 1935, when the Picturedrome had begun to lose money owing to four other cinemas in the town, Carl Seebold spent £60,000 converting the cinema into a 920-seat theatre. This became known as the New Connaught Theatre, which remains today, now known as the Connaught Theatre.

The Picturedrome was the first cinema in Britain to become a theatre and Fraser and Bell’s repertory company, who had been using the Connaught Hall, made the new venue their home.

The Connaught Hall remained unused until 1940 after an application to turn it into another cinema was turned down by the local authority in 1936.

It was then used for amateur and semi-professional shows, most famously by the Home Guard, until 1945 when it was converted into the Ritz Ballroom. It was a popular venue for dances for a number of years but closed once more in September, 1950.

Carl Seebold’s death resulted in the transformation of the Ritz Ballroom into a scenery painting studio for the Connaught Theatre next door.

It later became a rehearsal and meeting space in 1986, before it reopened as a studio space for films and small-scale live productions in 1995.

Following the closure of The Dome Cinema owing to safety concerns, Worthing Borough Council took control of the both the Connaught Theatre and Ritz Ballroom in 1999.

The Ritz, as it had become known, was turned into a full-time cinema.

In 2010, the Ritz gained a 3D projector and state-of-the-art sound system, enabling it to screen digital prints rather than the traditional 35mm films. And this year, the original stage has been replaced in the Ritz. On March 7, horticulturalist Christine Walkden became the first person to perform on the original staging before an audience since 1995.

In addition to still screening both 2D and 3D films, the Ritz also houses small-scale productions, talks, comedians and bands.