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When Burnley was Britain’s theatre capital

May 9, 2018
A makeshift dressing room on an Old Vic tourImage copyrightWar Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption A makeshift dressing room for touring Old Vic actors

London has always been the undisputed heart of British theatre – except, that is, for two years in the 1940s, when the country’s top drama, opera and ballet companies were based in Burnley.

It was with both pride and surprise that a programme for a show at Burnley’s Victoria Theatre in January 1941 noted that the Lancashire town, built on mills and mines, had suddenly become “the most important creative centre in the English theatre”.

Burnley had acquired its somewhat unlikely status when the illustrious performers and crew from London’s Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells relocated there to escape the Blitz.

When Burnley was Britain’s theatre capitalWhen Burnley was Britain’s theatre capital

The wartime evacuation of the Old Vic – which is celebrating its 200th birthday on 11 May – remains one of the most curious periods in the theatre’s history.

As well as Friday’s bicentenary, there’s another anniversary – 10 May marks exactly 77 years since the historic Waterloo venue took a direct hit from a German bomb.

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