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David Lionel Salomons' forgotten Science Theatre in Tunbridge Wells was perfect for Cinderella and the Beanstalk panto


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With easing of Covid restrictions, many people are eagerly anticipating the re-opening of our theatres.

But Kent has one theatre that few are aware of and that has been dark for many years.

The Salomons Theatre in Tunbridge Wells could seat 400 people and was acoustically perfect
The Salomons Theatre in Tunbridge Wells could seat 400 people and was acoustically perfect

It is the Victorian Science Theatre at the Salomons Estate off Broomhill Road in Tunbridge Wells.

The theatre was designed by David Lionel Salomons, a scientist, electrician and inventor, who was the nephew and heir of the financier Sir David Salomons who had purchased the original home, then known as Broomhill, in 1829.

The nephew added the theatre in 1896 to his own design so that he could give lectures on his discoveries and inventions, and he ensured that the acoustics in the room were perfect. Said at the time to be the largest private theatre in the country, it was a flat-floored room, originally benched, with a gallery supported on columns on three sides.

It had a rectangular-arched proscenium, painted scenery and electrical apparatus for producing the effects of thunder and lightning.

Later a 2,400 pipe automatic Welte Philharmonic organ was added along with a flying space, fly galleries, a prompter’s box and traps.

The theatre's designer: Sir David Lionel Salomons
The theatre's designer: Sir David Lionel Salomons

In 1990, the Broomhill Opera Company was founded there under the leadership of Mark Dornford May and it gave performances in the theatre until 1996 when the company moved to Wilton’s Music Hall in London in search of a larger space.

During their residency at Salomons, dressing rooms were installed under the stage and an orchestra pit was formed, with retractable raked seating replacing the benches.

Jonathan King and Simon Callow both directed works there.

Since that time, it has been used only infrequently for professional shows. Macbeth was staged there in November 2019 with EastEnders actor Aaron Sidwell.

But one person lucky enough to have trodden the boards at the Salomons Theatre is Victor Bethell.

Panto producer Victor Bethell
Panto producer Victor Bethell

He said: "I worked at Salomons from 1994 until 2000."

"In 1995 I suggested that for Christmas, each department should put on an act in the theatre, which was not in use in that period.

"The best description of it would be from Melvyn Hayes' expression 'Amateur night in Dixie.'

"One of our directors walking past a group of us said afterwards that perhaps next year we should have a panto. I was told to write it and so Cinderella and the Beanstalk was born.

"It was written, directed (which included teaching office workers how to use a stage and speak clearly) and produced by yours truly, and I also had to take the part of Baron Hardup."

The cast list for Cinderella and the Beanstalk
The cast list for Cinderella and the Beanstalk

"It ran 75 minutes. Sadly nobody thought of taking a cast photo. Where are they all now? It was a very happy time."

Mr Bethell said: "The last show before I left was Stars In Your Eyes.

"I was one of the interlude acts and went on as Max Miller. I did several jokes in Max's style. but only one was his.

"What I remember about the theatre was that acoustically it was nigh on 100% perfect. "

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