Saturday, 23 June 2012

Art Deco Beauty: Stockport Plaza

Not far from Manchester lies Stockport, a town with excellent charity shops, a history of hatmaking (which will be explored in a future post once I finally visit the museum), wartime air raid tunnels, and a fabulous theatre; The Plaza. 

The theatre shortly after it opened in 1932

The Plaza was built as a performance theatre and 'super cinema' in 1932, erected at the cusp of the arrival of talking pictures, and decorated lavishly in ostentatious art deco style. My mum lived in Stockport in the 1970s, but alas by then the Plaza was a run-down bingo hall, a decayed ruin of its former self. In 2000 a trust was set up to buy the cinema back from the leisure company who had allowed it to fall into disrepair and who had ripped out some of the beautiful original features, and after just six months' intensive restoration the Plaza was back in business and back to its full 1930s splendour.

The Compton Organ

Thankfully, even in the bingo hall days, the Compton theatre organ survived relatively unscathed, and is in full working order today. The glass panels light up in a myriad of colours all around it, and the organ has no electrical amplification - its enormous sound is produced solely by pipes and valves, disguised behind one of the filigree panels in the wall to the side of the stage.

Prior to every film shown at the Plaza there is an organ recital of classic tunes from the 1920s-50s, it's marvellous to hear them, and to watch the old ladies in the crowd singing along.

Lloyd Loom furniture in the tearoom

One casualty was the Plaza tearoom's furniture, which was lost. Luckily, it was all made by the fabulous Lloyd Loom, who are still going strong after nearly a century. They traced and recreated the original designs and colour scheme, so well in fact that when we visited the tearoom I thought the furniture was all original; it was perfect, down to the tiny vintage brass labels on the back of each Lloyd Loom chair.

Stage panorama copyright Njo LEDs Ltd.

In the early days the theatre was lit by 'Holophane' colour-changing prismatic lighs, during the restoration the beautiful rainbow colours were put back into place using modern LED technology. The colour changing light show is captivating, bathing every gilded surface and really showing off every little feature of the interior.

Picture copyright Stockport Plaza

The exterior. The Plaza was built into a solid sandstone rock face, as were many other buildings along the same street, including the WWII Stockport tunnels air raid shelters which I visited recently and will cover in another post.

Picture Copyright Stockport Plaza

Recently I visited the Plaza to see The Artist and, rather aptly, The Smallest Show on Earth, a British comedy from 1957 starring Peter Sellers, in which a run-down 'fleapit' of a cinema is restored to its silent-era glory. It was lovely to see these films in such an appropriate vintage setting. You also get a film before every feature screening, such as a Laurel and Hardy or Harold Lloyd comedy short, and a vintage newsreel! For the traditionalists among you there is also the national anthem at the end of each film, along with a kitsch Technicolor reel of the Queen trooping the colour in the 1950s.

Picture by Steve Rogers, on our outing to see The Artist

The Plaza runs films, plays, dance and variety performances all year round and you can find more information on their website.You can find even more stunning photos of the Plaza here and here.

Stage panorama copyright Njo LEDs Ltd.

1 comment: