Cinematopia: UK picture palaces
Sevenoaks

Palace

There were originally four cinemas in Sevenoaks. In 1912, the first to open, and in 1930 the first to install sound, was the Palace Theatre in Tub's Hill. It closed in 1936 and is now a newsagent.

Granada

Plaza

The 1,300-seat Plaza opened shortly afterwards on the site of the former Smith's Brewery in the High Street. It was later taken over by the Granada chain, closed in 1960 and was later demolished to make way for the Suffolk Way development.

1951 (© Andmas.co.uk)
Granada Sevenoaks - 1951 (Andmas.co.uk)

Odeon

Majestic, Focus, ACE, Stag, Playhouse

* Sevenoaks Playhouse

After the Palace and the Plaza, Sevenoaks' third cinema was the New Picture Theatre, later the Carlton, which opened in St. John's Hill.

Sevenoaks' last surviving cinema, and the last to be built in the town, was a 1,250-seat "super-cinema" called The Majestic, which opened on 26th August 1936. Operations were later taken over by Gaumont British and it was branded as part of the Odeon chain. Despite the lack of typical Odeon architecture, it had been designed to be "majestic" in appearance as well as name, with the most modern Art Deco stylings.

Unusually, the building was commissioned by the local authority (Sevenoaks Urban District Council) and let to the operating company. This state of affairs continues to this day, with the current owners being Sevenoaks District Council.

By the 1980s, having changed hands at least twice more (becoming the Focus and later the ACE) and despite tripling in the usual fashion (one 453-seat screen in the circle, two smaller screens below), it was no longer economically viable and was shut down.

Source
* This Is Kent - article "A Sad Goodbye To Cinema In Sevenoaks", 3rd August 2006.

The building was taken over in 1980 by a community group - the Sevenoaks Theatre Action Group (STAG) who turned the former circle into a theatre, which opened on 18th December 1983. The two cinemas created beneath continued showing films regularly, with films also shown in the main auditorium during the summer months.

Source
* This Is Local London - club report from Chelsfield Afternoon Women's Institute, 25th October 2002.

Comment
As a young boy in the late 80s I appeared in several amateur productions at the Stag Theatre. Immediately behind the stage was a sheer drop of several storeys, which is consistent with the idea that the stage was effectively suspended in the space formed by the horseshoe of the circle. However, the two smaller auditoria are unraked and relatively small: they do not occupy the entire space of the original stalls. Instead, a wall was dropped about halfway down the stalls, leaving a space two storeys below the stage area which is now used as dressing rooms and costume departments. I suspect that, after tripling but before the addition of the stage, films were projected onto the original screen, leaving the front portion of the stalls completely unused. This was a standard pattern of tripling with Odeon. (ABC, in contrast, often made better use of the space and provided better acoustic protection between adjacent screens.)

Since the original tripling, the building has been rebuilt slightly to fill in the void behind the stage, which enables the theatre to be used "in the round" and in other more versatile ways.

Source
* Building plans published by Sevenoaks District Council Property & Building Services, 19th June 2006.

In the late 90s, the cinemas rebranded themselves as The Majestic, based upon the idea that the building now housed an entire entertainment centre (incorporating Stag Theatre and Plaza Suite). Then in about 2004, the entire building rebranded again as the Sevenoaks Playhouse.

Unfortunately, with more serious ambition came more serious financial deficit and the Playhouse and its cinemas closed down on 28th July 2006. However, Sevenoaks District Council have pledged not to demolish the building: "The Council is not looking to redevelop the site or to sell it off. In fact the Council has said that it is committed to a theatre and cinema in Sevenoaks." Having said that, they are currently (August 2006) undertaking a public consultation which, if it's done honestly, could prove that the residents of Sevenoaks really don't want a theatre or cinema in the town.

Sources
* Sevenoaks District Council leisure & culture
* SDC's common questions about the Sevenoaks Playhouse.

1949 (© Odeon Cavalcade):
Odeon Sevenoaks - 1949 (Odeon Cavalcade)

1970 (© Odeon Cavalcade):
Odeon Sevenoaks - 1970 (Odeon Cavalcade)

2006:
Odeon Sevenoaks - 2006 Odeon Sevenoaks - 2006 Odeon Sevenoaks - 2006

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This page last updated 24th November 2006.