The Empire Theatre was an early name for what is now the Mayflower Theatre in Commercial Road. It opened in 1928 as the largest and best appointed theatre on the south coast. The theatre, which initially concentrated on staging legitimate drama, began showing films in 1931. The film shows proved so popular that they soon became an established feature of the programme and by World War Two film shows had become the dominant form of entertainment, partly because transport restrictions during the war seriously curtailed the programs of travelling theatre companies. In 1950 the theatre was acquired by the Gaumont cinema chain and its name was changed to the Gaumont. The Gaumont continued to show live shows alongside films until 1986 when it closed due to falling attendances. After refurbishment it re-opened as the Mayflower Theatre in 1987. It is Grade II listed.

Empire Theatre

Image Unavailable

Photograph, c.1930

Further reading:

Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p95-98. (HS/h)
History of Southampton’s Theatres and Music Halls 1766-1960, by Eric Harris. (HS/r)
‘Decline and Fall of the Downtown Empire’, by John Edgar Mann, in Hampshire, volume 34, number 9, July 1994, p47. (H/y)


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