The Marlowe
Our history

Our history

The Marlowe has a long history in Canterbury, with three buildings over two different sites.

Our story began when a small theatre opened in St Margaret’s Street, just before the First World War. In the 1920s, it was then turned into a cinema called the Central Picture Theatre. The cinema failed to compete with the other new cinemas and the building became a theatre once more, to be used by amateur dramatics groups. In 1949 it became the city’s first Marlowe Theatre.

It operated as a repertory theatre until 1981, when it became insolvent, and was subsequently demolished to make way for The Marlowe Arcade shopping centre. Determined to keep theatre alive in Canterbury, the city council then decided to purchase the former Odeon Cinema and convert it into a theatre, thus bringing us to the site we occupy today.

It took two years and £2.35 million to convert the 1930s building (which had once hosted the premiere of Powell & Pressburger’s film A Canterbury Tale) into a theatre. This building operated successfully for 25 years – among other successes it became the first place to stage Bill Kenwright’s production of Blood Brothers, which has since notched up more than 10,000 performances.

However, it became increasingly apparent that the needs of both touring companies and audiences (in particular for better disabled access) made re-development necessary. The decision was taken by Canterbury City Council to re-build the theatre on it’s current site in the heart of Canterbury, and the old Marlowe Theatre closed on 22 March 2009.

Following a closure period of two and a half years, the third Marlowe Theatre opened on Tuesday 4 October 2011. The current building, designed by architect Keith Williams, has an increased seating capacity, better sight lines within the auditorium (no seat is more than 25 metres from the stage), better accessibility and facilities for our audiences. It also incorporates The Marlowe Studio, a second space, designed to house innovative theatre productions and creative workshops, giving our audiences a huge range of shows to choose from.

With its increased seating capacity and state-of-the art facilities, our current building has allowed us to attract some of the country’s finest companies including, Glyndebourne Opera, the RSC, the National Theatre as well as many major West End musicals.

We look forward to seeing you on your next visit.