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 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.
The Marlowe Theatre at St Margaret’s Street 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 The Marlowe to the site that it still occupies 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 and attracted around 300,000 audiences a year to enjoy shows there.
However, by the mid 2000s, it became increasingly apparent that the needs of both touring companies and audiences (in particular for better disabled access) made re-development of the building essential. The decision was therefore taken by Canterbury City Council to re-build the theatre on it’s current site in the heart of Canterbury, with the second Marlowe Theatre closing on 22 March 2009.
Following a closure period of two and a half years, the third Marlowe Theatre opened on Tuesday 4 October 2011, with a special opening gala performance attended by Prince Edward, the Earl Of Wessex. The current building, designed by architect Keith Williams, offers an increased seating capacity, better sight lines within the auditorium (no seat is more than 25 metres from the stage), better accessibility and much improved facilities for our audiences. It also houses The Marlowe Studio, a space dedicated to the development of new ideas, with curated seasons of performances and opportunities for regional artists to make and share new work.
The Marlowe building celebrated its tenth anniversary in October 2021. Over the last ten years, The Marlowe has become one of this country’s most successful theatres, attracting 400,000 audiences a year from across the South East.
We have attracted some of the finest companies and artists to Kent and our pantomime, co-produced with The Marlowe and Evolution Productions, is the most popular in the region.
Since 2017, our thriving education programme with schools and young people has been based at The Marlowe Kit, a Grade 1 listed twelfth century building, that is one of Canterbury’s most historic sites.
In January 2022 The Marlowe was named Theatre of The Year at The Stage Awards.