Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Welcoming the Stars after Surviving the Manchester Blitz ; 100 YEARS OF THE OPERA HOUSEManchester's Opera House

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Welcoming the Stars after Surviving the Manchester Blitz ; 100 YEARS OF THE OPERA HOUSEManchester's Opera House

Article excerpt

Manchester's Opera House reaches the 100th anniversary of its opening on Boxing Day 1912. In the third of six features telling the history of the venue, Natalie Anglesey looks at the war years and beyond.

WAR was declared in September 1939 and Trafford Park moved into non-stop production for the war, making it a prime target for German bombers.

Mancunians forgot their troubles for a couple of hours by going to the theatre.

But the declaration of war saw the Opera House closed briefly, only to re-open with an Old Vic season starring Constance Cummings and Robert Donat.

Michael Redgrave, his wife Rachel Kempson and Fay Compton appeared in Robert's Wife, while JohnkGielgud and Edith Evans led the cast in Oscar Wilde's delightful comedy The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Manchester Blitz, in December 1940, destroyed many fine buildings and killed hundreds of people.

The Opera House was untouched and the public continued to seek shelter inside to escape the miseries of war.

Theatres insisted: "No gas mask, no entry!" Stars again turned up in force with programmes reading like a Who's Who of British theatre.

Ivor Novello in A Second Helping, Celia (Brief Encounter) Johnson in the world premiere of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

In 1941, war in Europe was at its height but there was brief distraction from these grim events when Hollywood came to Manchester.

Crowds queued for tickets to see vivacious Vivien Leigh, fresh from filming Gone With The Wind, in Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma.

1945, the last year of the war, saw more famous actors treading the boards, including Flora Robson in Ethel Fry and Coral Browne in The Last of Mrs Cheyney.

Among the pre-London runs, film actor Yul Brynner made a mark in Dark Eyes and The Barretts of Wimpole Street featuring Margaret Johnston and Alec Clunes (father of Martin).

Film idols made 1949 a truly star-studded year, with Stewart Granger and his wife Jean Simmons in The Power of Darkness, and Vivien Leigh re-invigorating her career with a stunning performance in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. …

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