Globe Theatre

Situated within the Royal Marine Barracks, this former racquets court of 1788 was permanently converted into a theatre in 1831. Significant as a rare example of its kind and period.

Scan of a 1992 photo of the auditorium of the Globe Theatre, Plymouth.
Address
Stonehouse Royal Marine Barracks, Durnford Street, Plymouth, Devon, England
Risk Rating
5 (Community Rating: 1, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Authority
Plymouth City Council
Owner
Ministry of Defence
Architect
Unknown
Date of Construction
1788 (as racquets court); 1831 (conversion to theatre)
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
Current c. 250

Significance

The Globe is situated at Stonehouse Barracks, home to the Royal Marines. The barracks, built in 1755, are the oldest and most important non-garrison barracks in England and themselves of great architectural and historic value. The racquets court was added to the barracks in 1788 and then permanently converted to a theatre in 1831. Ball courts were a standard feature of early barracks, but this is probably the earliest surviving example, and unique as a conversion to a theatre. The theatre was further enlarged in 1887.

The theatre is a tall single-storey building in Plymouth limestone rubble with limestone dressings with a low-pitched tiled roof. Internally the auditorium is neo-classical in character, with a single horseshoe gallery and shallow domed ceiling supported on slender cast-iron columns. On each side of the well-proportioned rectangular proscenium arch are false proscenium doors with pediments, set between engaged square Tuscan columns and bolection-moulded panelling. It features a raised stage and large timber panelled orchestra pit.

In 1928 new exits were introduced which reduced the seating capacity to 250 (in the 1880s it had been 600-700). The building was overhauled and re-decorated in 1971.

In addition to its Regency period interior, the theatre still has its original thunder run – a stage effect where cannonballs are run through sloping channels (usually wooden chutes above the auditorium) to produce the sound and vibrational effects of a storm. There are very few surviving thunder runs in the UK. This one is believed particularly rare as it is situated above the proscenium arch, which is more in line with European examples.

The Globe remains a theatre of particular significance as a rare example of its kind and period.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Globe is new to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.

It closed in January 2017 when the stage area was declared unsafe and has been vacant since. It is not believed that the necessary works to rectify the stage have been resolved. With prolonged vacancy there is a risk of damage and deterioration that places the building under great threat.

The future of the barracks is also uncertain. In September 2016 the Ministry of Defence announced it would be selling the barracks with a scheduled date of 2023. A few months later, The Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan suggested that the site could be redeveloped for residential, hotel, small-scale office and retail accommodation. Plans for redevelopment then seemed to be on hold when in March 2019 leaked information suggested that the barracks were to remain operational until 2027. It has since been suggested that a decision on the future of the barracks would be made in the latter half of 2021. No further information has been received.

With the future of the barracks also uncertain and budgets stretched it appears less and less likely that the Ministry of Defence will make the initial necessary investment to see this unique theatre repaired and reopened.

Theatre potential

Before its closure the theatre had been used by the Royal Marines and local amateur groups, as well as for cinema. It would be possible to repair and reopen the theatre and there is a local campaign to save both the Stonehouse Barracks and the Globe. However, national security measures will make it more difficult to reopen this theatre for general public use while the barracks remain operational.

Current situation

The Globe is vacant and there is concern over its condition. Access to visit the building is difficult due to heightened security measures and there is a real concern that the theatre is deteriorating.

Theatres Trust will look to engage with the Ministry of Defence and the local authority with the aim of securing the building for the immediate future and with the longer-term ambition of seeing this historic venue reopened for both service personnel and the public.

Main image, Globe Plymouth by Roy Perring / Alamy Stock Photo.