Garrick Theatre

Important regional large-scale theatre that, in its heyday accommodated touring theatre direct from the West End. Advertised as the most beautiful theatre in Europe on its opening, the building, in all its Art Deco splendour remains largely unchanged.

Auditorium of the Southport Garrick in bingo use.
Lord Street & Kingsway, Southport, PR8 1RN
Risk Rating
6 (Community Rating: 2, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Authority
Sefton Council
George E Tonge
Date of Construction
Grade II


The Garrick was said to be the finest design of local architect George Tonge. Opening in 1932 and built to rival the ‘atmospheric’ cinemas popular at the time, it occupies a large plot at the southwest end of Southport town centre. It was constructed on the site to replace Frank Matcham’s Opera House, which was destroyed by fire.

Its elegant exterior is executed in brown brick with Portland stone dressings and punctuated by long window frames with deep stilted and tapered heads, the glazing ornamented with bands of an Art Deco chevron design. The site itself is accessible on four sides with the two main elevations on Lord Street and Kingsway joined by a curved corner featuring fluted stone pilasters behind which are generous foyers and the main staircase. The Lord Street elevation also contained ground-floor retail units and, unusually, an external colonnade above the first floor with an open promenade for audiences to use for pre-performance and interval drinks.

The auditorium remains largely intact with the original decorative proscenium arch with an open-work design.

The stage is large and, it is believed, remains relatively intact. Designed to accommodate touring drama, musicals, opera, and ballet, it was built with a full flying facility and had dressing rooms to enable the hosting of large touring productions, opening with Firebird which transferred directly from the West End’s Playhouse Theatre.

The Garrick was purchased by Essoldo Cinemas in early 1957 but attempts to run it as a dedicated cinema were unsuccessful. It was converted to a bingo hall in 1963 and remained in operation until being forced to close in March 2020 by Covid regulations. In April 2021, its operator announced that, along with several other venues in the chain, it would not reopen upon the lifting of restrictions.

The bingo years saw typical, limited alterations and lightweight, easily reversible insertions. The interior remains almost intact, the exterior is largely unchanged, and the stage house is understood to be complete. It was given Grade II listed status in the early 1990s.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Garrick was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.
In April 2021, operator Mecca Bingo announced it would not be reopening the venue. This more or less coincided with the end of Mecca Bingo’s lease term on the building which was due to expire on 28 September 2021. The Garrick was subsequently advertised for auction with a guide price of between £700,000 and £750,000 but was sold prior to the auction date. At that time, the new owner’s exact intentions for the theatre were unknown and there was fear that the theatre could be lost to redevelopment.

In July 2023 the new owner submitted a planning application for a mixed-use development for the theatre, including a hotel, gym/spa facility, bar and restaurant and residential units along with refurbishment of the auditorium for use as an events space. The scheme included extensions to the building, particularly around the fly tower, and a number of alterations within the building.

Theatres Trust responded to confirm that we did not object to the overall principle of the applicant’s plans for the site, which would retain and reopen the highly significant auditorium for live performance / event use, restore other historically significant front of house spaces as well as undertaking repair and restoration works to the exterior of the listed theatre. However, we noted concern regarding the viability and deliverability of the plans, and set out our requirement for more detail and information to be submitted, concluding that until concerns were met we would be unable to support the granting of permission. Read our full response.

It remains imperative that the scheme delivered for the Garrick constitutes the optimum viable use for the historic theatre and remains sensitive to the historic significance of the building. The current scheme proposes loss and harm to the historic fabric without providing adequate detail or information to justify it. There are also concerns particularly regarding the viability of the event space.

The building remains vacant and there is concern about the about the vulnerability of the building fabric.

Theatre potential

The Garrick is believed to be substantially complete and could be easily reverted to theatre and live performance use.

Theatres Trust had urged Sefton Council to explore considering the Garrick Theatre as an option for the replacement of Southport Theatre. Unfortunately, the council did not consider this option and has instead decided to build a new theatre and convention centre on the site of the old Southport Theatre and Floral Hall on Southport Waterfront. Works are in construction.

There has been local interest and support for the Garrick through a local campaign group formed when Mecca Bingo announced it would not be reopening. Stand Up For Southport, a grassroots community campaign formed by Southport residents wanting to create a positive voice for their town, also identified a number of popular uses for the Garrick, with some in the community calling for it to be reopened as a theatre and others suggesting sympathetic uses such as a casino, pub or cinema.

Sefton Council has ambitious plans to regenerate Southport and to increase day and overnight visitor numbers by 1.2 million. It is set to receive £37.5m in government funding as part of a Town Deal for a range of projects across the town centre and seafront. The Garrick is not included in the shortlisted projects for the Towns Fund award, however its restoration and reopening could certainly play a strategic role in increasing visitor numbers and boosting the local economy.

Current situation

Theatres Trust visited the Garrick in early 2023, meeting with the owner and the conservation officer to discuss early-stage ambitions for the redevelopment of the building. Theatres Trust noted cautious approval for a mixed-use development of the site that would retain the auditorium as an events space and restore the historic fabric of the building.

The owner submitted a planning application in July 2023 which has yet to be determined.

In December 2023 additional information and amended plans were submitted to supplement the planning application. While this has addressed some of the concerns raised by Theatres Trust we maintain our concern over the viability of the event space, practical concerns regarding operation including accessibility, and have requested further detail be submitted.

We seek to continue our engagement with the new owner and Sefton Council on the future of the Garrick to ensure that the final scheme before the theatre will be sympathetic and sensitive to the theatrical, architectural and social history of this important building.

Main image, Garrick Theatre Southport by Ian Grundy.