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The Gaiety Theatre. You’ve probably been in it. Maybe you’ve enjoyed a fantastically camp panto, watched some local talent perform in a production, or watched some live comedy from some of the best comedians on the UK circuit. The Gaiety is hard to miss; an impressive ol’ building sat on the front of the prom. But when was the last time you appreciated the gem we have, right on our doorstep?

While the Gaiety consistently puts on some cracking shows, the building itself is also a beauty. It’s by no means your run of the mill theatre: it’s a Frank Matcham theatre. Frank Matcham was the trendy theatre architect of his time: if you wanted a theatre building, Frank was your man. Matcham was certainly not a minimalist, taking visual cues from a host of different periods to produce something magnificent. 

Many Matcham theatres have been destroyed, having suffered from the economic struggles of the early twentieth century. Some were converted to cinemas in the 1960s, and were later destroyed with the decline of cinema. Our own theatre was at risk of demolition after things started to go downhill after the world wars. The theatre was saved when the Isle of Man Government stepped in.

Not only is the Gaiety an example of a surviving Matcham theatre, it is a shining example of a beautifully restored Matcham theatre. This year, alongside celebrating its 120th anniversary, the Gaiety is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the restorations. In 1988, Mervin Stokes MBE was appointed as theatre manager, and undertook the task of restoring the theatre to its former glory alongside Dr David Wilmore, a Matcham enthusiast and Historic Theatre Consultant. The pair, co-ordinating the restoration with Friends of the Gaiety and the Department of Tourism, did a bang up job, with Merv being awarded an MBE for his contribution to the restoration. 

While there are a host of beautiful features in the Gaiety, it also has a variety of incredible features. The stage has more traps than it knows what to do with, including the ‘Corsican Trap’. The trap takes its name from the play The Corsican Brothers, in which one of the characters appears as a ghost. The trap allows the actor to appear like they are simultaneously gliding and rising. Not only is this feature spooky, it’s also believed to be unique to the Gaiety.

In 2000, to celebrate its centenary, the Gaiety put on a performance of the Corsican Brothers, making full use of the trap. They also put on a performance of ‘The Telephone Girl’, the very musical that opened the Gaiety 100 years before.

This year, they celebrated the anniversary with some beautiful, limited edition merchandise designed by Adam Berry, available to buy here. He also designed the gorgeous timeline of the Gaiety Theatre that you can see under the Colonnade. While the Gaiety was unable to have the big performance in summer to celebrate, the packed calendar shows that 120 years on, the Gaiety is thriving.

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