“ Address: Station Road / Southend-on-Sea / Essex / SS0 7RA „
SOUTHEND THEATRES (THE CLIFFS PAVILION) Southend Theatres consist of the Cliffs Pavilion and The Palace Theatre. These two theatres are on different sites but are within the seaside town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex. Both have more to offer than just theatres, offering dining , leisure and meeting facilities for the local community. The Cliffs Pavilion is located in an enviable position, I feel, offering visitors a view from 'The Cliffs' as it overlooks The Thames Estuary. Its sister venue, The Palace Theatre, is situated in London road, not far away. Both are run by HQ Theatres for Southend's Borough Council. It's a few years since I watched a show at The Palace Theatre so I will mainly focus on The Cliffs Pavilion while endeavouring to give some information relevant to The Palace Theatre. As well as hosting amateur and professional productions of different genres The Cliffs Pavilion is well known for its pantomime running for the Christmas season. Christmas 2012 sees Shane Ritchie returning to the theatre as Buttons in Cinderella. HOW SOUTHEND THEATRES CAME TO BE THE PALACE THEATRE The Palace theatre was built by Ward & Ward. It opened in 1912 and was called the Palace of Varieties. The theatre was popular for its good view of the stage from all seats in the auditorium. The theatre, in 1912, could seat 1,500 compared to currently holding just over 600. The type of entertainment shown has changed over the years, as has its name but it seems to have had the word 'palace' featured in its name in some way. The Palace closed for a while but has still managed to offer entertainment to local, and not so local, theatre goers for many years. It has staged ballet (tours), repertory, variety, professional concerts, local bands, children's shows and workshops. Much work and improvements have been undertaken over the years. It closed in June 2002 and then reopened in April 2003, as a merger with The Cliffs Pavilion and the two theatres became known as 'Southend Theatres.' THE CLIFFS PAVILION The Cliff's Pavilion, is newer than its sister theatre, The Palace, Building of The Cliffs Pavilion began in the 1930s but when war broke out building stopped. In 1964 it opened in a slightly shifted position, which incorporated a better cliff top view. This is the present location. The Cliffs Pavilion can seat an audience of 1,630. Being bigger than The Palace it is better suited to larger capacity events. Sir Paul McCartney has performed here, as has the well-known group, Oasis. The theatre often hosts tours of London's West End shows and musicals. Much of this theatre was improved in the 1990s and the balcony was added in this decade. AUDITORIUM It is pleasant, comfortable and welcoming inside the auditorium at The Cliffs Pavilion although seats in the front stalls aren't tiered. This isn't too much of a problem from most seats as there is a good space in between rows but personally, I would prefer a rake. Another thing to consider when purchasing seats is that the stage is high and for this reason I always avoid seats in the first few rows. Rows in the front stalls are numbered, from A being front nearest to the stage and going back to row R. There is a break between the front stalls and rear stalls. To the left and right of the front stall there are side stalls. I think if choosing the front stalls, as I do, then for most productions, I find seats in centre stalls from E to around K to be best, although a lot is down to luck; if a tall person is directly in front of you, or a fidget, then your view will be marred. I have also sat in the side row and the view is still quite good as long as the row chosen isn't too near to the stage. Being too near will mean you'll probably be craning your neck to see and you won't see much of the actor's footwork and if this is a musical or even more so a dance event, then this will probably mar your enjoyment. I would say that the view is still quite a good one from most parts of the theatre. The balcony gives a good view of the stage and seems close enough to draw the audience in but I have only sat in the stalls in recent years. There are also boxes available but I haven't been able to book the amount of seats I have required in the boxes when I have been to this theatre. The Palace theatre is smaller, more traditional and cosy. RESTAURANTS/BARS The Cliffs Pavilion offers pre-show dining. Usually two course meals are available for £17.50 and three courses for £21.50. I haven't dined here as we are usually in too much of a rush to get to the theatre. On our last visit we enjoyed fish and chips from a chip shop close to the theatre. Not glamorous but quick and actually, delicious. Sometimes we have time to have a pre-show drink in the Foyer Bar. Antipasti are available from the bar if you're peckish. Also snacks such as sandwiches, baguettes and cake can be purchased. Prices for drinks are expensive but not as much so as in London's theatre-land. If we have a drink during the interval then we find the best option is to order before the show starts and ask that they be put in plastic tumblers so we can take them into the auditorium; after queuing for toilets there really isn't time for a drink in the bar. BOX OFFICE The box office for both theatres is a combined one. I have booked tickets by telephone and also on-line. The website, in my opinion, is good. A seating plan is available and seats can be selected on-line. This works well as you can choose the price range and see what's available in this price range as, well as seeing if there is low or high availability for these seats. Sometimes, if I have a query, I will first look at possible seats and then telephone to make the booking. When I have done this I've found box office staff very helpful and able to give good and accurate information. I usually book far ahead enough for my tickets to be sent to my home by post. Tickets have always arrived promptly and I haven't had a problem with this. For those living near tickets can be booked in person. I have always paid for my tickets at the point of booking by debit card but you can pay by cash (if booking in person) cheque (with guarantee card), credit card etc. Ticket prices vary according to the show to be seen. I saw Starlight Express on tour here in September and I think I paid around £43 for each ticket in the stalls. This compares price wise favourably with the West End but then again this ISN'T the West End, but it's still a good way of seeing a good show at a more affordable price. I also paid a booking fee (I think £1.50 per ticket) and paid postage. I understand that tickets will be held for a few days if sending a cheque for ticket payment. Discounts are given for group bookings. WEBSITE (southendtheatres.org.uk ) I find this to be a good website which is easy to navigate. A calendar of upcoming events can be seen which I look at often. Also there is a seating plan for both theatres and much more, including on-line interactive assistance. As I have signed up to this website I receive offers and news via email. DISABLED The theatres are disabled friendly. In the case of The Cliffs Pavilion the stalls are easily accessible and so are the bars. Facilities include: Access seating (wheelchair spaces and a free seat for carer) Infra-red loop system Signed performances Audio tape Guide dogs allowed Lift Disabled toilet facilities TOILETS As always at theatres when a popular show is being performed, there are never enough toilets, particularly in the case of the ladies' loos. Queuing always seems to be a negative part of the event and actually makes me cross. When I saw Starlight Express I had to rush up some stairs to the toilet trying to beat the queue. Alas. The queue had already formed and trailed outside of the toilets but the queue grew and when I left the toilets the queue was ridiculously long. EVENTS/PRICES Backstage tours can be booked for only two pounds per person. The theatres also hold quiz nights, comedy nights, open mic events, talent competitions and dinner and dance nights. LOCATION/GETTING THERE BY ROAD We usually drive here from Essex/greater London and this doesn't take too long; usually just under an hour in decent traffic conditions. Both theatres are on the A13 or A127. Once in Southend the theatres are clearly signposted. CAR PARKING The Cliffs Pavilion has a car park for its patrons which hold eighty cars. We park in a pay and display car park close to the theatre (this has 125 spaces including disabled parking) or below the cliffs on Western Esplanade and then ascend the steps to The Cliffs Pavilion. Parking for The Palace Theatre isn't quite so easy although a walk of a few minutes duration will find pay and display car parks. BY TRAIN The town of Southend has two rail stations suitable for travel to both theatres. One is Westcliff station, close to The Cliffs Pavilion. The other station is Southend Victoria. BY BUS Buses stop close to both theatres. CONTACT Cliffs Pavilion Station Road Southend-on-Sea Essex SS0 7RA Palace Theatre 430 London Road Southend on Sea Essex SS0 9LA Box Office: 01702 351135 OPENING TIMES The Cliffs Pavilion building is open every day whereas The Palace Theatre opens when a performance is taking place. Box Office opening times can be found on the theatre's website. OVERALL I find the theatre welcoming and a pleasant setting for shows. It can't compete with the theatres in London's West End in terms of atmosphere but for all round leisure and entertainment facilities, it scores highly, in my opinion, and may do more for its local community than many of London's famous theatres. I feel that Southend Theatres provides a good service and is a valuable asset to the town of Southend-on-Sea as it provides many desirable events for its community.