Theatre of War

In 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) launched a four-year funding programme to support heritage organisations in carrying out research projects linked to the First World War.   

In 2017 the Kings Theatre’s received a grant for a project looking at the importance of live theatre during WW1 and what was happening at the Kings Theatre during the war.  

We recruited a team of volunteers to work with our archivists, and through a partnership with the University of Portsmouth and Portsmouth History Centre, they developed research and archive skills and gathered information on the theatre and its place within a busy port town.  The material collected was used in an exhibition at the Kings Theatre, alongside a pop-up exhibition which can be loaned to libraries, arts centres etc.  The Theatre’s archivists have also devised a series of talks based around the project’s findings. 

Five fabulous facts about the theatre during WW1 

  1. In 1915 you could buy a ticket in the Upper Circle for 6d. For the same price you could buy 400g of bacon, 2 bottles of Portsmouth Bitter or a packet of 20 Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes. 
  2. As part of the recruitment drive for men to enrol, during performances a message flashed on the Theatre’s screen:  Your King and Country Need You. Lord Kitchener Wants You. Come and Enlist. This would be followed by a short speech urging the young men of Portsmouth to sign up. 
  3. Initially Portsmouth was declared a ‘Prohibited Area’ meaning that all foreigners were required to leave town at once. Germans and Austrians were interned.  Officially notices were issued warning residents of spies, and this message was also written into many new war-set plays that were being toured.
  4. In 1915 Edward Euler a musician at the Kings, who had German ancestry, came under suspicion of being a spy and was charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. He was held in custody for 10 days. When he returned to court, no evidence could be found, by magistrates urged him to leave town  anyway.  
  5. Women were not allowed in the Kings Theatre’s bars during the war. They had to get their drinks through a serving hatch located in the stalls entrance, and relax in the Ladies’ Sitting Room.


Do get in touch if you would like to book the pop-up exhibition, or a talk by our archivists. 

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