Nearly a hundred years ago, the ornate theatre doors swung open along Commercial Road, introducing a world of entertainment to Southampton and the surrounding region.

Since its grand opening on December 22, 1928, the Empire Theatre has been a beloved entertainment destination for the community.

Interestingly, although sharing the same name, this theatre is distinct from the previously famous Empire Theatre located on French Street, which burned down in the early 1920s.

In the first performance, the musical production Winona showcased the talents of Derek Oldham and Winnie Melville. The show was not well received and was swiftly succeeded by The Vagabond King, which captivated audiences and garnered widespread acclaim.

At the start of the theatre's establishment, the renowned actress Gracie Fields graced the stage in the production The Show’s The Thing. Joining her in the cast were her husband Archie Pitt, brother Tommy Fields, and brother-in-law, Dougie Wakefield.

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The theatrical industry faced significant challenges during the Second World War due to major disruptions in train travel. This hindered the ability of theatre companies to move around the country and transport their equipment. As a result, the war-weary public turned to films and variety shows for entertainment during this tumultuous period.

During the blitz raids of 1942, when Southampton bore the brunt of devastating bombings, the Empire Theatre stood as a beacon of resilience. Despite being under the ownership of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, the venue continued to be known by its original name and welcomed full houses of eager spectators.

During a time of uncertainty and worry, the performances undeniably provided a temporary sense of relief for a crowd burdened with concerns. They served as a beacon of hope for the community, offering a temporary escape from reality.

Back in 1945, a bright-eyed Julie Andrews made her debut on stage under the guidance of her parents, the talented duo Ted and Barbara Andrews. At the tender age of 10, she stood on a box next to her father, delivering a mesmerising performance that showcased her beautiful singing voice.

The year 1950 marked a significant milestone for the theatre as it underwent a name change to Gaumont. The debut of a full-scale musical production, featuring Peggy Powell as the lead in Annie Get Your Gun, captured the audience's hearts. The show was a resounding success, attracting full-house attendance every night during its two-week run.

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Due to the overwhelming crowd, the funds collected from ticket sales had to be stored in bags and secured within a holding cell at the police station located in Civic Centre.

A plethora of renowned artists took the stage in the 1950s, featuring iconic performers like Laurel and Hardy, Ella Fitzgerald, Margot Fonteyn, and Tony Hancock.

The auditorium was filled with laughter as spectators enjoyed performances from renowned comedians like Larry Grayson, Frankie Howard, Bruce Forsyth, Harry Secombe, and Morecambe and Wise, their chuckles resonating throughout the venue.

In the years that followed, the stage was graced by pop music sensations, showcasing renowned artists from various corners of the globe. Among the roster were iconic names like The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Rod Stewart, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, and Queen.  Then there was Jimi Hendrix, Genesis, Cliff Richard, Roy Orbison, Led Zeppelin and many, many more.

The Gaumont also hosted the biggest band of all time – The Beatles.

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Three instances of Beatlemania took hold of the venue, occurring twice during 1963 and once in 1964.

Prominent figures in the world of sports significantly contributed to the rise in popularity of the Gaumont, showcasing satellite broadcasts of global boxing tournaments and wrestling competitions.

Even a week-long squash tournament was held on the stage.

In 1982, The Rank Organisation presented a plan to Southampton Council to convert the theatre into a bingo hall. However, the council turned down the proposal and the Department of Environment granted a Grade II listing to the building.

In a grand finale at the Gaumont, the final show featured an amateur production of Carousel by Southern Theatre Productions.

Following a period of extensive renovations, The Gaumont underwent a transformation in January 1986 and emerged as Mayflower Theatre in February 1987, delighting audiences with an entertaining rendition of Peter Pan.

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Not long after its grand opening, The Pogues took to the stage on March 15, 1987, in a concert that would leave a lasting impact on the venue's trajectory.

Upon being informed that dancing in the aisles was prohibited, the attendees decided to showcase their dance moves on the brand-new seats instead, causing many to break from their hinges.

In light of this development, event planners had to reconsider their choice of musical performances to avoid any potential risks of enthusiastic concertgoers dancing and causing damage.

In 2003, significant renovations were carried out on Mayflower Theatre to enhance the stage area and make it more accessible for individuals with disabilities. Subsequently, a major refurbishment of the foyer took place in 2013.

In the year 2018, another round of rejuvenation efforts was undertaken to enhance the seating arrangements and introduce a fresh colour palette to the auditorium.

Additionally, the front of house areas received a makeover, harmoniously transitioning from a green hue to a regal combination of red and gold.

There are whispers of a spectral presence lingering in the theatre, a tale of an elderly apparition perched in a wicker chair backstage.

Moving from one spectral figure to the next, The Phantom of the Opera holds the top spot for highest attendance at the theatre with a staggering 185,000 visitors in the year 2000.

In a similar fashion, the most beloved pantomime drew a crowd of 126,256 spectators in 1994 for the enchanting tale of Dick Whittington.