The Savoy stands on the oldest working theatre site in Wales
The Savoy site has had a splendidly varied history. The Bell Inn which stood here from the eighteenth century was known to have put on entertainment.
In 1830 the Odd Fellows Society used public subscription to erect the “most commodious hall” in the area which opened later that year and was a home for dances, ceremonies, political rallies and their own meetings. As it was 70 feet long it had more or less the same footprint as it has today. In 1832 it was granted an entertainment license and the earliest record of public performance is 1833. It was locally known as the Bell Inn Assembly Rooms.
The first extensive use as a theatre was in 1850/51 when the room was turned into The New Theatre by well known touring actor/manager J F Rogers. The venture lasted about six months and a further season by the Theatre Royal Players a couple of years later ran about the same length. A new building called The Corn Exchange was built on the site in 1865 and due to the tighter entertainment regulations the Inn turned into a Temperance Hotel in 1871. It’s use during that last quarter of the nineteenth century is unchartered but early in the twentieth century it turned into a roller skating rink (1909) and became known as The Rinkeries.
In 1910 it mixed skating sessions with short films as cinema became the new vogue. Very quickly the films took over and skating was abandoned. By 1912 Monmouth had a number of cinemas to cater for the new craze. By 1914 the Picture Palace as it was then known was pre-eminent and ran a mixture of one reel films and variety acts known as CineVariety. The building was presumably a bit shoddy by 1926 because it went up for auction, was bought by a major cinema chain, demolished and completely re-built, stage et al. It re-opened on March 5th 1928 as the New Picture House. In April 1930 talking pictures arrived and variety died as the golden age of cinema going began. The New Picture House became part of the Gaumont British chain in 1929.
In 1958 it was bought by B T Davis a serial cinema owner from Birmingham and amazingly the family still own it today.
In 1971 it was re-christened the Regal but began to suffer from declining audiences and closed in the early 80’s and was turned into a Magic Lantern Theatre in 1984. That didn’t last long, nor did an attempt to revive cinema, and it closed again until 1995 when it came under the management of Michael Blakemore who re-opened it as The Savoy.
In 2004 a Trust was formed to help get grants and £750,000 was obtained through the County Council from Europe to completely refurbish what was by now a building in very poor condition. The auditorium was completely returned to its 1928 glory as can be seen today.
Unfortunately the Trust went bankrupt in 2009 and the Savoy’s future was very uncertain. A group of volunteers from the town took it over, formed a new Trust and re-defined its’ purpose by restoring high quality live performance alongside new cinema releases and the mix has worked to the extent that the theatre is now viable thanks to increased audiences and very high quality performance.
The tenth anniversary of the new chapter in the Savoy’s history was capped by a THEATRE OF THE YEAR award in 2019, a fitting tribute to the many volunteers and small cohort of staff who have been determined to see the wonderful grade 2* art deco building stay in business.
In 2008 Mon TV made a video about the Savoy when it was run by the previous Trust. The 35mm equipment seen in the film has been superseded by digital projection but it is still on site. Tim Williamson who features in the film no longer works at the theatre but his infectious enthusiasm and passion for the building is shared by all the current staff and Trustees.