Stockport - Becky Bennett

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The Plaza Super Cinema and Variety Theatre cinema in Stockport, England opened in the year of 1932 and is now a Grade Two listed building. After being a bingo hall for many years, it has now been restored as a cinema and theatre, showing classic films and staging live shows. The building is in the Art Deco style, it was constructed in 1932 to a design by William Thornley. It had an original seating capacity of 1878 and in its restored state has 614 seats in the stalls, 318 in the front circle and 254 in the rear circle (the balcony). The first plans for a cinema on this site was made by William Thornley in 1929. It was a conservative scheme that incorporated a motor garage, a billiard hall, a restaurant with a 1600-seat cinema. Thornley, who had trained with Bradshaw Gass & Hope was experienced in designing silent movie cinemas. The owners of the site rejected the scheme. They had just opened the 1850 seat Regal Cinema, Altrincham which was designed by Drury and Gomersall and described as the ‘Cathedral of the Movies’. Thornley was commissioned to modify the Altrincham plans to fit on the more restricted site.


Image Courtesy Of The Plaza Theatre


The first plans for a cinema on this particular site was made by William Thornley in 1929. It was a conservative scheme that incorporated a motor garage, a billiard hall, a restaurant with a 1600 seat cinema. Thornley, who had trained with Bradshaw Gass & Hope was experienced in designing silent movie cinemas. The owners of the site rejected the scheme. They had just opened the 1850 seat Regal Cinema, Altrincham which was designed by Drury and Gomersall and described as the ‘Cathedral of the Movies’.  Thornley was commissioned to modify the Altrincham plans to fit on the more restricted Stockport site.

Ten Thousand tonnes of sandstone was excavated to create The Plaza and the adjoining Plaza steps by outside labourers. The building was partially underground. The cinema was an Art Deco gem which was welcomed by the local cinema goers but opposed by the local business community, smarting from the use of outsiders when the town was still suffering from the Great Depression. Technically the cinema had all the latest equipment the projectors that could project silent and sound stock, and a Compton organ to be played during the silent news reels. It was a cine-variety venue.

The Plaza attracted competition and by 1939 there were two further super cinemas in the town centre and two in the suburbs. After the war, in the 1950s The Plaza was refurbished and diversified into CinemaScope and 3-D screenings. The conversion to a Bingo Hall was refused by Stockport Borough Council planning committee but this ruling was overturned by National government and Rank Leisure proceeded with their plan.


Image Courtesy Of The Plaza Theatre
Image Courtesy Of The Plaza Theatre


To possess an original Compton Organ is rare, but the Plaza organ is notable in its own right. It was the first Compton Theatre Organ to be built with sunburst decorative glass panels. These can be illuminated in a range of colours. The Compton organ is a three manual instrument with a unique 150 stop tab layout which was designed for the Plaza and her sister cinema by Norman Cocker the resident organist from Manchester Cathedral and Arthur Ward one of the original Directors of the Stockport Plaza.

It has in addition 42 toe and thumb pistons and 11 ranks of pipes situated in 2 chambers, one over the other to the right of the stage. These are concealed behind the decorative grill in the wall. There is no electric amplification, as the sound is produced acoustically straight from the organ pipes. The console is on a lift so that it can rises out of the floor, adding to the theatrical effect.As there is no amplification the organist controls the volume using swell pedals that operate shutters in the grill. It was played before shows, and during silent movies, variety acts and musical interludes between films.

The Plaza was sold to the Stockport Plaza Trust, first restorations started, and it re-opened for live shows and vintage film presentations. The first cinema show in December 2000 featured a performance of 42nd St which had been the first film shown at the Plaza in 1932. The Compton organ was found to be in working order, it was powered up and a performance of 1930s singalong music was given by Nigel Ogden. The Plaza was closed during 2009, and ₤1.9m restoration, funded by a National Lottery grant took place. Volunteers embarked on the restoration of The Plaza to its original 1932 configuration. Most of the facade has now been unveiled and sports a new name sign as well as new side panels, all constructed with neon lighting.







What's On At
The Plaza




Ohana Showcase
Tuesday 7th - Wednesday 8th March


Whitney Queen Of The Night
Friday 10th March


The Grumbleweeds
Sunday 12th March


Albert Lee
Monday 13th March


Cilla And The Shades Of The 60s
Friday 17th March


Abbamania
Thursday 30th March


Northern Soul Live With Edwin Starr
Friday 7th April


Count Arthur Strong
Saturday 8th April


You've Got A Friend
Wednesday 12th April


The Bon Jovi Experience
Friday 14th April


T J Higgs
Thursday 20th April


The Billy Joel Songbook
Saturday 22nd April


Michael English
Wednesday 26th April


Ruby Wax  Frazzled
Tuesday 2nd May


That'll Be The Day
Wednesday 3rd May


Buzz Hawkins
Thursday 4th May


The Magic Of Motown
Friday 5th May


The Mod Musical
Monday 8th To Wednesday 10th May


Rock 'N' Roll Back The Years
Saturday 20th May


Joseph
Monday 22nd To Saturday 27th May


The Simon And Garfunkel Story
Wednesday 31st May


Joe Longthorne
Friday 2nd June


Ken Dodd
Saturday 3rd June

Blake
Wednesday 7th June


The Story Of Frankie Valli
Friday 16th June


The Fairey Band
Saturday 24th June


Declan Nerney
Monday 26th June


Giovanni Pernice And Luba Mushtuk
Sunday 16th July


Formerly Of Buck's Fizz
Thursday 20th July


Music And Memories
Thursday 27th July








Theatre Tours
Behind The Scenes Plaza Theatre Experience




Behind The Scenes Tour
Monday 27th March


Behind The Scenes Tour
Monday 24th April


Behind The Scenes Tour
Tuesday 30th May
Behind The Scenes Tour
Monday 26th June


Behind The Scenes Tour
Monday 31st July


Behind The Scenes Tour
Monday 21st August




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