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Alhambra Theatre Article

by Denis Michael Naulty

Arthur Henderson (1879-1953) came to Dundee from fairground people in Yorkshire. He had premises at Anderson's Lane, South Road, Lochee in 1899. This was his base and winter quarters for a travelling show. He had a resident company of players who performed a repertoire of old-time melodramas. Arthur favoured stage productions all through his theatre/cinema career but had little financial success with them. He showed early movies at this site also. A booth in a quarry in Bellfield Street was where this entertainer also showed short silent films in the 1890s. He next built what was probably Dundee's first cinema building, the Wellington Cinema in Wellington Street in 1906. He was the proprietor of the Britannia Cinema, opened in Small's Wynd in 1912, and the Queen's Hall in Well Road in 1922. However, it is his next enterprise on which I wish to concentrate. Arthur bought up property in Bellfield Street off Blackness Road in order to build his show business monument. Frank Thomson, son of the famed Dundee City architect and engineer, was engaged as the architect. The Alhambra Picture House was opened in 1929 at 12 Bellfield Street with seating for 1,039 people. Again Arthur's love of theatre come to the fore and he embarked on a season of live theatre shows in 1937 which extended until July 1939.

He introduced Dundee's first repertory company in the Queen's Hall, Well Road off Hawkhill, where notably Herbert Mansfield Company of actors presented plays. During his years in the theatre, Mr Henderson brought such personalities as Godfrey Tearle and Sir Martin Harvey to the city. There is little doubt that the Dundee Repertory Theatre is an indirect result of his efforts.

Dr Ida Kimber, now of Edinburgh and whose sister Edith was the second wife of Arthur Henderson, has kindly given me cuttings from The Courier of 1938. These are concerned with a season of productions by the International Players directed by Mr Anew the Alhambra Theatre. "The Players set out to produce, dress and act ‘East Lynne’ in the exact manner as that in which it was first produced. The stage setting is typically Victorian with its china dogs, texts on the wall, plush upholstery and lank aspidistras. Everything is perfect to the last antimacassar. The story of the play is too well-known to make any comment necessary. All the characters of melodrama are here - " the upstanding hero, the wronged heroine, the outcast son, the bold bad villain and the pathetic ‘che-hild’ ".

Chief acting honours go to Frank Lovett for his performance as Sir Francis Levison, the ne'er-do-well baronet. Mr Lovett is every inch a villain in the melodramatic.tradition from his be-ringed fingers to the tips of his curling black mustachios. As Lady Isabel, the wife who deserts her loving husband, Alice Darch is superb. She wrings the last teardrop out of her highly emotional role and rises to the heights in the famous line - "Dead- dead- and never called me ‘Mother’". Alan Chadwick, David Basil Gill and Florence Hunt also gave performances in keeping, while others in the cast are Leonard Trollope, Harvey de Carteret, Michael Napper, Quentin Tod, Wynne Halliday, Edna Petrie and Moyra Perrin. Special mention must be made of Miss Ida Kimber, 14-years-old Harris Academy pupil, who gave a sympathetic study of Little Willie, the dying child. Next week, Mr McMaster presents Sheridan's The Whitehall theatre 22 March 1978 famous comedy "School for Scandal". Another play in this short season by the International Players was ‘Othello‘ performed by Anew McMaster. In a statement to the ‘Evening Telegraph & Post’ the actor gave his views that unless there was a considerable improvement in the ‘houses’ at the Alhambra which had been meagre during the past few weeks, there was a probability that Mr McMaster's company (The International Players) would leave the city in a week or two. Their efforts to provide dramatic fare of a high standard had by no means met with the success that had been hoped for.

The Alhambra became a cinema from 1929-1937 when it reverted to theatre until 1939. From 1941-1968 it was The State cinema. It was acquired by the Dundee Corporation and opened as a civic theatre in November 1969.and named The Whitehall Theatre. Today, it is owned and operated to present live shows by the Whitehall Theatre Trust.