Southern Paranormal - Investigations
Kings Theatre, Southsea
Friday 6th January 2012
Attending Investigators Julie Harwood, Maria Street, Marie Holder, Amanda Horley, Brian Witt, Maureen Taylor, Paul Flexman, David Baxter, Amy Coxhead, Alison Brettell and Stuart Blake.
Guests Helen Jones
Courtesy of The Kings Theatre
This dignified and beautiful theatre - with its Italian Renaissance style of decor - is one of the best examples of the elegant Edwardian playhouses to be found in the British Isles and one of the few remaining traditional hemp houses. It is the result of the vision and business acumen of John Walter Boughton and the architectural prowess of Frank Matcham, one of the greatest of theatre architects. Although Frank Matcham is much respected and his work is becoming well documented, J W Boughton remains largely unknown outside Portsmouth.
In the mid-1850s, the theatre manager Henry Rutley arrived in Portsmouth and took over the Landport Hall. His previous experience in both theatre and circus persuaded him that a theatre could not only be made profitable but would also be a social asset to the town. With only a licence for a limited period he had the faith to re-open the Landport Hall as the New Theatre Royal in 1856. J W Boughton became his assistant and, after the death of both Henry Rutley and his successor J C Hughes, Boughton took over the reins of the Portsmouth Theatre Company in 1882. One of Boughton's first decisions was to undertake a major rebuild of his theatre. To do so he engaged the most famous theatre architect of the day, C A Phipps, who had earlier built the Gaiety, the Theatre Royal and the Haymarket in London, as well as undertaking commissions for the Theatre Royal in Bath, Brighton and Nottingham. This was the Boughton style - to go for the best and to be commercially bold.
In 1882 the Prince's Theatre in Lake Road was destroyed by fire and two years later Boughton purchased the land adjoining the site, so that it had a greater potential when he could afford to rebuild. This he did in 1891, employing the eminent theatre architect Frank Matcham to undertake the work. He employed the same architect yet again to rebuild the New Theatre Royal in 1900, and he took him into his confidence early in the century when he began to discuss the building of a theatre in Southsea. So confident was he that Boughton paid for the initial design out of his own pocket, only disclosing his action to his company in June 1906. He was reimbursed for every penny and his foresight was approved, so that this theatre - the Kings - became the third theatre owned by the Portsmouth Theatre Company.
Opening night, 30th September 1907, was a most glittering occasion. H B Irving, son of the great Sir Henry, played three of his father's successes in the first week, The Lyons Mail, The Bells and Charles 1 (which was the first show to be shown). On the opening night, as the curtain rose, the Portsmouth Orpheus Society played the National Anthem - in which the audience joined most heartily. J W Boughton died in 1914 but his Company continued to operate the Kings Theatre until 1964 when Commander Reggie & Mrs Joan Cooper purchased it. In 1990 Hampshire County Council bought the Theatre, but Mrs Cooper stayed and was joined by Mr 1 S Barnes as Co-lessees.
J W Boughton's daughter married Julian Bainbridge, who became for many years the manager of the Kings. They had a daughter, the actress Hazel Bainbridge, who was a shareholder in the Portsmouth Theatre Company. Hazel Bainbridge is the mother of two actresses (Kate O'Mara and Belinda Carroll), both of whom have played at the Kings along with practically all the great names of the English stage, and in recent years the Theatre has had many 'prior to London' productions. Actress Dillie Keane, leading lady of "Fascinating Aida" is a local Southsea doctor's Daughter and an usher in her youth at the theatre. Dillie Keane and Kate O'Mara are proud to be patrons of the theatre.
In 2001, after a successful campaign by AKTER (Action for Kings Theatre Restoration) to keep the theatre open, it was bought by Portsmouth City Council and leased to the Kings Theatre Trust Ltd who took responsibility for the building's restoration and repair. This trust leased the building in turn to an operating company, Kings Theatre Southsea Ltd, who operated and maintained the building on a day to day basis and put on the programme of shows. After a seemingly successful 18 months the operating company went bankrupt, and the Kings Theatre Trust had to take over the operation of the theatre to prevent it from total closure. This Trust has been running the theatre for over a year, and many successful shows have been held, with many more to come.
The "Theatre" which includes - Dress Circle & boxes, The Gods "Upper Gallery" & Stalls.
Surrounding - under the stage, dressing rooms and any area’s between the team rooms & the main auditorium (which mean you do not cross through the auditorium).
7.45pm Team meet outside rear entrance to theatre
8.00pm Meet host and unpack in team room
9.00pm Vigil 1
Team 1 Theatre
Team 2 Surrounding
10.00pm Vigil 2
Team 1 Surrounding 2
Team 2 Theatre
11.10pm Vigil 3
Team 1 Theatre
Team 2 Surrounding
12.25am Vigil 4
Team 1 Surrounding
Team 2 Theature
1.25am Pack up
The Kings Theatre is a favourite ‘haunt’ of ours and we never come away disappointed so there was very much a sense of anticipation in the air. I drove down with Amanda and Paul and we met the others there. After setting up the equipment and trigger object experiments (a whistle and a skull on the stage, hair slides in the dressing room and a ticket on one of the sills) we set off for our vigils. I was in Team 1 with Julie, Paul, Alison, Marie and Stuart and our first vigil was in the auditorium. We started by spreading out in the stalls and called out. I started to feel a prickling on my head and Julie and Paul could see movement in the circle. I heard the Gypsy’s Song from Carmen in my head and I could imagine a dancer moving amongst the seats, to the song. Paul and I moved to the lower box on the stage left. We could all hear random taps and clicks but nothing concrete. The atmosphere was a little different to previous visits. I personally felt a little uneasier than usual but could not really determine why.
A quick break followed and we then moved to the area under the stage. One of the first things we saw was a poster advertising The Spirit of the Dancer, which was pretty funny considering our first vigil. We split into two groups. The men moved into a small room just inside the area, and us ladies settled a little further along. If I felt uneasy in the auditorium that feeling was certainly magnified in this space. I realise it was small and maybe claustrophobic to some but I have spent time in very tiny dark spaces and have felt perfectly at ease. Julie thought Stuart was stood just around the corner, we reminded her that he was in the little room and she was shocked, as she had seen somebody peer around the wall at the end. Paul and Stuart joined us soon after and as I looked around, I too saw what looked like a pair of legs starting to walk around the corner and then go back again. I re-enacted what I saw and Julie said it was exactly like she had seen but she had seen the upper torso only. We called out and noticed the area get noticeably darker. This actually happened on several occasions but for no apparent reason that we could fathom. I also felt the prickling on my head again and got the expression ‘You alright cock?’ said in a Mancunian accent in my head. The voice was male. Our vigil soon came to an end and it was time for a break again.
For our next vigil we all congregated on the sofas in the main corridor leading to the circle. This area is renowned for a haunting and I think that’s half the reason we kept expecting somebody to walk towards us at any second. The uneasy feeling was still with me and I usually feel totally at ease at The Kings, or at most locations even. We could hear taps occasionally and one noise (that I couldn’t hear) frustrated the rest of the team as it occurred at regular intervals. They knew it was a natural sound and closer inspection by Paul and Stuart revealed it to be the ice-making machine in the bar. For the last part of the vigil Julie and I stayed in the corridor whilst the others went into the auditorium. We called out and sat quietly for a while but things were pretty quiet so we joined the others. We sat in the circle whilst the others sat in the boxes. All was quiet in here for me and soon it was time for our last break.
For our final vigil we decided to re-visit the area under the stage as we felt we had unfinished business here. We sat in similar positions and called out once more. Again the room visibly darkened and at one point Julie turned round to find somebody’s face right up to hers. It belonged to none of us however. A little later in the vigil the exact same thing happened to me. It was quite unnerving. I really thought Paul was sat diagonally opposite me when, in fact he was sat exactly to my right. I picked up on the energy of a sailor and I felt he was from the merchant navy. Paul had a bit of an experience whilst we were calling out, which I will leave him to relate in his report. The room visibly darkened again on several occasions, again with no tangible reason.
Our night at the Kings soon ended and I eagerly look forward to our next visit. A big thank you also to Guy, our host.
Normally I would end my report there but a chance meeting nearly a week later has meant that I need to add to it. To cut a long story short, I happened to bump into a team member from the team that investigated the Kings the night after. They too had picked up on a dancer in the circle and even more amazingly had picked up on a sailor under the stage! This was great but I still couldn’t see the connection between a sailor and the theatre. However when I relayed the story to my daughter, a performing arts student, she told me that many years ago the sailors would have worked the rigging for the theatres. That certainly explains why he would have been under the stage! All in all, an amazing ‘wrap’ for me.
I was in team 1 and we started our investigation in the auditorium. We all decided to start in the stalls and we spread ourselves out. There were no emf fluctuations in this area apart from around the mixing/sound desks at the back of the auditorium. I very nearly dismissed this when Marie told me but when she re visited the area she could not get any reading at all. The temperature was fluctuating in this area however there were strong breezes from the doors to the street each side of the building. We heard quite a few taps and bangs but could attribute most of these to settling of the building, noises from outside etc however 1 noise in particular we could not explain straight away and all of us had heard it. On investigation one of the chairs that we had not been using was down in the seated position yet on entering the theatre I had done a quick sweep of the seats and had not noticed any of them down. I believe this was on the front row and I know we would have noticed it on entering the area. We tested the seat to see if it was loose and fell down easily but in fact it was hard to push down unlike some of the other seats. Stuart and I then did a sweep of the whole theatre floor and made sure all seats were positioned up so we could monitor if any more went down. No more moved. I usually feel quite happy in the auditorium despite what I had seen on a previous visit but this time I felt a little on edge and could not explain why. Towards the end of the vigil I swore I saw movement above the box (where Paul & Maria were sat at the time) stage right. I think a little later Paul also saw movement in this area just a little further over. It was like I saw a flash of someone up there waving at us.
Our second vigil was under the stage. Stuart and Paul decided to spend some time in a small room, just inside the main entrance as on the walk around with Guy this door had apparently opened itself even though Guy had closed it. Myself, Maria, Marie & Alison settled down a little further in to the area. After a couple of minutes I called out to Stuart who I thought had looked round the corner at us but then Maria reminded me he was in the room with Paul. It was very strange as I could have sworn I saw someone look round the corner at us. I only saw waist up and no features so can not describe it any more than that. Paul & Stuart then rejoined us. We heard various noises down here but I think we de bunked most of them quite quickly. Maria then saw what she described as legs in the same area I thought someone had looked round. I also experienced what felt like my hair being stroked in this area and an overwhelming feeling of someone being behind me. However as I have long hair I have to consider that it could have been my hair settling after I had touched it. In regards to the feeling behind me, I had to consider that I was sat with my back to an empty, dark area which could play tricks on the mind even though it felt very real at the time. The one thing that was odd was that the area seemed to be getting darker and lighter. All of us noticed this each time but we could not readily explain why this was happening.
Our third vigil was up in the crescent corridor at the back of the auditorium. This area always makes me very nervous. I have no idea why as personally I have had no “scary” experiences in this area. However this time seemed different and although I assumed the Meerkat position (sat bolt upright and looking left and right like I was watching a tennis match) I did not feel as nervous as I usually do in here. We did hear some odd noises however we were sure these were of “normal” origin and soon discovered the ice machine whirring away at regular intervals in the bar. Alison was sat to my left and she felt uneasy looking towards the door to the stage area and I did not see her look that way once. With 10 minutes until the end of this vigil, Maria and I stayed in the corridor while the others went back in to the auditorium. Although the areas atmosphere changed when everyone went nothing unusual happened and so after 5 minutes Maria and I joined the others in the theatre.
For our last vigil we decided to go back under the stage but this time we all stayed together and sat almost huddled in a semi circle. The most unusual thing to happen to me in here was when I turned round and thought I saw a face right in front of me, so much so it actually made me jump and I had the “heart in the mouth” feeling for a while after.
Again a very rewarding and interesting visit to the Kings for me with some interesting experiences had by members in the team I was in, though I have left them to describe them in their own words.
Thank you to Claire at the Kings Theatre for making our visit possible and also to Guy for being our ever helpful host again.
It was such a treat to return to the Kings Theatre especially after the occurrence that happened to the other team at the last visit although I tried to put this at the back of my mind and concentrate on now.