February 17, 2023
Haslemere Hall is an independently run Arts Venue in Haslemere town centre that hosts musical theatre and live music performances, plus cinema screenings. We chatted with Haslemere Hall’s General Manager, Howard Bicknell, to find out more about what goes on there and a glimpse into its colourful history.
Tell us a bit about Haslemere Hall
Haslemere Hall is a fully equipped theatre seating approximately 340 in the main auditorium with an upper balcony. There are regular cinema showings of current films and live streamed events, plus a popular annual panto. It is also used for lectures, meetings and events. Not to mention a licensed bar!
What are some of the things we can expect to see at Haslemere Hall?
For several years now, Haslemere Hall has been able to stream events via satellite from a wide variety of venues and production companies from the UK and worldwide, including the UK’s very own National Theatre, so that visitors can see the performance live, in real time.
This allows them to literally have the best seat in the house. It also means, of course that the audience can see a big show from their local area at a fraction of the West End prices. We also have a packed schedule of music from live bands to tribute acts, plus orchestral and choral concerts.
And it’s become a popular destination for watching the latest cinema releases?
Yes. When the Rex cinema in Haslemere closed its doors, the Trustees decided to introduce film shows in conjunction with Southern Cinema Services. All the latest releases are shown on several days each month and the Hall has also branched out to include specialist screenings and started to show more independent films and documentaries as well as foreign films that are subtitled. We’re committed to showing films that don’t necessarily have big backers and budgets but have a great story with an important message.
It’s quite a multipurpose space, isn’t it?
Yes, the Hall also provides the home for many local societies, clubs, charities and theatre schools. It offers them a place to meet, rehearse, listen to guest speakers, dance and host parties and award ceremonies.
Can you tell us a little about its history?
The Hall was founded in 1912 by local benefactor Barclay Lewis Day. He decided to build a Hall with his own money and invited well-known architects to submit their plans in a competition for the best design. The winning design was by Annesley Brownrigg F.R.I.B.A. The early 1900s saw the tail end of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, and the design reflects this influence, such as a particularly fine curved stone staircase leading to the upper Rotunda sitting out area and balcony.
The Hall was officially opened in January 1914. The opening coincided with the outbreak of World War I and for the first four years of its life, the Hall was requisitioned by the War Office and used as drill hall for the troops.
How did your involvement with the Hall come about?
I was born and brought up in Haslemere and when I moved back in 2010 I found myself drawn back to Haslemere Hall, which for me had been a bit of a home from home in my teenage and early twenties. I had enjoyed both rehearsals and performing on the stage with the Haslemere Players, and with the Haslemere Thespians in musicals, plays and pantomimes.
Coming on board as Manager has been both amazing and challenging. We have a great team here and work with some brilliant volunteers too. Since updating and upgrading the facilities and also rebranding, I feel like we are now rising like a Phoenix after Covid - working and developing our knowledge of our customers and what they would like to see. It’s a fantastic place to work and every day is different.
What are the main challenges with running this kind of venue?
A building that is over 100 years old constantly requires attention in the form of repairs and renewals. Improvements and modernisation work are undertaken as funds permit. The ‘Friends of Haslemere Hall’ was set up as a way for local people to contribute to its upkeep and hopefully a flourishing future.
Give us a flavour of what is coming up at Haslemere Hall this year?
There will be live screenings from the National Theatre, opera from the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare, ballet, drama, thrillers and all-time family favourites. Plus, we’ll be welcoming live bands alongside choral concerts and showing a mix of all the latest cinema releases. There really is something for everyone.
Finally, can you share with us some of your favourite businesses in Haslemere
I’m a big fan of Charter Walk Kitchen Living – such a great team of people who provide an excellent service and product. They take the time to learn who you are and they’re specialists in all they do. You can count on Oliver’s Coffee Shop & Wine Bar for friendly, quick service and first-rate food. They’re also a caring, inspiring business, involved with the community. Finally, Couchman Hanson Solicitors – approachable, knowledgeable and always willing to give helpful advice.