The Apollo Theatre’s story began around the time that another Apollo was landing on the Moon in July 1969.

In 1967, John and Patricia Hancock had moved to the Isle of Wight from Birmingham, where they were active members of a Little Theatre – an amateur group that owned its own premises.  When a Victorian Methodist church came up for sale in Pyle Street, Newport, two months before the Moon landing, John quickly saw the potential to create a Little Theatre on the Island.

Thanks to his drive and energy and commitment, the money was raised to buy the church in May 1970.  But it was a close run thing: the Apollo won with an offer just £65 more than its rival.  A small army of volunteers – some of whom are still with the Apollo, forty years on – worked all hours to convert the building, and the Apollo Theatre opened its doors in April 1972 with a trial run of plays, music and an art exhibition.

And the rest, as they say, is history …

2011-12 was our 40th season,  celebrating forty years of offering good theatre to the Isle of Wight.  To mark our Ruby Anniversary we published a souvenir booklet, ’40 Years of the Apollo Theatre’, and a DVD which includes coverage of the 40th birthday party, interviews with some of the people who have worked tirelessly for the theatre over the years, and a great slide show of images from past and present productions.  They make great souvenirs and are available from the theatre, price £5 each.  You could pick one up at the same time as booking your tickets!

 The Apollo Story

1967John and Patricia Hancock move to the Isle of Wight from Birmingham
April 1969County Press advertises sale of Victorian Methodist church at Pyle Street
June 1969Isle of Wight Society welcomes new theatre proposal for the church
August 1969Closure of the church, as congregation merges with Quay Street Methodist Church
May 1970The Apollo wins the bid to buy the church, with an offer just £65 more than the rival bid, from the Bethany Chapel
September 1970Work starts to gut most of the inside of the building; the church organ is sold for £150 to be installed in a cathedral in Uganda; pews are sold as garden seats; every floorboard is denailed
By Christmas 1970The Apollo stage is built and work continues.  Tip-up seats are acquired from Shanklin Pier Theatre for 10/- (50p) each; the team of volunteers works through the national power strike with the help of car headlamps powered by batteries
March 1971Extract from an Apollo volunteer’s diary … ‘lay auditorium floors: it is becoming more difficult to find any two boards that match each other in thickness or width. The ‘girls’ start to wash seat frames … using a baby’s tin bath found in the vestry! How did that get there?’
June 1971Another extract … ‘a month of digging ditches and laying sewers … dirt piles to the top of the forecourt railings … barked knuckles and aching backs …’
April 1972The theatre opens for a trial run with a Spring Festival of two plays: The Tiger and the Horse, by Robert Bolt, followed by Anouilh’s The Waltz of the Toreadors, starring John Hancock, and in between the plays, events including orchestral, jazz and folk music, and an exhibition of paintings
September 9 1972The official opening of the theatre, and the launch of a seven-performance run of Hotel Paradiso, billed as ‘a rollicking French farce with a large cast’
October 1972The Apollo receives formal notice that the outside of the theatre is Grade 2* listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, and cannot be altered
1975The Apollo becomes the 33rd member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain.  Lorca’s Blood Wedding is performed.
September 1976Two Apollo founder members, Hilary Sloper and Roger Simpson, get married.  Both are still actively involved (with all their children) and now Life Members
1977The Apollo stages its first musical, Salad Days
1979The Apollo goes on tour to Shanklin Theatre, with a performance of Separate Tables, by Terence Rattigan;  the tours were repeated several times, including 1984, when the Apollo took Rattle of a Simple Man to the home of the South London Theatre Centre
1980John Hancock retires as Director of the Apollo Players
1982An appeal is launched to raise £2,000 to fund new lighting
1983The Apollo hosts its first production by another theatre group, as the South London Theatre Centre performs a musical revue, Starting Here, Starting Now
1984The Dramathon is staged over the weekend, starting at 9am on Saturday and finishing at 10pm the following night; it includes performances of theatre and an all-night jazz session
1985John Hancock’s final appearance on stage, in Spirit o’ the Wight, a play with music, written by Apollo member Betty Pryde
1987The first drama workshop for children is held, soon to become the Apollo Children’s Theatre (ACT); the Methodist church lifts the covenant to allow the theatre a drinks licence, and the Apollo’s first bar manager is appointed
1988ACT divides into juniors and over-12s
1990Tributes are paid to John Hancock, who dies in January. The then Director, Anne Smith, said ‘There can be no doubt that if it had not been for his zest and enthusiasm, the theatre would not be here today.’
1992The Apollo buys the building next door, 124 Pyle Street, for half the asking price because of the recession, providing a new home for props, costumes and furniture previously stored at Palmer’s Brook Farm, and creating a new rehearsal room
1993Anthony Minghella becomes a Patron of the Apollo after seeing his play Two Planks and a Passion performed at the theatre
1998The practice of having play readings in advance of auditions begins; the Apollo Players portrayed characters from history as they joined Marconi’s daughter Princess Elettra Marconi to re-enact the first royal wireless transmission, from Osborne House
2000The new bar and coffee lounge is opened by Kenneth Kendall, the then BBC newsreader
2001Barbara Turner is awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to amateur theatre. Barbara was one of the founder members of the Apollo and directed 28 plays for the theatre, her last at the age of 90 in 1999.  That production, The Business of Murder, won Best Play at that year’s County Press Theatre Awards, where Barbara also picked up the first-ever award for Services to the Island Stage.
2002The Apollo’s 30th anniversary year.  ACT becomes Apollo Junior Theatre; the building next door to the theatre is renamed Hancock House
2003A legacy of £35,000 enables the creation of the Mick Parkin scenery store
2004The mortgage on Hancock House is paid off
2005The new concept of Honorary Members is introduced
2006Building improvements include reinforcing the roof and installing a staircase up to the new costume storage area in the attic
May 2007Pat Hancock dies
September 2008 Edward, Earl of Wessex, makes a Royal visit to the Island and visits the Apollo.
2009The search for more space continues
2010A new window in the dressing room is installed along with air-conditioning and new paving for the forecourt, dedicated to Pat Hancock
2011The Apollo hosts an evening with Ralph Fiennes, as part of the Minghella Film Festival.  The 40th season begins.
2012At last new premises are found to support the theatre’s ever-expanding need for space – a unit on the Dodnor industrial estate is purchased in December and the stalwart team start work on converting it to make the best use of the space for storage, set construction and rehearsal so that we can generate more income from the theatre, making it available for more productions.
November 2017A very special moment in the history of the Apollo Theatre takes place at a Gala Night when Julia Holofcener very generously donates a bas-relief sculpture by her late husband, Lawrence, entitled Faces of Olivier. Lawrence is known primarily as the author of the Broadway musical ‘Mr Wonderful’, but he had many other strings to his bow – not only as sculptor, a career he came to later in life, but also actor (appearing on Broadway in Stop the World and Hello, Dolly!), director (and father of film director Nicole Holofcener), playwright and lyricist whose plays and musicals were produced around the world. Many of his sculptures have become world-famous, including our own Faces of Olivier, Allies (a life-size portrait of Roosevelt and Churchill, situated on Bond Street) and Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.  An American by birth, he and his wife Julia had a home in Bembridge for many years and even after moving back to the States to be near family, they returned most summers to visit friends on the Island and remained involved with local activities including the Garlic Festival and the Apollo Theatre  Before he died in March 2017, they had, with their customary generosity, offered one of the only two copies in existence of his famous Faces of Olivier sculpture to the Apollo in recognition of their connection with the Players and their love for the Isle of Wight.  The first casting of Faces of Olivier was a gift from actors on both sides of the Atlantic to Lord Olivier and hung in the foyer at the Chichester Festival Theatre, where he had been Founding Director, for some thirty years.  The second casting was never hung but lay in storage until it was donated to the Players by Lawrence and Julia.  Following its donation it was re-patinated and now hangs in the Apollo Theatre for future generations of actors and playgoers to enjoy.