One secret still remains hidden at Beneficial Hall

The Beneficial Hall now the home of The Groundling theatre.
The Beneficial Hall now the home of The Groundling theatre.
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If I asked you how many theatres there were in the city, no doubt many would say two - the Kings in Albert Road, Southsea and The New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk.

But there is a third. Many of you must have heard of the Beneficial Hall in Kent Street, Portsea. This superb Grade II-listed building was built in 1784 by the Beneficial Society as a public hall and charity school for the poor boys of the area.

In 1836 girls were accepted in a new extension built for the purpose. The hall closed in 1960 when a modern school, St Georges, opened alongside it.

For many years it stood vacant and was subject to much vandalism, but then it was rescued by actor/producer Richard Stride, who purchased the building with the sole intent of making it another theatre in the city.

The Groundlings Theatre Company made the hall its new home in April 2010 and the company has since gone from strength to strength.

In the upstairs Georgian auditorium the company can put on plays and musicals, either on the stage or in the round. Artistic director Richard tells me that from time to time they have tables laid out for dinner theatre with the actors playing their parts among the tables. Very interesting indeed.

The wardrobe department has something for every occasion, with over 10,000 different outfits to choose from. There is a wardrobe mistress who can cut and change the outfits to fit each individual actor.

The costumes are also leased out to other theatres, schools and for the general public to hire for fancy dress.

Having seen and felt some of these outfits, one would think they were original such is the quality. Props can also be hired from the company.

There is one very good modern reason for attending one of the shows at the Groundlings – and that is parking. We all know how difficult it is to park in Southsea, but at the Benny they have their own car park.

There is one secret which Richard has yet to find, In the main hall there was once a very large portrait of Queen Victoria. It disappeared some years ago, but it is believed to be hidden behind one of the walls of the building. One day, Richard aims to find it.

On the lower floor of the arts centre is a very well laid-out cafe/restaurant where good meals can be had at very fair prices.

For more information on the Benny, call (023) 9273 7370 or e-mail info@groundlings.co.uk