Today Southwick has a thriving and established theatrical scene, thanks to The Barn Theatre. The old flint barn that houses the auditorium is itself at least 200 years old. Some of its stones were originally part of the Roman Villa that was once on the site now occupied by the Methodist Church on the corner of Southwick Street and Manor Hall Road.
The barn was converted into a theatre as part of Southwick Community Centre in 1950 and opened for the first time in January 1951. In 1981 it was enlarged and extended. Today the Barn has raked or flat seating for 168 persons, a large stage area and sprung floor for dancing, as well as state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.
The Wick Theatre Company set up in late 1948, have produced many award-winning productions in The Barn since its opening,. The Southwick Players, established ten years earlier, and Southwick Opera established in 1966, complete the impressive line up of amateur theatre companies that call The Barn their home.
Around 1910, Southwick’s new cinema-going public could see films at the Town Hall, but it wasn’t until 1924 that Southwick’s first proper cinema opened for business. At this point in history, the heart of Southwick was Albion Street, and the majority of the town’s shops lined this coastal road. The Southwick Square we know today was not built until the 1960’s.
Here in Albion Street, the cinema was on the north side, next door but one to the old Methodist chapel. Originally named The Picture House, the cinema first opened in March 1924. The building however lacked a little grandeur, being a barn-like structure originally built as a stable and depot for the horse tram between Brighton and Hove. Rather unusually, the Picture House had a 10-foot deep stage and two dressing rooms. This meant that it was able to stage variety shows as well as showing silent films. It was a rather cold and draughty building, with no balcony and very basic comforts. By 1928 the name had changed to The Plaza.
A fire broke out at The Plaza in December 1930, beginning in the early hours of the morning. It caused £1,000 of damage to projection equipment, the stage and seating, which was a considerable amount of money at the time. When the screen re-opened, it had the capability to show the ‘talkies’ for the first time. It was now named The New Kinema. The seats and other fittings were second-hand and rather shabby, so The New Kinema quickly became regarded as something of a ‘flea pit’.
Fires too unfortunately continued to blight the cinema’s history. In 1946 a blaze wrecked the projection room destroying all the film reels. Although the cinema re-opened within the month, a second fire only two years later caused far more catastrophic damage. The roof collapsed and the auditorium was wrecked before it could be brought under control.
Like many of the surrounding shops in Albion Street, the old cinema building was eventually demolished by the council. Although the new Southwick Square could have been designed with a purpose built cinema for the town, it was now 1960s and cinema audiences were falling rapidly. Many people believed that television had sounded the death knell of both cinema and theatre. Happily however this has proved not to be the case.