The Kenton Theatre is a Georgian building which opened in November 1805 with a play called
"The School of Reform or How to Rule a Husband"
by Thomas Morton.
Initially popular, after a few years the theatre declined both in popularity and social standing, and from 1813 until 1930 the building had many uses including a non-conformist chapel, a school, a church hall and a scenery store. In 1930 it opened again as a theatre, now called The Playhouse, featuring professional repertory companies. Changing its name once again in 1939 to The New Playhouse, the theatre continued to host repertory companies and serious plays until 1950.
In 1951 the proscenium arch was rebuilt and painted by local artist John Piper, who had taken on the lease of the theatre with Dr A E M Hartley. The theatre re-opened on October 16th as The Kenton Theatre with a production of 'The Glass Menagerie'.
Amateur productions were the mainstay during the 1950’s and then in 1963 the theatre went dark for four years. However there were three productions in 1963 which were allowed to proceed because the theatre had been pre-booked. They were 'Doctor in the House' by Henley Players, 'Annie get your Gun' by HAODS and 'The Best of Laurel and Hardy', Kenton Theatre Arts Club (now Kenton Lectures).
The theatre re-opened in 1967 under professional management. However, such a large debt had been incurred that the company was almost bankrupt and the management was taken over by Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society on 10th November 1969. In 2000 Henley Municipal Charities, owners of the freehold granted a lease to the Kenton Theatre (Henley-on-Thames) Management Society until 2045.
The Kenton celebrated its bicentenary in 2005 with a performance of the play with which it had opened in 1805, 'The School of Reform'. Other celebrations included a gala dinner, church service, grand ball and a play-writing competition. In 2006 a governance project resulted in a reduced Board of Trustees. The wish of the current Board of Trustees is to increase the number of shows performed, having a balanced programme of professional and amateur companies, while appealing to a wider audience from Henley and the surrounding areas.
If you would like to find out more about the history of the Kenton Theatre drop into the Kenton and pick up a copy of "The Well Trod Stage" written by Bill Port, our Theatre historian.