The Darlington Civic Theatre (then the New Hippodrome & Palace of Varieties) was formally opened on Monday September 2 1907. Its first Managing Director was Signor Rino Pepi, an Italian ex patriot who was originally a quick-change artist (or protean) and impersonator, whose love of theatre took him into a management career.
The History of Darlington Civic Theatre
George F Ward of Owen and Ward of Birmingham, a firm specialising in theatre building, designed the theatre and Owen and Ward were responsible for the building of the theatre. It is constructed from local Middlesbrough red brick with terracotta dressings. Above the Parkgate entrance is a 64foot high pyramid-roofed tower (housing a water tank) that gives the theatre`s distinctive appearance and was used to provide high-pressure water for aquatic scenes that were popular at the time. The ornamental canopy is a replica of the original iron and glass structure, which was destroyed by a traffic accident in the 1960s.
The theatre flourished during the 20 years Signor Pepi ran it but following his death in November 1927, its future became uncertain. Competition from cinema became a real threat and a succession of different managers struggled to balance the books. Indeed at one stage the theatre was equipped with a film projection box at the rear of the Upper Circle, this can be seen above the name on Borough Road side of the building. In 1966 after much hard work and enthusiasm from members of the community, especially Darlington Operatic Society, the Borough Council of Darlington assumed full financial, administrative and artistic responsibility for the theatre on behalf of the town. The New Hippodrome became officially known as Darlington Civic Theatre.
The Haunted History of Darlington Civic Theatre
There have been numerous sighting throughout the theater – one of the most common is of a man dressed in evening formal wear and believed to be the original managing director of the museum : Signor Rino Pepi. There have also been reports of a dog which has been seen and it is believed that this dog is associated with Pepi. The mysterious figure of a woman has also been spotted numerous times waiting in the wings but no other information is known about her.
There have been numerous strange incidents reported throughout the theater. In the dressing rooms for instance, part of which have been added relatively recently and used to be part of a takeaway shop with living quarters above, bright lights have been seen floating through them and which also seem to be associated with another woman that has been seen in this area.