• Richard Attenborough made his acting debut here in 1937
  • The building is the former Dover Street Baptist Chapel
  • The theatre was bombed during World War II and the fire was doused by the manager

A home for the Leicester Drama Society

Founded in 1922 after a meeting in the Turkey Café, the Leicester Drama Society staged its first productions at The Royal Opera House (Silver Street) and then the Association Hall (now The Y Theatre). The Society moved here to this former Baptist Chapel in 1929, opening the theatre in 1930.

Richard Attenborough´s acting roots

Many actors have appeared here over the years including the playwright John (Joe) Orton in Shakespeare´s Richard III (1948). Undoubtedly the most famous is Richard Attenborough (1923-2014) who made his acting debut at The Little Theatre playing Lucius in Shakespeare´s Julius Caesar in 1937. He was also coached here for his Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) audition by Moyra Haywood, the theatre manager. Richard never forgot his acting roots at the Little Theatre, later accepting the position of Honorary Life President of Leicester Drama Society.

Richard Attenborough as Lucius (lute player) in 1937. Little Theatre Archive

Bringing the house down (almost!)

During World War II an incendiary bomb fell on the theatre roof but was bravely extinguished with a stirrup pump by the theatre manager, Moyra Haywood. During the war Lieutenant “Jimmy” Clifton James appeared here with the Army Pay Corps. His impersonation at The Little Theatre of Field Marshall Montgomery, whom he resembled, led to his being sent to various theatres of war to mislead the Germans as to “Monty´s” whereabouts. He later appeared as himself in the film I was Monty´s Double.

A serious fire in 1955 led to a major rebuild, resulting in the excellent facilities the theatre enjoys today. The theatre stages plays from its resident amateur theatre company as well as hosting professional acts. Judi Dench, Lesley Garrett, Lee Mack and Michael McIntyre have all appeared here.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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