The Garrison Theatre
What is believed to be the only surviving World War 2 ENSA theatre has been saved by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Despite having fallen into disrepair, many of the theatre’s original features remain intact despite the Castle’s exposed position at the end of a two-mile shingle spit. Built in a converted Victorian gun emplacement, the hand painted proscenium arch still bears the badge and grenades of the Royal Artillery. The backdrop depicts a romantic restoration scene of Romeo and Juliet or possibly Charles II and Nell Gwyn.
The ravages of time and damp had left the theatre looking tired and unloved. This was until the Friends of Hurst Castle started restoration work in January 2008. The old platform stage, which was removed in the late 1980s, has now been reconstructed. New curtains have been fashioned from hessian, once used to camouflage the Castle’s guns and searchlights, and hang from the original galvanized gas pipe. The only concessions to the twenty first century are modern lights and sound systems.
Visitors can listen to music from the period and learn the history of the theatre and the origins and role of ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association. And now, after a break of more than 60 years, the Garrison Theatre again stages regular shows during the summer months. Tickets and further information from the Ticket Hotline on 01590 673985.
To mark the occasion of the first show in the newly-restored theatre in May 2008, BBC South Today TV programme featured Hurst Castle and the Garrison Theatre. Click on the link to watch the BBC feature: Solent Fort to host concert
Betty Hockey and the Nonstops performed at Hurst Castle in 1944 with their much-acclaimed song and dance acts interspersed with comedy routines. Betty, now in her nineties and living in Bournemouth, was famous for her high kicks. During the war years, the Nonstops produced well over 1,000 shows throughout the New Forest helping to maintain morale among servicemen and women, especially in the run-up to D-Day.
To see film clips of Betty interviewed by David Walters on a return visit to Hurst on Friday 16th May 2008, go to:
Please keep 23th September free for an evening at the Garrison Theatre. All we can say at this point is that we have booked The FB Pocket Orchestra who will take us back to the jazz, blues, ragtime and popular music of the 1920/1930s. You will not be disappointed.
Lest We Forget
Songs, music, drama and poetry reflecting on World War 1.
6th September 2014
The Olde Tyme Players Professional Productions put on an
Olde Tyme Musical Hall show, which was a fun evening with
lots of audience participation.
14th September 2012
History of Britain
Greg Chapman, actor and playwright from the Isle of Wight, performed his own one-man show called History of Britain which looked at our island’s history from 6,500 BC to the present day using a combination of comedy, magic and music in a night of great entertainment.
July 23rd 2011
Operatic favourites and songs of the sea performed by the critically acclaimed Maestro-class ensemble, with Colin and Pippa Judson, Peter Snipp and Carys Lloyd Roberts.
August 6th and 7th 2010
This eagerly awaited Forest Forge Theatre production came to the Garrison Theatre on September 29th and 30th, 2009. Using the Castle's remote location to imaginative advantage, the performance started at Keyhaven Yacht Club, with the audience then following Phileas Fogg on board the ferry Solent Rose to Hurst Castle as he began his exciting and entertaining circumnavigation. Further information available from www.forestforge.co.uk.
Back by popular demand, the Windmill Swing Band featuring singer Jan Press returned to the Garrison Theatre with all those classic numbers from the swing era.
July 3rd 2009
An evening of musical magic with the award winning Coda Choir and a rare appearance by singer, guitarist and songwriter, David Walters.
June 17th 2009
1940s ENSA Show
2 May 2009
Naughty Nineties Music Hall
Victorian Music Hall at its best from the Mary Ward Players
13 September 2008
1942 Wartime Concert Party Revisited
A Variety Show featuring the Windmill Swing Band and a special appearance by Betty Hockey who sang and danced at the Garrison Theatre during the war.
May 16 2008