The Y Theatre started life as the Association Hall, built as part of Leicester’s YMCA building on London Road. With its proscenium arch stage and wrap around balcony, the hall was used for lectures but also had an early history of drama and music. Leicester Banks Cricket Club Amateur Society presented ‘Dandy Dick’ in 1901. In the 20s it hosted Saturday concerts and dinner dances and by the 30s the hall was known as The Playhouse.
During World War I, the Leicester YMCA or “Hut” provided refreshments, beds, entertainment and activities to over one million service men. Located close to the railway station, it became a place of rest and recreation for thousands in transit. The range, scope and scale of the work done in these four years were immense and include one million service men using the facilities of Leicester YMCA.
Leicester YMCA once again opened its doors to provide aid during World War II. Dilys was in the services and was posted to Leicester in 1944. There were few women in the services those days and she has fond memories of Leicester YMCA. “There was a wonderful lady called Mrs Boshier who always helped you out, she worked in the tea bar. There were lots of American soldiers around and dances were held in the YMCA hall.” In mid-1940, Leicester suffered its first major air-raid, despite large numbers of hits in many of the streets around the buildings, the YMCA itself was left entirely unscathed.
Iris Watson was the first woman to join the board of directors in 1975 and later became the president. She was also part of the YMCA Musical Society for 40 years, which put on shows at The Y Theatre. The East Street building had become run down during the 1970s and was refurbished and opened by HRH Prince of Wales in February 1981, when Leicester YMCA became a housing association. It became a grade 2 listed building in 2001.
Today The Y Theatre is thriving, with up to 130 events per year. The theatre remains a gem in the city centre and has kept its original features. Sitting in the audience; it’s not hard to immerse yourself in the splendour and joy the theatre has seen over a century.
“The Y is Leicester’s oldest and last remaining Victorian Theatre, opened in 1900 and at a time when the city had a wealth of theatre available” explains Adam Durnin, Theatre and Events Manager. “Whereas the other theatres of that time: The Theatre Royal, The Royal Opera House and the Palace, have long since disappeared from the city’s skyline, The Y remains and is committed to providing a diverse programme of professional and community work, comprising two seasons each year that offer opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their work, alongside up and coming professionals and household names.”
In 2018 The Y celebrates its 135th birthday.