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One of the recurring threads in the history of the Mechanics Institute is that the building continued to change to reflect the evolving needs of the town it served.In 1956 the towns Empire theatre closed and the only full sized stage was the Civic Theatre. With the opening of the Arts Centre in Old Town the name Civic Theatre was no longer appropriate so the Mechanics theatre became known as The Playhouse.

From the period 1956 to 1970 the Playhouse underwent something of a revival in theatre proving to be a much needed venue for music, theatre and lectures throughout the period.

New Moon 1956

A production of New Moon staged at the New Mechanic theatre in 1956

SALOS Carousel Production 1962

Carousel played to packed houses in the Playhouse in the 1960’s. Note the orchestra and full sized sets.

A full orchestra was often part of such productions like Carousel. The stage had no orchestra pit and all seating was on floor level.

The 1960’s were a time of change, not least for the now nationalised British Rail. As a result the Mechanics Institution became formally absorbed into the British Railways Staff Association in 1960 this being accorded a branch status of its own.

The premises were renovated by British Rail in 1961 as part of the changes. As a result the library facilities closed in 1961 and the rooms which had been used were reutilised as a bar, lounge, dance floor and skittle alley. A caretakers flat was also created under the east wing of the stage.