Our Story

The Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms is a historic 175 seat proscenium arch theatre in the heart of Durham city. Previously used as a ballroom, it has undergone extensive redevelopment and is home to Durham University Performing Arts and Durham Student Theatre as well as Music Durham and associate local artists. We host numerous touring productions as part of Venues North, as well as programming shows by our student-led theatre companies and associate artists. 

The Assembly Rooms Theatre was first used as a ballroom after being built in the eighteenth century, and was redeveloped as a theatre in 1869, after Durham’s Theatre Royal burnt down in a fire. It hosted its first performance in 1891 with a production of Il Travatore, and was subsequently used by Durham Amateur Operatic Group in the early twentieth century from its first production of H.M.S Pinafore in 1908.  In 1903, the theatre hosted a showing of W. S. Porter’s film, ‘The Great Train Robbery’, which is believed to have been the first film shown in Durham.  In 1930, the theatre was acquired by Durham University, and it underwent further renovation in the 1950s in order to host theatrical performances once again.

Thanks to generous funds from the Gillian Dickinson Trust, the theatre was completely refurbished from 2007-9, including a complete redecoration of the auditorium, the refurbishment of all existing seats, and the inclusion of a modern box office.  Since then, we have received ongoing support from the University, as well as our sponsors and patrons, that allow us to maintain this historic building and continue to host theatrical performances.

In October 2019, the Assembly Rooms officially reopened its doors after 14 months of renovations, thanks to a £2.4 million investment from the university.  This latest refurbishment has allowed us to restore the theatre’s 150-year-old ceiling, improve disabled access to the building and auditorium, as well as completely redecorate and repair our dressing rooms, bar, box office and general facilities.

The Team

Georgia Malkin – Student Theatre Development Coordinator

Georgia (she/they) is one of our two Theatre Coordinators.  She assists the different theatre companies with logistics, and publicity, and provides a helping hand with everything else as well!  She is the person to contact for help with musicals and opera, as well as any general theatre enquiries, having been in more than 25 productions during her time as a Durham student

Georgia Malkin

Ellen Olley – Student Theatre Development Coordinator

Ellen (she/her), with Georgia, is one of our Theatre Coordinators.  She assists with logistics, branding and administration, and lends a hand whenever she can to support our student theatre companies.  She is our lead on Classical and non-musical Theatre, and has plenty of first-hand experience of productions.

James Fox-Robinson -Technician

James (he/him) is our Theatre Technician. He comes from a background in set design and lighting but has experience in all aspects of theatre. He works with student technicians to help everyone be creatively and safely involved in the tech process.

Emma McKie – Cleaner

Emma is our part-time cleaner who keeps the Assembly Rooms Theatre looking spick and span in between shows and ensures that our visitors see us at our very best.  Considering that we are a three-story building this is no mean feat!  Emma wants all of our visitors to enjoy the auditorium in all of its gleaming glory as well as making sure that our box office, front foyer and bar are kept sparkling.  She is a key member of our team as she helps the Assembly Rooms be a relaxing and welcoming space.

Resident Theatre Companies

We pride ourselves in looking after northern theatre companies who become our associates in the building. Check them out!

Durham Student Theatre

As well as being the main base for Durham University Performing Arts Team, the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre is home to Durham Student Theatre with 35 active student-led theatre companies. Ranging from musical theatre to sketch comedy, from classical to contemporary, we programme a variety of shows throughout the academic year for our wide audience to enjoy. More information on each of them can be found here.

Durham Student Theatre (DST) is the heart of theatre at Durham University. Durham has one of the most exciting student theatre scenes in the country, with more than 100 productions annually from our student theatre companies.. To learn more or find out how to get involved, visit www.durhamstudenttheatre.org

Elysium Theatre Company

Founded by Jake Murray and Danny Solomon, Elysium Theatre Company aims to present Northern premieres of plays from around the world, new work of our own and exciting reworking of classics across the region.

Jake Murray was associate artistic director at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre for several years before becoming co-founder and artistic director of Panache Theatre Company – designed to present classy theatre in stately homes and overseas.

The company launched itself with a staging of Days of Wine and Roses in the Assembly Rooms Theatre in September 2017 and has been going from strength to strength ever since.  They are currently touring “Reiver: Tales from the Borders”, a show that was a sell-out on its original tour and which is coming to Assembly Rooms in October 2023.

More information on them can be found here.