Abingdon Abbey Buildings

Unicorn Theatre

Origin of the Unicorn Theatre

In 1952 Alan Kitching, Drama Advisor to Oxfordshire County Council, and his wife Frances were walking through the ruins of the Abingdon Abbey Buildings. It occurred to him that the space in what was called the Checker Hall would make a brilliant little theatre. Alan proposed the idea of an Elizabethan-style theatre in July 1952 and construction work began in the following November. The first production in the newly renamed Unicorn Theatre was The Two Angry Women of Abingdon (performed by Abingdon Drama Club) in Coronation Week, June 1953. The summer season that year also included plays by Congreve and Priestley, three musical concerts, talks on the Elizabethan and Restoration Theatre, and poetry readings. Alan Kitching was also the producer, between 1959 and 1974, of Unicorn stagings of twelve of Handel’s Italian operas, unseen in England since the composer’s lifetime.

In 2013, the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Unicorn was celebrated with a gala performance of Handel’s opera Semele, produced in conjunction with Jackdaws Music Education Trust. Read more »

Hiring the Unicorn Theatre

We are delighted to offer this historic 92-seat theatre for hire to community groups interested in a venue to stage ceremonies, conferences, comedy, music concerts, theatre and other events.

The Unicorn is home to the Abingdon Drama Club (ADC), the Studio Theatre Club of Oxford (STC), the Atomic Theatre and Roy Peach Productions. ADC and STC typically stage four amateur dramatic productions in the Unicorn each year, while Atomic and Roy Peach are new ventures moving up to two productions annually. The Unicorn has also featured performances by for example Cream Tease and Music at the Unicorn.

Theatre features:

  • Heating, and therefore available year round
  • Seating for up to 92 persons
  • 48 spotlights and surround sound audio for an unforgettable dramatic or music event
  • Equipped with wifi
  • Our site licence for alcohol sales allows you to host a fully stocked food and beverage bar in the Checker at the entrance to the theatre

The theatre can be booked for one day or more depending on your requirements.

Fees vary based on your needs. Reductions are available for rehearsal days and/or arrival and departure days. Technical support, if needed, is available from the theatre manager at a reasonable additional rate.

We are incredibly lucky to have the Unicorn Theatre as a venue for music in Abingdon. The theatre, with its excellent acoustics, and the Abbey Buildings have a unique atmosphere which is loved by both performers and audiences. What better place to perform traditional music than a building with such character and history. We are indebted to the members of the Friends of Abingdon back in the 1940s and 1950s who had the extraordinary imagination and energy needed to save these wonderful buildings and to create the beautiful little Elizabethan style theatre.

– Mike Ward, Chair, Music at the Unicorn

The Studio Theatre Club has been staging plays at the Unicorn Theatre for thirty years. We staged the world’s first-ever dramatisation of the work of Sir Terry Pratchett here. We’ve been delighted that our shows have drawn audiences to Abingdon from all over the UK and Europe.

The picturesque buildings add immensely to the audience’s experience.The Unicorn’s atmospheric, medieval architecture and its mock-Elizabethan stage are a delightful challenge. Its intimate auditorium makes live performances a truly integrated experience for our audiences.

– Stephen Briggs, STC

Medieval Cinema

An exciting event at the Unicorn was the launch of the Unicorn Cinema at Christmas 2017 – 21st century entertainment in a 15th century setting. Cinema had been absent in Abingdon for over 30 years and there was a discernible latent demand by the town’s burgeoning population who didn’t want to travel several miles to see new films. Cinema entertainment attracts a broad cross-section of our community and importantly supports the town’s successful evening economy with many excellent town centre pubs and restaurants.

A community group, including the Friends of Abingdon, had found an enthusiastic cinema operator, the Regal Cinema, who wanted to open a cinema in Abingdon. However, a town centre site could not be found so the trustees agreed to a trial season at the medieval Unicorn Theatre. The pent-up demand was illustrated by the sale of 12,000 tickets in the first five months. The trial became a season, and the success enabled the operators to open another screen, the Abbey Cinema, at the Guildhall which was able to offer a full daily programme.

Although the Unicorn has limited availability because of the many community activities it hosts, the Unicorn Cinema will continue to operate on an occasional basis. The acoustics and projection quality are excellent and the intimate space attracts many singles and small groups.

We are delighted to work with Trustees create a medieval cinema in these wonderful heritage buildings.  The Unicorn Theatre provides us with a unique, intimate and atmospheric venue, much loved by the local community and visitors to the town.  We have had great fun and wholeheartedly support efforts to enhance the building and enable our future collaboration which includes exciting new initiatives to attract young people and disadvantages communities in the post-COVID recovery. 

– Sue Wiper, Abbey Cinema

Please get in touch

For more information, for a personal tour or to book your dates please contact the Curator.

Email: curator@abingdonabbeybuildings.co.uk
Phone: 01235 525339

Ticket enquiries for performances at the Unicorn Theatre and shows at the Cinema are handled by the organisations presenting the events.

School bookings

The Unicorn Theatre is a popular venue for local schools to showcase student productions of drama or music. Rehearsal days are available, and schools presenting productions to parents may qualify for greatly reduced rates. If you are affiliated with an Abingdon school, please contact the Curator as above to discuss how we can help your students have the experience of a lifetime performing in the medieval Abingdon Abbey Buildings.

Unicorn Theatre