I visited the Normansfield Theatre in the Langdon Down Centre a couple of weeks ago to attend a performance. I reviewed the production here, but I wanted to post something on the theatre and the building itself, as it has a history much more interesting than most.
The centre was founded as a private home and hospital/care facility by Dr. John Langdon Down, who specialised in the care of people with learning disabilities. Many had the condition which now bears the Doctor’s name – Down’s syndrome. Langdon Down’s approach was radical for the time, with his emphasis on education and sympathetic care.
The theatre itself is utterly stunning. It’s rare to find such a beautiful surviving example of a private Victorian theatre; completed in 1879, it was built as an entertainment venue by Langdon Down as somewhere for his patients and students to explore drama and music. The performance I attended was a music hall-style revue telling the story of Langdon Down and one of his patients, James Henry Pullen, whose incredible creative ability is still evident in the ‘Giant of Earlswood’ which is still on display in the Centre, and the stunningly detailed ships he constructed from wood, on display in the museum.