Full Report for Listed Buildings

Summary Description of a Listed Buildings

Reference Number
Building Number
Date of Designation
Date of Amendment
Name of Property
Harlequin Puppet Theatre  


Unitary Authority
Llandrillo-yn-Rhos / Rhos-on-Sea  
Rhos on Sea  
Street Side
At the north end of Cayley Promenade up a drive behind Aberhod Court (the now subdivided former Aberhod House).  


Broad Class

1958 Marionette Theatre by architect Gwilym Parry Davies and puppeteer Eric Bramall (1927-1996). The Eric Bramall Marionettes began as a touring puppet show performed by mother and son team Clara and Eric Bramall in 1946. By 1951 they were a popular annual fixture of the summer tourist season in Colwyn Bay, performing from an adapted bandstand in Eirias Park, and later in the 1950s the Bramalls relocated permanently from Wallasey in England to the area. After a dispute with the local council over performance venues the company decided to build its own permanent theatre. The site for the building was donated by puppeteer Millicent Ford, the owner of Aberhod House, and it incorporates the stone walls of a former range of cottages that stood to the rear of Aberhod House. The theatre was built in eleven weeks during the Festival of Wales, and was officially opened 7 July 1958 by Sir Clayton Russon, OBE, (1895-1968) seed tycoon and President of the Festival, which was aimed at promoting Wales to international tourism. The building won a Civic Trust Award in 1959. After Clara Bramall retired from puppetry due to ill health the company consisted of Eric Bramall, Millicent Ford (d.1979) and Christopher Somerville (d.2023) who joined in 1958. Although based in the Harlequin Theatre the company also toured and from 1958 onwards performed puppetry for children’s television programmes for BBC Wales and Yorkshire Television, most notably the Welsh-language character Lili Lon, produced by Evelyn Williams and broadcast by the BBC from 1959 to 1975. After Eric Bramall’s death in 1996, Christopher Sommerville continued performing at the theatre until October 2022, assisted by Michael Dixon.  

The external appearance with barrel roof and mainly glass façade references in a small scale both the Royal Festival Hall in London built for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Cardiff Empire Swimming Pool opened earlier in 1958 for the Empire and Commonwealth games. Long and narrow rectangular building of limestone rubble with timber and felt barrel roof overhanging the walls on all four sides. Front of house foyer area composed of floor to ceiling glass on three sides with stone at corners. Concave glass curtain wall of 8 tall and narrow panels with steel framing recessed between stone corners beneath the overhanging shallow curved roof; spandrel filled with vertical timbers with sign reading ‘Puppet Theatre’ added sometime after 1963. Seven electric lights set into underside of roof overhang. On the right sea-facing side another sign from mid to late 1960s mounted on a board attached to the stone wall reads ‘Marionette Theatre’; four-pane floor to ceiling window and short vertically timbered section beyond. Beyond again, five brick arches of varying size incorporated into the lower part of the wall mark the doorways of the former range of cottages now infilled with stone. In the midst of these is a larger stone arch over the double doors of the auditorium fire escape, replaced in C21. Glass double doors into foyer on left side with timber and felt shallow curved porch canopy projecting over. Vertical timber section to the left of the entrance with three square windows. Rear of building is timbered on two sides at the northeast corner with three square windows on the right-side wall and an artists’ entrance up a short flight of steps in rear gable end, with projecting arched timber and felt porch over. Northwest corner is slightly clipped.  

Foyer area houses central small Booking Office cubicle and rest rooms, with entrance into auditorium on the right. The auditorium is decorated in an Italianate style with cast plasterwork and paintings by Eric Bramall, situating the theatre in the traditions of Music Hall and Variety Theatre. Pairs of relief squared columns, fluted with composite capitals including a human face wearing a turban, frame five arches with scrolled keystones on either side wall stepping down towards the stage, with painted murals depicting arcadian landscapes. Two deeper arches at the rear of the auditorium lack murals and these and the back wall are instead decorated with peg board squares. The auditorium has its aisle to the right and seating to the left and is steeply raked to allow the rearmost rows a clear view of generally 60cm tall marionette actors. There are 117 plush red upholstered lacquered timber seats with ashtrays acquired from a local theatre which had recently closed in 1958, in rows of six or seven. Barrel ceiling painted gold with two chandeliers (ceiling patched with timber in places at inspection). Stage has forward section large enough for humans with proscenium arch over, beyond this a second proscenium consists of a golden frame 100cm tall and 240cm wide with changeable backdrop for marionette actors. Backstage area houses timber ‘gallows’ over the smaller inner stage for suspending actors during performances and a raised platform for puppeteers to stand on out of view of the audience.  

Reason for designation
Listed for its special architectural and historic interest as an extremely rare example of a purpose-built puppet theatre (the first permanent example in the UK), in an unusual and well-preserved interpretation of the Festival of Britain style. Its special historic interest also relates to popular entertainment associated with post-war tourism in Wales. Close Historical associations with the Eric Bramall Marionettes company and the 1958 Festival of Wales.  

Cadw : Full Report for Listed Buildings [ Records 1 of 1 ]