The Dukes opened on November 18, 1971 after a year’s work to convert it from St Anne’s Church into Lancaster’s civic theatre.
The work included fitting out an independent cinema – unique for a producing theatre – and public spaces including a café.
The Queen, as Duke of Lancaster, had given her approval for use of the name Duke’s Playhouse, and the official opening was conducted by Lord Eccles, Paymaster General and Minister for the Arts.
The first event at The Dukes was the screening of the film, Private Road, which was quite controversial for its time. Among the audience were the stars including Susan Penhaligon.
Live drama was to be at the heart of the new venue and it would be produced by mobile company Century Theatre who had agreed to become resident at The Dukes Playhouse. The first artistic director was Peter Oyston.
The Dukes first production was Orson Welles’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Other plays presented during those early seasons included The Dukes first Christmas show – All the World Should be Taxed – Twelfth Night, Waiting for Godot and Arsenic and Old Lace.
Lancaster City Council, which had championed the founding of the theatre and has supported it ever since, called upon locals “to show it is not the apathetic, stay-at-home backwater condemned by its critics in the past.”
To foster more interest in the theatre, The Duke’s Playhouse Club was formed and in 1972, Peter Ustinov became its president and visited that summer.
The Dukes, Lancaster, UK