IT is a stage that has been graced by some of the world’s most famous theatre productions and stars.

For decades audiences have been wowed by Shakespeare productions and cutting edge stage shows featuring famous faces including Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Jack Dee, Tony Robinson, and Hampshire’s Colin Firth.

Now the Theatre Royal Winchester has proved it has stood the test of time by celebrating its centenary year with a lavish fundraising bash.

More than 400 people gathered at Peter Symonds College on Saturday to commemorate 100 years since the Edwardian-style auditorium opened to the public.

It began life as the Market Hotel in 1850 but was transformed into a theatre 72 years later after the Simpkins brothers bought the building and extended it into the yard at the back of the hotel.

It was eventually converted into a cinema in 1920 and spent 54 years showing popular films.

There were fears the building could be torn down after its owners closed the cinema in 1974 but Winchester City Council secured a Grade II listing for it, and the Winchester Theatre Fund was formed within two months.

Four years later two adjoining buildings were bought and a newly refurbished theatre reopened in 1981.

It underwent another extensive refurbishment in 1996, which was completed in 2001.

Organiser Catherine Skinner said: “It is now about ensuring the theatre is still around in the next 100 years for our children."