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Greenwich Theatre to be refurbished

Greenwich Theatre capital grant refurbishment

Greenwich Theatre’s Artistic & Executive Director James Haddrell writes about the theatre’s recent capital grand to refurbish its interior.

For the past year or more there has been considerable doubt about the future of Greenwich Theatre and rumours suggesting that we were due to close or to relocate. The truth is, we have been spending that time working with the Royal Borough of Greenwich to explore the future of our historic building, and to work out how our company could continue in times of austerity, when public subsidy is coming under ever more pressure.

To put some of these discussions in context, when I took over as Director in 2007 the theatre was struggling under debts approaching £250,000. There was real doubt as to whether the theatre could continue, but with a small and dedicated team we have managed to reduce the company’s debts to around £50,000 – and that has happened despite public funding dropping from 60% to just 25% of income. Basically we now sell more tickets, for more shows, to more people, and at the same time our artistic reputation has soared. We have become a national leader in the development and presentation of theatre for families, and in seeking out and supporting some of this country’s finest young professional theatre companies.

However, we now find ourselves at a turning point. Royal Borough of Greenwich’s funding drops this year from £259,000 to £100,000 so we need to prioritise additional fundraising and additional earned income, without compromising the quality of the shows on stage. The local authority has agreed to support that fundraising with an injection of £400,000 into building improvements and the offer of a lease.

Therefore, our draft plan is to close from March-August 2016 to repair the roof, renovate front of house and address a range of issues from plumbing to electrical installations. Most excitingly, we also plan to convert the café and connected spaces into a new, enclosed, studio theatre, allowing some of our top quality small scale theatre to relocate to that space, increasing the time available on the main stage for larger productions, corporate hires and, of course, the pantomime.

The driving priority for both the theatre company and the council is to secure the future of Greenwich Theatre. Next year will mark a major first step in improving the building, and will also see significant growth in the staffing at the theatre, so that fundraising, the friends’ scheme, marketing and education work can all be enhanced. There is still work to do, and the finer points of the contracts with the council are still being finalised, but we wanted to share our vision with the Greenwich Society as one of our most important groups of supporters.

In the meantime, we have the business of running a theatre to attend to. This Summer will see major productions of The Who’s TOMMY, back in London after almost 20 years, and the UK premiere of a new American musical version of Pinocchio. Then we open a busy autumn season with an acclaimed stage adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s unforgettable novel, The Talented Mister Ripley.

We look forward to seeing fellow Chamber members at Greenwich Theatre soon and to sharing our plans with you as they develop.