The Alexandra Palace Theatre in north London was displayed like a prize trophy by The Theatres Trust at the launch of its Theatres at Risk Register for 2019. After 80 years of darkness, restoration work was completed in 2018 and Ally Pally’s magnificent performance space has again become a fully functioning theatre. As such it has now been removed from the Register, but 31 other theatres are not so fortunate.
New additions in 2019 are Theatr Ardudwy, Tottenham Place Theatre and the Intimate Theatre in Palmers Green, not far from Alexandra Palace. The list spans the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, from the King’s Theatre Dundee to Plymouth Palace, Swansea Palace and the Theatre Royal Margate. Factors putting theatres at risk include loss of public funding, escalating costs of maintaining and repairing buildings and plans for property redevelopment.
Actor/comedian Jack Dee, an Ambassador for The Theatres Trust, hosted the launch, quipping that it is unusual for him to appear in front of a sober audience. Representatives from past and present theatres at risk spoke to outline the progress that they are making, but the first speaker was Michael Ellis MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Arts, Tourism and Heritage. Mr Ellis emphasised that the Government is committed to making art and culture available to everyone and he spoke of the role played by theatres at the heart of communities and in rejuvenating dying town and city centres.
The Theatres Trust dedicates itself to preserving both architectural and cultural heritage, although some conflicts between the two can lead to further problems. Many may argue that historic buildings must stay intact, but others may counter that the work that goes on inside them is more important. 21st Century audiences expect comfortable seats, uninterrupted sight lines and good amenities, which are not always easy to provide in Victorian theatres and the cost of maintaining old buildings can push up ticket prices. Challenges facing many theatres are indeed daunting, but it becomes a question of striking the right balance between old and new, always keeping in sight the clear objective of ensuring that quality theatre is accessible to all sections of society in all parts of the country.
The Reviews Hub believes passionately in the important roles played by theatres in bringing together and strengthening communities throughout the United Kingdom and we give our full support to the work being carried out by The Theatres Trust. 31 theatres at risk is far too many, so let’s hope for a big improvement by 2020.
Stephen Bates | Image: Lloyd Winters