Campaign to save Portsmouth church theatre backed by ‘Jesus’

SUPPORTING ROLE Robert Powell, pictured in Jesus of Nazareth, is backing the campaign
SUPPORTING ROLE Robert Powell, pictured in Jesus of Nazareth, is backing the campaign

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THE actor best known for his role as Jesus has joined a campaign to save a church theatre group.

Robert Powell – who played the title role in the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth – is backing a campaign to stop the closure of a theatre inside St Peter’s Church hall, in Fraser Road, Somers Town.

He is now patron of the Save St Peter’s Theatre Campaign, alongside city-born actress and comedienne Dillie Keane, who was one third of the comedy cabaret trio Fascinating Aida, and Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt.

The theatre, which has been open for nearly 90 years, made a £2,000 loss last year and continues to lose money this year.

As a result the church will close its doors for the last time in January next year, and consider either developing or selling the site.

Mr Powell said: ‘I was asked by members of the group to support the campaign and was more than happy to do so because it’s a very worthwhile cause.

‘St Peter’s is a theatre in distress and I will do whatever I can to support theatres like that.

‘It’s a matter of principle. Theatres are so important to the communities they serve and we should all support them.’

The group has collected a petition with 876 signatures in the hope of dissuading the church from closing the theatre.

Ms Mordaunt, who was one of the first pupils of Victory-Land Theatre School, which has been based at St Peter’s since 1985, said: ‘It would be great if we could retain the property. It’s a fantastic rehearsal space and a rare theatre – there’s not many of them left in the country.

‘But it’s a challenging building to create new projects around and the church is really struggling with the running costs.

‘We’re trying to create a viable business plan to present to the church to make the theatre sustainable to convince them to keep it open.’

The Rev Alex Hughes, vicar of St Peter’s, said the future of the theatre has not yet been decided.

He said: ‘Our plans are still at the development stage but we’re considering either selling the hall, along with the church and vicar site, or redeveloping it ourselves.

‘The hall was built as part of the church’s mission to serve the local community and we are still committed to that, but we don’t intend to use it as a theatre any more as we feel there are other projects it could be better used for.

‘We’ve been subsidising the theatre for the past couple of years and that’s something we can’t afford to do any longer.’