Cash boost from council will help Portsmouth theatre finish renovation

The New Theatre Royal
The New Theatre Royal
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A THEATRE’S multi-million pound refurbishment has been saved thanks to a cash injection.

Portsmouth City Council has agreed to give the New Theatre Royal £150,000.

Without the cash boost, council leader Donna Jones said the theatre could have closed – calling it a desperate situation.

‘It was do or die for the theatre,’ she said.

‘This money has saved the theatre, absolutely. The project would not have been completed else. It would have been a very dire situation.

‘If we hadn’t have given the money, the money the theatre is seeking from Arts Council England would have been in serious jeopardy, and without the Arts Council England and council money put together, the theatre would not reopen.

‘We believe in this project, and the city needs two strong theatres with a variety of shows, plays and cultural offerings.

‘The council committed to this scheme two to three years ago.

‘Last year, the Lib Dems allocated £50,000 and we have allocated £150,000, and if we had just put forward £50,000 again then the scheme would not be able to be completed.’

The loan will enable other funding opportunities from investors which will help transform the front of the theatre.

Since 2012 the theatre, on Guildhall Walk, has been undergoing a £4.5m extension to improve the stage, build new changing rooms and create a second entrance for visitors.

The money loaned by the council will go towards painting the outside of the building, laying new carpet, repainting the inside and installing seats.

Chief executive of the theatre Caroline Sharman said she was thrilled with the council’s decision.

‘The decision was really, really good news,’ she said.

‘I was thrilled because it demonstrates the council’s support for culture in the city.

‘The cash is really important for the theatre and will bring us together with the King’s Theatre and Portsmouth Guildhall.

‘It will improve the front of house and when people walk down Guildhall Walk, the building will stand out.’

She added: ‘We didn’t want to think about what would happen if the council had decided against giving us the loan.

‘The transformation of the theatre has been a long journey and we have all remained optimistic and determined throughout it.

‘If the council didn’t give us the money, we would have stayed determined. We were going to see the theatre open.’

With the council’s backing, the theatre has unlocked the chance for other funding.

Ms Sharman said: ‘Not only does the loan show the council’s commitment to culture but it means we can unlock other funding.

‘Trusts like the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery were waiting for this investment.

‘Their money will also go towards refurbishing the old theatre building.

‘They are two big supporters who have invested in the theatre already. It is about everyone coming together.’

The New Theatre Royal is working with the University of Portsmouth for its transformation and once opened will have students using the space.

There will be space for people in the city to learn technical skills for productions as well as put on their own shows in a new Creative Learning Centre dedicated to Oscar-winning film director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella, who was born on the Isle of Wight and who wen to St John’s College in Southsea.

The room will have several uses and is one of Ms Sharman’s favourite additions to the building.

She said: ‘I am very excited for the Minghella room.

‘It can be used for a lot of things which adds great value to the theatre.’

ISG Construction has been working on the extension and hopes to have the work finished by April. That will give the opportunity to renovate the front with the hope of opening in the autumn.

Ms Sharman added: ‘It is great knowing that the theatre will be opening soon. It is terrific news.

‘Opening in the autumn seems to be a really good time because in the summer people like to be out in the sun. The timing is really good for us.’

During a full city council meeting last night, Lib Dem leader Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said calling the money a loan would be ‘optimistic in the extreme.’

But Ms Sharman said the plan was to pay the money back in six years.