At the turn of the millennium, The Kings Theatre was beginning to lose steam and supporters feared it would face closure.
But following a successful campaign which resulted in Portsmouth City Council buying and leasing it to The Kings Theatre Trust, the venue began getting back on its feet.
The trust had a turnover of £600,000 during its first year in charge in 2003 – now it makes £2m a year and high-profile West End shows are a regular part of the calendar.
Now the dream is to make things even better and transform it into something that’s more appropriate for the 21st century.
Plans are taking shape after the council gave the trust £200,000 towards its ambitious plans, which it’s calling The Big Project.
As previously reported in The News, the council’s money will help pay for consultants who will help draw up a business plan and building designs over the next nine months.
Then building work can begin.
A chunk of the money is now being used to redevelop a shop in Albert Road, which the theatre owns, into a rehearsal space.
Part of it is being converted into offices so the theatre can expand its apprenticeship and work placement programme.
The whole scheme could end up costing £6m because the trust wants to expand the theatre, renovate existing toilets and stairwells and expand the bars so visitors don’t feel so penned in.
Most of the project is very much in the preliminary stage at the moment and the trust will have more of an idea of what it can do once they’ve got their plan together.
But it’s hoped that everything will be completed in the next five to six years.
The trust has put £160,000 towards its plans so far and it’s hoped a lot of the money still needed will come in the form of lottery grants.
Ian Pratt, vice-chairman of The Kings Theatre Trust, says he was pleased by the progress being made.
‘In the background we are busy starting to do the planning and consultancy work that will help The Kings Theatre in the long term,’ he says.
‘At the turn of the millennium, The Kings was tired, leaky, the theatre programme had fallen away so all we really had was community productions, a few one night shows and the ever-popular Christmas panto.
‘But that wasn’t enough with the level of maintenance and investment that was needed.
‘That wasn’t enough to keep The Kings Theatre going.
‘At the time, Hampshire County Council owned the theatre and leased it out.
‘Given the fact that Hampshire was no longer responsible for Portsmouth because of the creation of the unitary authority, it thought it was time to decide what the future of The Kings would be.’
Along came Action for Kings Theatre Restoration, which campaigned to keep the historic building open, and out of that grew the trust.
‘What the trust has done over the last 10 years is build things back up, jigsaw piece by jigsaw piece.’
The trust celebrated the bicentenary of the building in 2007.
Despite all of the success, Ian admits he look s back fondly on the early days.
‘I miss the early days now because they were new and different,’ he explains.
‘Local people were brilliant, and lots of volunteers painted and sorted this and that and did all sorts.
‘Now the theatre is a fantastic, hugely popular venue with a programme of West End tours, and many other professional and community shows.’
THE Kings Theatre wants to build a rehearsal and education space which could be used at the same time performances are held on the main stage.
At the moment activities are either held once the stage is free or in any other space in the theatre which is available.
Having another designated space would help to increase the amount of workshops and activities that are held for people of all ages.
And while the theatre already welcomes school trips, it wants to attract more.
Ian says: ‘Part of The Big Project will be a rehearsal and education space.
‘We want to use the theatre and open it up so we don’t just hold a show, but activities and workshops.
‘At the moment, we use any space we have got.
‘We want to be doing things in a better space.
‘What we want to do is hold an activity at the same time a show is happening on the stage – and that means we can use the building better.’
MORE exhibitions and displays will be introduced that cover the history of The Kings Theatre in more detail.
Ian says a big part of the project will be to ‘tell the story’ of the place so more people know about its origins and how far it’s come.
The theatre will work with heritage experts to make that happen.
The public will also be encouraged to share their experiences of the theatre, and what they send in will be put on display.
‘We have got a fantastic grade II*-listed building,’ Ian said.
‘It’s genuinely a living museum.
‘There are very few heritage buildings that are still doing what they were designed to do 100 or 200 years ago.
‘Very few stately homes are still a family home.
‘Lots of them have become museums, which is fantastic, but they are not doing what they were designed for.’
INVESTING money in The Kings Theatre will make it a better place to be.
That’s the hope of Ian Pratt, vice-chairman of The Kings Theatre Trust.
He believes more people will want to come along and come back after that and that they felt too cramped because the facilities weren’t up to scratch.
He said the theatre had become ‘a victim of its own success’ because while it had seen a huge growth in visitor numbers, the building was finding it difficult to cope with the demand.
‘We are doing this to make sure that the theatre is sustainable and viable in the future,’ said Ian.
‘The building, the bars and the corridors at the moment are too cramped and so it’s difficult to attract and urge people to come in and enjoy the experience.
‘We are a victim of our own
UP TO six new paid jobs could be up for grabs once The Big Project comes to fruitition.
The theatre already has 40 full-time and part-time staff and an extra 60 to 70 workers who come in to help run the bar and be technicians when they’re needed.
There’s also more than 100 volunteers – and Ian says it’s because of them the theatre has been able to go from strength to strength.
‘We can’t thank the volunteers enough,’ Ian says.
‘All of them are stars for going above and beyond the call of duty.
‘We couldn’t have done it without the volunteers.
‘The staff are brilliant too.
‘The work the volunteers have done has freed up the money to do things we need to do with the building.’
The theatre is still on the lookout for more volunteers.
Get in touch by calling the trust office on (023) 9285 2228 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
IAN Pratt believes the redevelopment of The Kings Theatre will do wonders for the ongoing regeneration of Portsmouth.
He said the theatre currently contributes £1m towards the visitor economy each year – and estimates that will triple by the time all the work is done.
‘A growing theatre is a fantastic way of regenerating a city,’ he says.
‘It’s exactly what’s happened in places like Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham.
‘Portsmouth has a £1bn investment programme underway, and a big part of that is the growth of the dockyard and the development of the Tipner park and ride scheme and motorway junction.
‘We are a part of all that because because we can attract more people to the city, who will not just spend money in the theatre, but in the whole city – in shops, restaurants and hotels.
‘In terms of The Kings Theatre at the moment, it’s estimated that it produces £1m in investment in Portsmouth each year.
‘When we have done our big project we are expecting that to rise to £3m each and every year.
‘That’s why the city council wants us to do this.
‘It’s a part of making Portsmouth a better place to live and work and enjoy life, and that’s why we want to do it. A thriving theatre is part of a thriving