BURGLARS ransacked a theatre leaving it ‘completely trashed’ – only for one thief to greet a shocked staff member with ‘hello darling’ as she interrupted the raid.
Thieves broke into the Groundlings Theatre through the stage entrance, before destroying five computers, smashing open tills from the box office and downstairs bar, and making off with a safe containing £800.
A staff member at the theatre, in Kent Street, Portsea, discovered the burglars at 8.55am Sunday morning.
Bleach was poured into the theatre's server, meaning 'vital' digital documents including cast lists, press releases, and scripts for upcoming shows were destroyed.
Artistic director Richard Stride said: 'The office was completely trashed – it was intentional, malicious damage.
'The ramifications are massive.
'It could shut us down.
'We have a press launch of our Jack and the Beanstalk panto (on Tuesday), and we have got nothing to give to the press.'
Mr Stride said carpet damaged by bleach will need to be replaced, and seven doors had been smashed off their hinges.
The theatre's alarm was activated at 6am - but the thieves cut the wires connecting it to Richard's home, and CCTV cameras were ripped from the walls.
One of the two burglars greeted Rachel Pickard, pantomime dance captain , with 'hello darling' when she discovered them in the theatre's office.
The 22-year-old said: 'I stood there frozen.
'After one of the men said “hello”, they ran off out of the Kent Street entrance.
Ms Pickard said the burglars were men, with one in his 30s and the other in his early 20s.
She said the incident had left her 'so shaken,' but the theatre's pantomime will go ahead.
She added: 'I didn’t get to sleep until 4am on Monday morning.
'But the show will go on.'
Richard has appealed for any donations from the community to help recover from the damage.
He said: 'We are insured, but this could see our premiums go up, and we need equipment to keep us running.
'And some things - like the work on the server - are irreplaceable.'
Police have arrested a 38-year-old man from Portsmouth on suspicion of burglary. He was released under investigation.
Two years ago the theatre was hacked by criminals who demanded cash in a ransomware attack.
Call police on 101 quoting 44190347621.