Historic Groundlings Theatre placed on list of theatres 'at risk' of closing following break-in and development proposal
A PORTSMOUTH theatre with more than 300 years of history is at risk of closing, according to a national charity that supports drama venues.
The Groundlings Theatre, built in 1784, is the only new addition to the Theatres Trust’s list of 30 buildings at risk of closure, redevelopment or demolition this year.
The Grade II-listed building has hit hard times with a break-in and a ‘harmful’ redevelopment proposal putting it at risk, according to the trust’s architectural adviser Clare Appleby.
She said: ‘We consider it at risk because of these two reasons.
‘It is a fantastic building, and we would encourage anyone who cares about community projects, theatre, or architecture to show your support.’
Last year, plans were submitted by private developers for 38 apartments on Kent Street that would see part of the theatre’s car park redeveloped, which Heritage England and the Theatres Trust believes shows ‘no regard for the heritage of the building,’ according to Clare.
In September, a break-in saw thieves make off with a safe containing £800 and destroy servers containing more than 3,000 documents including scripts and marketing material, according to artistic director Richard Stride.
He said: ‘68 crimes have been committed against the building, but there have been no convictions.’
The theatre is now surviving ‘month to month’ and needs more than £500,000 to undertake maintenance work.
Richard added: ‘It sounds like a bad thing to be part of the list, but it’s a good thing – it highlights the problems of getting more funding.
We’re in a catch 22 situation when it comes to applying for funding, where you need money to hire a team to apply for funds.
‘Sometimes it feels like I’m more likely to win the lottery.’
While praising Portsmouth City councillors Gerald Vernon Jackson and Steve Pitt for their ‘fantastic’ support of the theatre, Richard said there was a ‘severe lack’ of local and national support for heritage buildings.
He said: ‘There is local provision, and we received one grant from Heritage Lottery fund to complete a survey of the building five years ago.’
The council is working on a grant of ‘tens of thousand of pounds’ to keep the doors open, according to Councillor Steve Pitt.
He said: ‘We have not actually got to the point of saying what the details will be.
‘We have tried to take a holistic approach when it comes to looking at our buildings. We own a lot of historic buildings, and we take their preservation very seriously.
‘We have £1.7m earmarked for the Guildhall, and £200,000 for the city museum.
‘We will always consider helping people if they are set up as a charity.’
In 2014, the Groundlings Theatre was ‘on the brink’ of closure when its bank accounts at NatWest were frozen for more than two months, costing more than £10,000 in lost revenue.
Comedian Eleanor Conway’s stand-up show ‘You May Recognise Me From Tinder’ will appear at the theatre on Thursday March 5.