'Rescue' bid to save Portsmouth's New Theatre Royal complete as council buys venue

CONTRACTS have been exchanged on a £700,000 ‘rescue package’ to save a cherished city theatre from financial oblivion.

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 5:26 pm

Portsmouth City Council has bought the New Theatre Royal after councillors last month gave their blessings for the purchase to proceed.

The 650-seat venue had been closed since March last year due to the coronavirus, leaving former owners the New Theatre Royal Trust struggling with its finances.

The Grade II-listed building will now be leased back to the trust ‘for a peppercorn rent’ said Portsmouth’s culture boss, Councillor Steve Pitt.

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The New Theatre Royal in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth. Picture by: Malcolm Wells (171030-7525)

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He added: ‘This has secured the building for the people of Portsmouth to ensure it remains a theatre and also because it is in the heart of that community.’

As previously reported, an independent survey has found the historic building to be in generally good condition, although some repairs are required in the short term.

Simon Eden, chairman of trustees at New Theatre Royal, said: ‘We’re delighted to be working with Portsmouth City Council and to have a clear way forward following a most difficult ten months.

‘We truly believe that we are all going to need theatres more than ever to bring us back together as our community recovers from Covid-19.

‘This rescue package from Portsmouth City Council means that we can be here for our audiences, inspiring them through live performance and participation, for many more years to come.’

Speaking prior to the deal being agreed, Cllr Pitt said it was vital the heritage asset – which opened at its current base in 1856 – was saved.

The deputy council leader said: ‘The New Theatre Royal is a key part of Portsmouth's cultural offering and as the only venue of its type and size offers something we don't have anywhere else.

‘It's vitally important we safeguard it for future generations and not allow it to be lost, particularly because of its huge potential to reach people who don't currently think about going to the theatre or engaging with culture.

‘It's location in the city centre means the theatre has the opportunity to broaden people's cultural horizons, bringing new work and innovative performances to people from all parts of the city, alongside more conventional programming, community performances and comedy.’

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