Comedian Dara O Briain has warned of the “waste of potential” Britain faces by losing its theatres, as a new report showed 35 are at risk.
The Theatres at Risk Register by the Theatres Trust logs the performance halls under threat of closure or demolition, ranked for criteria including the risk to the building and its community value.
The two theatres added to the register this year are the Margate Theatre Royal, one of the oldest in Britain having been founded in 1787, and Streatham Hill Theatre, which hosted acting greats such as John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh but became a bingo hall until that closed last January.
Two theatres from last year’s list have been demolished while the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough, which once staged performances by The Beatles, Morecambe And Wise and Shirley Bassey, is set for demolition in March.
“It’s a waste of potential,” O Briain told the Press Association at the Soho Theatre in London.
“Standing on stage at a theatre doing the soundcheck you can feel the echoes of every show that’s happened there, but also potentially hundreds of shows in the future.
“The more theatres you have the more opportunities people have to write, to do comedy, to be in bands – it’s wrong to regard them just as a place for stage plays.”
The Futurist is set to cost the local council around £4 million to be destroyed and will be replaced with an empty site.
The Colwyn Bay Pier Pavilion in Conwy and the Royal Victoria Hall in Southborough were also destroyed, but have new performance venues planned nearby.
The Streatham Hill Theatre (Theatres Trust/PA)
One of the success stories from the register was the Bradford Odeon, which was graced by the Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard and The Beatles in the 1960s.
The Odeon was given the boost of a £12 million loan towards the site’s anticipated £20 million restoration costs.
Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, urged the public to join campaigns or create their own to save the buildings on the register and lauded the potential economic benefits of revitalising local theatres.
“There’s evidence that a revitalised theatre contributes significantly to the local economy,” said Mr Morgan. “It makes your town a destination and for every seat sold in you can then multiply that by at least five or six for money spent elsewhere on transport and dining.”
Last year’s government budget saw a £2 million Cultural Development Fund set up but Mr Morgan said greater funding is needed and could be more shrewdly spent.
“The restoration in Bradford alone cost £20 million, so we would like that to be many times larger and to be specifically ring fenced for cultural buildings.
“The Northern Powerhouse scheme also saw the government award £78 million towards the cost of creating a new theatre in Manchester called The Factory, although it’s really exciting we could save four or five of these theatres on this list with that money.”
O Briain added: “We understand these are difficult times for councils and I could be standing here talking about libraries or community care.
“But councils need to tilt their thinking and see theatres as assets that can give a heart to local communities rather than a liability that needs to be removed.
“Also the more amazing rooms there are, the more places I can do shows. I say that on behalf of all performers, if you build them we will come.”
The full register can be found at the Theatres Trust’s website.