SUPPORTERS of the Theatre Royal have described a report into a controversial management merger with the Apex as “170 pages of rhetoric”.

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A two year review into the Apex, which includes a study into the feasibility of a so-called ‘single operation’, claims the move would give the Regency playhouse “increased financial resilience.”

Last night members of the Theatre Support Group (TSG) claimed the document, which will be go in front of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, presented the venue in “inaccurate and bad ways.”

The review, as reported in the EADT yesterday, states that rather than the Apex running at a loss and the theatre breaking even, both venues are “in exactly the same position” and receive large subsidies.

Furthermore, letters from funders Suffolk County Council state that the Theatre Royal had been “struggling to manage over the past five years” and even feared it would cease to “continue its operation” in 2011.

Yesterday Judith Shallow, a TSG member and former chair of the boards of trustees at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Management Limited, the charity that runs the theatre, said the description of the venue as financially unviable were “disingenuous”.

Mrs Shallow said: “Despite 170 pages of rhetoric we have yet to hear exactly what the Borough are proposing but remain extremely wary of the Theatre entering into a ‘single operation’ deal while the Apex is costing taxpayers in excess of £750,000.”

The former trustee added that although the theatre could not afford to alienate funders, she feared the creation of a single operation would cause private donations, which amount to £250,000 each year, to drop significantly.

She said: “It is one thing to support an arts trust philanthropically. But when you see it is combined with a building that is not able to make money. Why are you going to give that money?”

The former chair said a proposed ‘firewall’ designed to ensure pledges to the theatre are spent only on the theatre, would not work and could mean donations are used on projects that could have attracted art council funding.

Mrs Shallow, who welcomed the appointment of Stephen Bourne as chair of the theatre board, said: “He will need time to get up to speed on all the options for the theatre’s future stability but we believe we can rely on him to fulfil the necessary and detailed due diligence and lead a full consultation exercise to ensure they come to the right decision for the Theatre.”

Simon Daykin, chief executive at the Theatre Royal, previously said: “Obviously we have been involved in a process to determine what is the best option for the Theatre Royal going forward.

“Throughout this entire process our one commitment is to find a sustainable business model for the theatre going forward. “So while we want to work in partnership with the council that has to be our primary and overwhelming concern.”

He added: “There are lots of options on the table and the Single Operation is one of them.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said: “This thorough report is a two-year review of the apex, looking at its achievements and potential for the future. A small part involves the possibility of working with the Theatre Royal”.

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