Historic theatre reopens

A THEATRE which is thought to be the fourth oldest in the country has been reopened as a community arts centre following a restoration project costing nearly £1 million.

By David Green

A THEATRE which is thought to be the fourth oldest in the country has been reopened as a community arts centre following a restoration project costing nearly £1 million.

The Fisher Theatre at Bungay was first opened in 1828 and became one of 13 theatres in the eastern counties built by the Fisher family for its Company of Norfolk and Suffolk Comedians.

It closed as a theatre many years ago and during the last decades of the 20th Century it was used for various commercial purposes, including a corn hall, cinema, wrestling, skating rink and laundry.


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Now, after eleven years of fund raising, the theatre has been renovated and modern facilities installed - for audiences and performers.

It was officially opened on Friday night by local author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, who has been among the leading supporters of the project.

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The project has been spearheaded by the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society which bought and restored the building with the help of the Arts Council, the Architectural Heritage Fund, Go-East European Funders, the Corporate Regeneration Fund, Suffolk Development Agency and the Suffolk Environmental Trust.

The purchase was completed in 2001 and early repairs to the roof and the provision of toilets made it possible for performances to take place prior to the main restoration starting.

Sandra Cox, one of the trustees, said performers had, until the main works began last year, put up with a makeshift stage and had changed costumes in a tiny kitchen area.

“Hungry for local entertainment, audiences sat in the freezing cold with hot water bottles and blankets, ignoring the primitive plumbing arrangements and the crumbling walls,” she said.

Now a central heating system has been installed and modern changing rooms and toilets have been created.

The biggest transformation is in the auditorium itself where a multi-purpose staging block system has been installed along with modern lighting and sound circuits.

A conference area and workshop space has been provided together with a bar and bistro.

The former musicians pit has been converted into a cellar complete with pillars and could eventually become a coffee bar and museum area.

One of the first plays to be performed in the new theatre will be the local RoughCast Theatre Company's version of Hedda Gabler , by Henrik Ibsen , due to take place on November 25.

The Bungay theatre is the only one of the 13 original Fisher Theatres to survive.

A piece of material found in the basement turned out to be part of the original “header” - a banner which hung from the proscenium arch. It has gone on display in the renovated building.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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