Theatre likened to Robin Hood in reverse

By Liz HearnshawA COUNCIL will be "deservedly lynched" by its residents if a £1.5 million grant is awarded to an ambitious theatre restoration project, a councillor has warned.

By Liz Hearnshaw

A COUNCIL will be "deservedly lynched" by its residents if a £1.5 million grant is awarded to an ambitious theatre restoration project, a councillor has warned.

The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is asking for the sum towards a £6.4m plan to return the playhouse to its full Georgian splendour.

Members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council's cabinet will decide on the award next month, but David Nettleton, who serves on the body, said it should be refused as he felt taxpayers already subsidised the venue enough.

He also warned agreeing to such a large grant would hugely affect Council Tax bills, making the authority unpopular with residents who were already angered by huge hikes each year.

"The Theatre Royal must think the borough council is made of money. The theatre already gets a sizeable annual grant paid by us who rarely go there," said Mr Nettleton.

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"If we give them £1.5m, it will mean £40 on the Council Tax – a rise of 30%. We would be lynched, and deservedly so."

He added: "It is a strange coincidence, but I am taking my 11-year-old daughter, Victoria, to their pantomime on December 11. It is costing me £24, so I cannot afford it often. Most of the regulars at the theatre are the professional classes who can afford to pay the market price for tickets.

"The pantomime is Robin Hood, who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. It seems to me that what the Theatre Royal want is the exact opposite."

But Andrew Varley, council portfolio holder for arts and culture, said efforts would be made to assist with the project without influencing Council Tax bills.

Theatre managers hope to incorporate state-of-the-art facilities into the Grade I listed building, which dates back to 1820, if they secure adequate funding.

These include installing a lift for the disabled, a new bar and catering provision, while a plan to mount the stage on a hydraulic platform to allow more flexibility in performances has also been aired.

Lottery bosses added their support to the scheme in September, awarding the Theatre Royal £50,000 to allow further research into décor and architecture to take place before a larger sum of £2m was released.

However, although the National Trust has already pledged £500,000 towards the project, the playhouse is relying on public generosity to secure another £1.9m through donations and fundraising activities.

That leaves the theatre needing a further £2m from statutory bodies, such as councils and arts boards.

No-one from the playhouse was available for comment yesterday, but director, Colin Blumenau, has previously described the project as "unbelievably significant" on both a national and local level.

"We owe it to the 77,000 people who attend this venue every year to give them the facilities which are commonplace in more modern buildings," he said.

n What do you think of the £1.5m grant request? Write to the Editor with your views.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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