Theatre Royal’s 50th exhibition tells the story of the community effort to bring it back

The 50th anniversary exhibition at the Theatre Royal in Bury. L-R: Ben Willmott (appearing in 'Labou

The 50th anniversary exhibition at the Theatre Royal in Bury. L-R: Ben Willmott (appearing in 'Labour of Love'), Isobel Keith (heritage officer) and Ric Gardner (front of house manager). - Credit: Archant

An exhibition that tells the story of the huge community effort to bring a disused theatre back to life has been launched.

This year the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is celebrating 50 years since it became a working playhouse once again after it had been a barrel store for brewing company Greene King for four decades.

The exhibition, ‘Barrels, Boards and Brushes’, tells the story of how Air Vice Marshall Stanley Vincent led a band of dedicated fundraisers and theatre lovers who were determined to get their theatre back.

It follows the playhouse during the 1960s when the community of volunteers came together to restore and rejuvenate the building.

The exhibition includes television footage from 1964, before the theatre was officially reopened the following year, and the chance for visitors to leave their own memories of the playhouse on a mannequin.

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It has been put together by Isobel Keith, the theatre’s heritage officer for the 50th anniversary project. At a preview launch last Thursday she thanked volunteers who had collected memories via interviews and those who had shared their memories. She said: “The exhibition has really been informed by my team of volunteers who have been researching information at the record office and have been trained in conducting oral history interviews.”

Theatre Royal director Karen Simpson said: “It’s a celebration of the building, but it’s actually more importantly a celebration of people’s endeavours 50 years ago. They worked so hard. It wasn’t just like a year; it was six years in order to reopen the theatre as a fully-functioning theatre.”

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Front of house manager Ric Gardner said: “We can’t wait to welcome visitors to our 50th anniversary exhibition. The whole concept is one of complete celebration that marks one of the most exciting and community-led moments in the Theatre Royal’s history.”

He said the first real chance to see the exhibition is before the show ‘A Labour of Love’ – a story of the people who brought the theatre back – which opens on Thursday, but he added it would also run alongside the regular guided tours and ‘open doors’ sessions through to September.

Mr Gardner added: “People will probably find out something they didn’t know about the Theatre Royal and on a tour they will go behind the scenes and visit places they wouldn’t normally get to see.”


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