Bury Theatre Royal launches 200th anniversary celebrations
PUBLISHED: 19:14 13 February 2019
Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal is 200 years old this year. Arts editor Andrew Clarke takes a look at the events in store to mark this major milestone
It hosted the world premiere of Charley’s Aunt, been turned into a barrel store for brewers Greene King, was broken into by theatre legend Peter Hall, was re-opened and managed by Wexford actor George Baker, visited by Noel Coward, was home to the Restored Repertoire of classic Georgian plays and rediscovered Elizabeth Inchbald, a prominent Suffolk playwright, during its multi-faceted lifetime and now the colourful history of Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal is to be celebrated as part of its 200th birthday celebrations.
Artistic director Karen Simpson said that the theatre has always balanced respect for the building’s heritage with the fact that it is still a working theatre producing and hosting work dealing with the world as it is in the 21st century.
The 200th anniversary will shine the spotlight on the history of the building that architect William Wilkins opened on 11 October 1819 but it will also provide a springboard for the current theatre to establish a 200th Anniversary Fund which will allow the theatre to continue its education and community programmes as well as stage homegrown productions such as The Wisdom Club, Our day Out, Goodnight Mr Tom and Northanger Abbey.
Karen said: “The fund will also enable Theatre Royal to continue to reach hundreds of individuals through the Community and Engagement Programme. It will also enhance our ability to reach children and young people through our education programme. Last year we worked with over 80 schools and provided weekly sessions through our youth theatre projects.”
The 200 Anniversary Fund is looking to raise £200,000 this year. The fund all ready has £43,000 thanks to a grant from Bury Town Council and Sir Ian McKellen has donated the income from his one man show at the theatre.
Karen said: “When William Wilkins first built Theatre Royal back in 1819, would he have imagined that the theatre would still be standing and operating 200 years later? Especially considering the slightly rocky history of its operation – it lay dormant as a barrel store for about 40 years – and yet we find ourselves today with the theatre restored to its original Regency splendour, shining more brightly than it ever has before.”
Brand new Close Encounters: live interactive tours will bring the theatre’s history to life with visitors being given a chance to meet prominent characters from the past in situ, dressed and behaving as they would have been when they were originally at the theatre.
The heritage tours have also been given a refreshed script delving deeper into the fascinating stories of the theatre over the years.
In collaboration with RojoArt, a new celebratory mosaic will be created by six local schools for the theatre’s garden wall while during the summer, the theatre will present a new production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, using both professional actors and local talent following in the successful footsteps of 2018’s Goodnight Mister Tom.
On Sunday October 13, the Theatre Royal will be hosting an Anniversary Gala to mark the 200th birthday. Karen Simpson is promising an evening of comedy, music and drama - featuring a star-studded cast with names to be announced. Tickets will go on sale with the autumn season.
The newly refurbished Peter Hall Room (previously the Premier Bar) has been named after the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and director of the National Theatre, Sir Peter Hall, who grew up in Bury and discovered the magic of theatre when, as a student, he broke into the building in search of a rumoured lost theatre.
His connection with Theatre Royal is the subject of the first exhibition in the new space which will also be used as a versatile room for exhibitions, meetings and workshops.
More details of the 200th birthday celebrations will be announced during the year.