Portsmouth theatre’s future could be secured for community benefit

A major Portsmouth cultural venue could be safeguarded for generations to come if Portsmouth City Council adopts new plans to buy the New Theatre Royal.

A proposal to buy the venue is set to go before the council’s Cabinet on 2nd February which would benefit residents in some of the most deprived areas of the city.

The potential move comes at a time when the New Theatre Royal Trust, which owns and operates the 650-seat venue, is facing financial difficulties due to the Coronavirus pandemic. New Theatre Royal has been forced to cancel or postpone all scheduled performances since its closure in March 2020.

The grade-two listed building, designed by celebrated architects Frank Matcham and Charles Phipps, is also considered a key heritage asset in the city centre. An independent survey has found the building to be in generally good condition but with some repairs required in the short term, which the council will make provision for, before passing repairing responsibility back to the trust once it is in a more stable position.

An expert review commissioned by the council shows that even with the impact of the pandemic the theatre could have a bright future with the right programme of performances.

The proposed purchase would see the council own the building and lease it back to the trust, a model that is already working successfully in the city for the Kings Theatre and the Guildhall.

The money for the purchase would provide the trust with an opportunity to get back on a more sound financial footing and allow it time to develop its range of performances and events, including a renewed focus on delivering community events.

Cllr Steve Pitt, the council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure & Economic Development, said: “The New Theatre Royal is a key part of Portsmouth’s cultural offering and as the only venue of its type and size offers something we don’t have anywhere else. It’s vitally important we safeguard it for future generations and not allow it to be lost, particularly because of its huge potential to reach people who don’t currently think about going to the theatre or engaging with culture.
Its location in the city centre means the Theatre has the opportunity to broaden people’s cultural horizons, bringing new work and innovative performances to people from all parts of the city, alongside more conventional programming, community performances and comedy.”

Simon Eden, Chair of Trustees at New Theatre Royal, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Portsmouth City Council and to have a clear way forward following a most difficult ten months. We truly believe that we are all going to need theatres more than ever to bring us back together as our community recovers from COVID-19. This rescue package from Portsmouth City Council means that we can be here for our audiences, inspiring them through live performance and participation, for many more years to come.”

The proposed purchase is being considered by the Council’s Cabinet at a meeting on 2nd February.

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