Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal’s future secured

Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal will be a community asset for generations to come after Portsmouth City Council bought the building to secure its future.

The council has bought the 650-seat cultural venue for £700,000 from the New Theatre Royal Trust, which operates the theatre, and it will now be rented back to the trust.

The deal will allow the trust to offer more activities to benefit residents and, as well as securing an important cultural and heritage asset for the city, it is hoped will help bring theatre to more people across the city for generations to come.

Cllr Ben Dowling, the council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure & Economic Development, said: “It is fantastic news for the city that the New Theatre Royal is in the council’s ownership and will be safeguarded for years to come. We have an amazing opportunity to bring theatre to many more residents, breaking down traditional barriers.

“The theatre 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 location in the city centre means there is huge potential to bring new work and innovative performances to people from all parts of the city, alongside more traditional programming, community performances and comedy.”

It comes at a time when the New Theatre Royal Trust 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 council owning a cultural venue and leasing it to an operator is a model that can bring economic and social benefits, and is already working successfully in the city for the Kings Theatre and the Guildhall.

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

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 period. 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.

“We’re also grateful to the University of Portsmouth, with whom we share the building, for the investment they have made in securing the Theatre’s future. We look forward to continuing our partnership with them and the City Council to promote performing arts in the City.”

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 has made provision for, and repairing responsibility will pass 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.