Board Shuts Derby Playhouse, Cancels Xmas ShowDate: 30 November 2007
Following last week’s report on Derby Playhouse’s uncertain future (See News, 20 Nov 2007), the theatre’s board of trustees placed the limited company into liquidation on Wednesday afternoon (28 November), the day before its Christmas show Treasure Island was due to open. All future performances at the Playhouse have been cancelled.
A public announcement was made yesterday afternoon when a member of Derby City Council appeared on stage and announced that the theatre was officially closed. But as a final tribute and against all advice of the board, the opening night performance of Treasure Island went ahead at the insistence of the creative team led by adaptor and director Karen Louise Hebden (also the venue’s joint artistic director). The audience attending were not only attending an opening – but indeed the closing of the Derby Playhouse.
Ron Simpson, a writer for Whatsonstage.com who was reviewing Treasure Island, said: “I went to Derby Playhouse last night and found all sorts of strange things - the box office locked up, the cafe not serving meals and not charging for coffee or cakes, the bar charging a flat £1 for drinks, and programmes and ice creams being given away.”
The Playhouse’s recent production of Stepping Out cleared its budget by £45,000 and Treasure Island, which was due to continue until 26 January 2008, had a box office advance of £200,000. But financial losses recently have been sustained during an enforced two-year rebuild by the Westfield property company, which has owned the shopping centre where the theatre is situated since 1999, and there are no reserves or assets for the Playhouse to draw on. In such crises in the past, the major stakeholders – the Arts Council and the City Council – have brought forward grants. In this instance, while the Arts Council has forwarded £70,000, the City Council was unwilling to bring forward a grant from January 2008 to November 2007.
Joint artistic director Stephen Edwards believes that the City Council, already £7 million over budget this year, needs the cash from a proposed department store replacement in the Playhouse’s position at the shopping centre. Edwards told Whatsonstage.com that the chairman of the Playhouse resigned in early November at the intransigence of the City Council, which had signalled its readiness to liquidate the theatre company for the sake of six weeks.
Edwards reportedly offered the Playhouse an interest-free personal loan of £282,000 to see through the current financial crisis, but the board rejected this last-minute bid to save one of Britain’s most successful regional theatres. Acting chairman of the board Richard Hill said earlier this week that: "The board has made no decisions other than to reject Stephen Edwards' extraordinarily generous offer, owing to Derby City Council's objection to the loan being secured against the theatre's lease.” It has also been indicated that Edwards has paid staff wages out of his own pocket.
The Playhouse’s box office has now been closed along with all online ticket booking facilities. On the theatre’s website, an official announcement reads: “The board of Derby Playhouse Ltd have resolved to place the company into liquidation. A meeting of the creditors is called on 20 December 2007. Tenon Recovery has been appointed to assist in calling of the creditors and members’ meeting.” Theatregoers who have booked tickets for any future performance are advised to email Tenon Recovery on email@example.com with name, address, date of performance they hold tickets for, number of tickets booked and payment method, to register. They are then “requested to patiently await formal notification” to lodge their claims for refunds or compensation.
Karen Louise Hebden has expressed her view that the theatre, as such, could do no more – as it no longer exists – and that it was now up to the people of Derby to do what they can to save the venue. Many local theatregoers have already posted their dismay at news of the theatre closure on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum and in the comments field on a recent blog on the matter written by our chief critic and contributing editor Michael Coveney.
- by Tom Atkins