Just weeks before threatened closure, the Bridewell Theatre, London’s new musical ‘laboratory’ which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, has succeeded in raising £110,000, enough to safeguard its immediate future. More than half of the cash injection comes from the theatre’s first-ever core public funding.

Since its foundation in 1994, the Bridewell has existed rent-free in its space, once a Victorian indoor swimming pool, based in the charitable St Bride Institute off Fleet Street in the City. But a change of lease, announced last summer (See News, 12 May 2003), means the theatre must now pay full rent, as well as a service charge of £90,000 per annum. The deadline for renewing the lease was 31 March 2004.

In the face of the Bridewell’s current crisis, the Corporation of London and Arts Council England have granted the theatre one-off core funding of £30,000 apiece. The public money, on top of £50,000 raised through private audience appeals, have enabled the theatre to sign a new two-year lease.

Commenting on the investment, Bridewell chairman Robert Cogo-Fawcett said: “The receipt of funds from both the Corporation of London and Arts Council England is hugely welcome - welcome because it bridges the gap created by the withdrawal of funding by the St Bride’s Foundation and because it is an affirmation by both these bodies of the high regard in which they hold the theatre’s work in the City. The public have responded with donations at a gratifyingly significant level making their contribution to an exemplary structure of funding partnership, which reflects the importance of the Bridewell as a unique place for the development and encouragement of musical theatre in London. The board can at least temporarily breathe a sigh of relief and is happy to see the artistic and managerial team concentrate on what they do best, the creation of good musical theatre.”

In October 2003, as a result of the Bridewell’s cash crisis, a team from the theatre gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Parliamentary Select Committee, which is holding an Inquiry into the future development of musical theatre in the UK. Unlike other performing arts, musical theatre has traditionally received minimal public subsidy.

Over the past decade, the Bridewell has established itself as the capital's most important space for the development of new musicals, with a particular emphasis on premiering shows of up-and-coming American writers and composers such as Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa as well as rediscovering the work of Stephen Sondheim and others (See Features, 23 Jul 2001).

The theatre is currently celebrating its tenth birthday with a major new production of Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Passion, directed by artistic director Carol Metcalfe, which continues until 3 April 2004 (See News, 27 Feb 2004).

- by Terri Paddock

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