Last month, artistic director and founder Carol Metcalfe told Whatsonstage.com that, although they could not afford to run the 100-seat theatre they would continue as a producing outfit for new musical theatre work, thanks to a separate Arts Council development grant of £32,500 per annum.
However, a Bridewell spokeswoman says that is no longer possible. “It’s a Catch—22 situation,” she explained. “The grant is still there but without a secure base, we can’t hang onto it.” While donations from theatre friends have helped to keep the theatre afloat up to now, unless someone steps up with corporate funding, the Bridewell will not be able to continue in any form. The spokeswoman stressed, “People say to us, ‘you’ve survived before, you’ll do it again.’ That is not the case. We are now in the process of winding up as neatly as we can.”
The theatre is mounting two special Farewell Gala Concerts on Sundays 5 and 12 December 2004, celebrating over ten years of groundbreaking musical theatre development at the Bridewell. Proceeds raised, from tickets priced at £30 and £35, will go towards the company’s exit costs, estimated to be in the region of £10,000.
Commenting on the current state of affairs, Metcalfe said: “It is pretty heartbreaking to be facing the closure of the Bridewell Theatre after so many successful years. The performers, writers and audiences who have come here have made this a unique and dynamic venue. It’s been a great privilege to be able to work with so many talented artists and to meet so many people who care passionately about the importance of theatre and music.
“I am especially concerned about the new writers with whom we are currently working. These are people whose talents British Theatre needs, but as the Bridewell Theatre Company is the only theatre company specifically devoted to the development of new musical theatre, without us these writers and composers will be left without support.”
There are currently 14 new writers and composers attached to the Bridewell. The company also runs a programme of youth workshops and a lunchtime entertainment series for Square Mile workers.
The Bridewell has been financially precarious since losing its rent exemption in summer 2003 (See News, 12 May 2003). This past March, when celebrating its tenth anniversary, it staved off imminent closure by raising £110,000 -- £60,000 of it core public funding from the Corporation of London and Arts Council England, which put in £30,000 apiece (See News, 9 Mar 2004). However, that money was a one-off. Last month, the theatre was told by the Arts Council that it would not receive any additional funding to keep the building open (See News, 7 Oct 2004).
Founded in 1994, the Bridewell initially 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. A change of lease in 2003 meant that the theatre was liable for full rent costs, as well as a service charge of £90,000 per annum.
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 held 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 one of the capital's most important spaces 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).
- by Terri Paddock