Five years after St George’s Theatre in Yarmouth re-opened is it a success?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Community participation is the key to the future of a seaside theatre’s success as it shines the spotlight on “what fits” and prepares to launch its new brochure.
Five years after St George’s Theatre raised the curtain on a multi-million pound transformation it has yet to become sustainable as funding pots shrink.
However with a new director and commercial manager at the helm it is forging ahead and trying to widen its offer.
Debbie Thompson, who has a proven track record at Sheringham Little Theatre, said the 300 seat theatre had great potential, not all of which had been tapped.
In the past it had been held back by issues to do with its listed building status and permitted signage, meaning people often could not find the front door.
That was being addressed, possibly with projected words and emblems being beamed onto the building.
Meanwhile efforts were being made to link the cafe pavilion to the main theatre with a striking canopy of umbrellas or string of eye-catching lights.
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At Sheringham audiences grew from 9000 to 30,000 under Mrs Thompson in her first three years and similar improvements are hoped for at St George’s, a much bigger theatre which draws in around 15,000 people a year.
If Mrs Thompson’s development plan delivers that figure will double to 30,000 in five years, with all shows 80pc sold on average.
“There is no-where else in Norfolk that has a flexible space like this and we want to celebrate it,” she said
“There is a real momentum in Yarmouth at the moment to raise the cultural offer.
“There are new people in positions all over the county and it is a great time to start new partnerships and develop these wonderful, interesting productions.
“Potentially it can be everything for everyone. I am enjoying the challenge and it’s a great opportunity for Yarmouth.”
With the help of new commercial manager Michael Court, formerly of Pleasurewood Hills and a trained chef, she hopes to make more of the piazza and pavilion making a trip to the theatre “a whole experience.”
Of the first five years she said there had been a range of unseen costs that had come as a shock but that foundations had been laid which needed to be built on quickly.
An historic building
St George’s Church was built in 1714 and is a Grade 1 listed building.
Its design mirrors Sir Christopher Wren’s St Clement Danes in London and it is regarded as one of the best examples of Baroque church architecture outside the capital.
It fell into disrepair after it was no longer needed as a church in 1959.
St George’s was rescued in 1972 by local enthusiasts as a venue for arts and theatre.
Structural defects resulted in its closure in 2006 but it was again revived in a £7.5m scheme which coincided with a regeneration of the St George’s Plain and King Street area.
The building is run by the St George’s Art Centre Trust, using a small staff and an army of 35 volunteers.
The venue is keen to recruit more helpers, sponsors and supporter Friends to carry out its work.
Anyone interested can contact www.stgeorgestheatre.com or 01493 331484.