Stage is set for a vital makeover of theatre

Playhouse staff Andrew Mounsey, Andy Hunt and Jack Carrigan with Carrie Morrison and Nicola Stevenson as the curtains come down. Picture by Jane Coltman
Playhouse staff Andrew Mounsey, Andy Hunt and Jack Carrigan with Carrie Morrison and Nicola Stevenson as the curtains come down. Picture by Jane Coltman

As curtain calls go, Alnwick Playhouse orchestrated one of the best.

Three sell-out shows by the Globe Theatre on Tour thrilled audiences at the weekend as they were able to choose which of a trio of Shakespeare plays – Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice – was performed.

They signalled the end of productions, community activities and films at the historic theatre for a year, while the old building is getting a well overdue makeover.

After the doors had closed on Sunday night, manager Jo Potts said “I am delighted that so many of our supporters were able to join us for the final performances.

“I would like to thank Shakespeare’s Globe for helping us close the curtains ahead of the refurbishment which will seek to improve and future-proof our much-loved Playhouse. It was a very special moment in the Playhouse’s history.

“It is with a heavy heart that we close our doors for the development project, however, I am filled with joy because the project will restore our wonderful building.

“All of us are confident that our new partnership with Northumberland County Council will provide more opportunities for everyone to experience and engage with the arts, inspiring the next generations.

“The Globe company has always been one of the least demanding and most appreciative companies to host at the Playhouse. We first presented Much Ado About Nothing in April 2014 with a green room which had not been decorated for at least eight years.

“In 2015, the company returned to Alnwick with Romeo and Juliet, and were the first to use a new, freshly decorated green room.

“The green room makeover project was part of a Schools/Arts Award Scheme working closely with pupils from the Duchess’s Community High School and we asked the company to sign our comments book so we could feed back to the students. Needless to say,we were all delighted with the comments.

“It is fitting then that we close the pages of the Playhouse comments book with the final performance by the same company.”

Those final performances were preceded by the last movie to be screened, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which broke all box-office records for film at the venue.

Over the past 12 months, the Playhouse also achieved record ticket sales, with more than 42,000 tickets sold for 300-plus performances through out the year.

The forthcoming changes to the building have been well documented, but bear repeating. In December, it was announced that a deal had been struck for the county council to buy the building and then grant a new 50-year lease to Alnwick District Playhouse Trust to enable it to continue to operate the theatre, studio, bar and an expanded café facility. The council will use the remaining part of the ground floor to provide a library, tourist information and customer service facilities. The other previous co-owner, the Northumberland Theatre Company, has now relocated to the Dovecote Centre in Amble.

A design and access statement submitted with the application said: ‘The ethos of the whole building is to provide an improved, exciting and vastly superior venue to an already thriving community facility.’

The staff at the Playhouse are moving lock, stock and barrel to their temporary home in the Annexe at the former Lindisfarne Middle School.

Community groups and the Playhouse band and choirs will be based there in the interim, while work is carried out on the theatre.