Tragedy at the Playhouse

Alnwick Playhouse.
Alnwick Playhouse.

A DEVASTATING blow has been dealt to a touring theatre company and community venue as cuts to the arts leave them fighting for cash.

Alnwick Playhouse and Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) have lost out on a three-year joint funding bid from the Arts Council England which would have secured projects until 2015.

For the Playhouse, it means a loss of seven per cent of the overall income. But for NTC it will have a much greater impact.

Apart from a small grant from Northumberland County Council and box office money, the company relies on Arts Council funds. NTC director Gillian Hambleton described the news as ‘absolutely devastating’.

“We do an amazing job and have been doing so for the last 20 years by taking theatre to rural areas. They just seem to have cut anything to do with Northumberland and rural theatre,” she said.

NTC is the only professional group between Newcastle and Scotland. It travels across the county and beyond to take live theatre to areas that have no access to it.

She added: “We put in a joint bid to do more rural outreach work with the Playhouse, development work and to have more contact with young people, schools and those who don’t have access to theatre. But all that has been completely dismissed and funds have gone to urban theatre groups.”

It means that from 2012 the award-winning InterACT programme will be completely scrapped and other funding streams will have to be accessed for other work.

“If we can appeal we will. We will fight this. We will continue but it is going to be very difficult,” said Gillian.

Alnwick Playhouse will also have to look at other funding streams and may have to re-work the way artists and acts are booked.

Roy Todd, chairman of the Alnwick Playhouse Trust, said: “It is not good news at all. We will be able to continue but it is going to be difficult for us. We will have to look at other ways and means of raising the seven per cent.

“We may have to tighten our belts even more and access other sources of funding. The operation will perhaps have to be run on tighter lines. But the Playhouse will survive.”

It comes at the same time as the Queen’s Hall in Hexham sees a 174 per cent increase in its funds over three years from the Arts Council, while The Maltings at Berwick receives a 270 per cent increase.

Miles Gregory, chief executive and artistic director at The Maltings, said: “This is incredible news for The Maltings – which three years ago was threatened with having all funding cut due to its poor performance – and for our whole community.”

But the news hit a nerve with those who have lost out.

Gillian added: “It just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. They have favoured two over one. I’m delighted that the others have got an increase but when you get nothing it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth.”

Mr Todd said: “Seeing as the Arts Council has lavishly funded the Queen’s Hall and The Maltings, we will be looking to the county council to continue funding us as our share is modest compared to them.”

Both will receive funding for 2011/12 with NTC receiving £314,000 and the Playhouse £37,000 from the Arts Council but after that it will be cut.

Alnwick Coun Gordon Castle said: “This is very bad news. It is very disappointing. They are both an integral part of our cultural offer in Alnwick and I hope they are successful in claiming funding elsewhere.

“I think given the situation we should be looking at how we allocate our funding at County Hall.”

Sir Alan Beith MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, said: “I raised the issue beforehand with Liz Forgan, the Chairman of the Arts Council, on the Playhouse and Northumberland Touring Company, and the way in which NTC brings very high quality productions to places which do not otherwise have access to professional theatre and I will certainly be supporting any appeal or new bid which goes forward.”