One bit of concerning news from North Yorkshire today: the Georgian Theatre in Richmond is launching an appeal fund to – so the Georgian Theatre Trust claims – save it from closure. There’s no immediate plans to close the theatre, but the concern is that as public funding streams have dried up with the various cuts, the theatre cannot continue to break even on box office and bar sales alone.
Now, we should start by getting this in context. Threats of closure linked to appeals for money need to be heard with some healthy caution. Suffice to say, no fundraising campaign of this kind ever gets off the ground by saying “We’d like you to give us some money, but don’t worry, there’s no realistic chance we’ll close.” Nevertheless, the Darlington Arts Centre nearby has already suffered this fate, so this possibility must be taken very seriously. And the loss of the Georgian Theatre would be a much bigger loss. Because whilst the Darlington Arts Centre was a loss to the people of Darlington, they still have the another theatre (albeit one that is too big for a lot of plays). Richmond has only one theatre, and, worse, this theatre is the only one of its kind in the country.
I’ve previously argued that Darlington Borough Council should consider letting volunteers run the Arts Centre. At Richmond’s Georgian Theatre, however, they are already heavily relying on this. Some theatres, I feel, harm their own financial position by refusing to allow their spaces to be used by groups deemed insufficiently high-brow, but the Georgian Theatre isn’t one of them. It already has a fairly busy calendar with a mixture of amateur and professional productions – and, in any case, Richmond isn’t a big town to draw an audience from, and they’ll only see a finite number of plays.
There is just one thing where I wonder if there’s an opportunity. The Georgian Theatre is an authentic theatre from Georgian times which takes all sort of productions (as it should do), but the one thing I don’t see in their programme is authentic Georgian productions. We’ve seen from the success of the Shakespeare Globe in London that there is a market for authentic productions of Shakespeare plays, so much so that they’re now building a second indoor theatre. Could the Georgian Theatre be the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse of the north? Pull this one off, and they could be drawing audiences from a much wider area. And if producing plays of this kind is too much of an expense, remember: from next year we’ll have these plays ready-produced in London for a similar theatre, so a tour to Yorkshire can’t be that difficult.
But there’s going to be a bumpy few years ahead for a lot of theatres. Let’s just hope Richmond can stick it out for the light at the end of the tunnel.