Doors are now closed at Margate’s Theater Royal pending refurbishment and a search for a new operator – The Isle Of Thanet News
Doors closed at Margate’s Theater Royal, ending the rental contract with operator Your Leisure.
The historic theater hosted its last show last night (April 28) and is now closing pending renovation and arrangements for a new operator.
The theater is to be refurbished as part of the £22.2m Margate Town deal. Last year, Thanet Council announced that the Theater Royal and Margate Winter Gardens would be closed this year while the future of both venues is considered. Reservations are expected to stop at the Winter Gardens from August 14.
It has not been revealed how long the sites will be closed. Thanet Council says: “The specialist work required for the project to renovate the (Theatre Royal) and all ancillary spaces will require millions of pounds. Funding from the Margate Town Deal will cover a significant portion of the necessary works, making additional private or public sector investment more viable.
The current staff at Theater Royal Margate are made redundant so have taken matters into their own hands by setting up an events company – Phoenix Community Events.
The Theater Royal was purchased by Thanet Council as “owner of last resort” in 2007. The building was closed for a six-month refurbishment program and all staff were made redundant. It was then let to the Margate Theater Royal Trust on peppercorn rent until 2012 when the Trust went into administration. Your Leisure took over the site in what was meant to be an interim measure, but has been running it ever since – until now.
In 2014 Thanet Council offered a long lease or freehold interest in the theater and adjoining buildings at 16a and 19 Hawley Square and there was an expression of interest from the Soho Theatre.
Negotiations were ongoing with Soho Theater following the Cabinet’s agreement to dispose of the properties at a meeting in January 2015.
A marketing exercise had been undertaken for the divestiture and the preferred bidder had been selected.
The term leaders were agreed subject to a contract and an announcement was expected early this year.
But an offer to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to carry out major renovations to the theater was rejected and the Soho Theater abandoned plans.
Paul Palmer, Head of Hospitality and Entertainment at Your Leisure, said: “It is with regret that after a decade, Your Leisure’s agreement to manage the Theater Royal Margate is coming to an end. “However, this week, as we prepare to lower the curtain for the last time as Guardians, I reflect with a real sense of pride on the accomplishments of the theater team and the incredible moments of joy we have brought. at the emblematic place during that time.
“Since our arrival ten years ago, we have welcomed a world of entertainment to our historic stage. Your Leisure’s mission was to oversee a comprehensive, diverse and inclusive programme, bringing the best touring and production to Margate as well as providing a platform for new voices – including those from marginalized groups – and local talent.I think we have achieved these goals in spades…we have brought everything from top comedians, fabulous productions for families , Dickens, Shakespeare, opera, ballet, new writing and local showcases, the Theater Royal Margate has been at the heart of Thanet’s cultural offering, providing entertainment for all.
“It’s times like this that I think about the legacy, the tangible positives that our time running the theater has brought to Thanet. Initially it was a challenge to get shows, however , we shone our spotlight on Margate and worked hard to promote the Original Seaside as a coastal cultural mecca.This has enabled us to attract more and more productions and tours to the theater which has seen the quality of the programming to strengthen with each season.With this success, the public came.
“Over the past 10 years, the Theater Royal Margate has welcomed hundreds of thousands of people through its doors, bringing visitors to Margate from across the UK, Europe and even the US, helping to boost the local economy. A legacy of which I am most proud would be the positive impact on young people in the region. Whether on stage in a local production or showcase or in the audience marveling at the delights of our professional Christmas pantomime, theater has sparked a passion for the arts in so many young people…and that’s something to celebrate.
“It is with a heavy heart that this era must end. We couldn’t have done this without support. The hard work and dedication of the front and back of house teams has been the foundation of our success. I have seen so many colleagues begin their theatrical careers with us before moving on to national careers. We also couldn’t have done it without the support of our audiences, local creatives and partners. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts…
“Although the sun is setting on our times in the theatre, the future of the theater looks bright. The Margate Town Deal has allocated £2million for a refurbishment project at the Theater Royal, and the council will be looking for an operator , a project partner and will apply for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
“Your Leisure is still operating the Margate Winter Gardens until mid-August.”
Your Leisure’s lease for the Margate Winter Gardens was due to run until 2024, but an agreement has been reached with Thanet Council for an early handover when that venue also closes in August.
An allocation of £300,000 has been set aside, again under the Margate Town Deal, to carry out a project delivery plan with public and private sector engagement. Specialist services would be needed to help test the market and identify available opportunities. Specialist architects would also be used to determine the work required and develop a fully costed scheme.
The Granville Theater and Cinema in Ramsgate is also closed and is expected to be advertised on the open market. The municipality of Thanet owns the full property of Granville but the site has been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Last October, Thanet Council invited eligible community groups to express their interest in becoming the new owners of the theatre. A submission from the Kent Film Foundation was rejected as not meeting the relevant criteria, although Thanet council said the foundation had time to submit a proposal for the right to bid.
The foundation is currently raising funds to enable him to bid for the building if it goes to public auction. The film foundation hopes to create a new center with a workshop space, a cinema, a theater, a bee-friendly rooftop terrace, the city’s first organic restaurant – and a new name, The Sandcastle.
Tickets for upcoming events at the Winter Gardens can be purchased online at https://www.margate-live.com/
Theater Royal staff form events company and secure performances – ahead of venue’s proposed closure next month
Facts about the Theater Royal
Since 1787, comedians have trod the boards of Margate’s Theater Royal.
The Grade II* listed building on the corner of Hawley Square was part of the planned expansion of the small town and port of Margate in the mid-Georgian period.
It was built to rival the Assembly Halls in Cecil Square (1770s) and the Circulating Library in Hawley Square (1786), both now demolished.
The historic property, which is now in a conservation area, was radically altered in 1874 by Jethro T. Robinson who was the father-in-law of Frank Matcham, the famous and prolific theater architect who, along with his two proteges, was responsible for having built more than 200 rooms before 1915.
The 1874 conversion marked the venue’s transition from a boxy Georgian Playhouse to a Victorian theatre. The stage was shortened and a second floor “gallery” level was added to the expanded auditorium.
As well as hosting some of the biggest “stars” of the Victorian era, the theater was the site of the country’s first drama school. The School of Acting was opened by Sarah Thorne in 1885 and attended by a young Edward Gordon Craig, who became the undisputed father of modern theatrical design and was arguably the most important theatrical practitioner to emerge from Britain since Shakespeare.
The Theater Royal is Britain’s second oldest theater and boasts the oldest stage
There was only one reported fire at the theater – in August 1789
The theater was used as a military barracks in 1803 during the Napoleonic War
The theatre’s most famous director, Sarah Thorne, held the position twice. First in 1861 until 1874, then again from 1879 until her death in 1899. Some say she has haunted the theater since 1918 in protest at her use for acting.
She’s not the only spirit that’s said to wander on the 18thand theater of the century. Past stories tell of witnesses seeing the curtain move and then crash as if a body had fallen. Commentators say it is the spirit of an actor who committed suicide in the theater after being fired from his touring company.