In an intervention that has angered members of the Southborough theatre community, the Executive Director of Tunbridge Wells Trinity Theatre, Alex Green, has said the Royal Victoria Hall should be demolished.
The Trinity Theatre has received hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money in recent decades to convert a church into a theatre. It employs full time staff and relies on around 200 volunteers to offer a mix of amateur and professional shows. It now gets £45,000 a year from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, but Arts Council and Kent County Council funding has stopped.
The Trinity Theatre’s intervention came in a formal letter on the Tunbridge Wells planning website.
Executive Director Alex Green said: “As a venue operator, I believe the current facilities (at Royal Victoria Hall) would need significant upgrades to provide a venue of the standard the area deserves. Combined with the repair/maintenance and health and safety requirements there is a strong argument for a comprehensive redevelopment of the venue.”
He continued: “An entirely new build would provide the opportunity for the flexibility required to give exciting opportunities for the Southborough community. I am aware of the concerns regarding the suitability of the plans (e.g. dressing rooms and bar).If unlimited funds were available I would support the development of enhanced plans. However I believe that the plans are workable and with such a project a degree of compromise is needed.”
Mr Green indicated he accepted the assurances from the project team at Kent County Council, concluding: “In terms of the facilities, my understanding is that there are plans and budgets allocated for final fitting out of the technical spaces and that the venue should end up with a high quality theatre performance space. Additionally their intention to install sky lights and retractable seating should also allow the space to double up as a large high quality hall which could be used for artistic and community purposes.”
Reacting to Mr Green’s comments, Tony Egan, who ran the pantomime productions at Southborough’s Royal Victoria Hall for 30 years, said: “I feel very angry that Mr Green has tried to intervene with no real substance to his comments.”
Mr Egan continued: “Mr Green is wrong about the Hall needing major changes. As far as we are aware, he has never produced a production or performed in the Royal Victoria Hall.”
Mr Green spoke to Southborough News on Thursday and confirmed that he had been dealing with the finance and logistics at Trinity for the past six years and had attended performances at the Royal Victoria Hall, but had never performed or produced a show there.
He said he hoped the community would get behind theatre activities in Southborough whatever happened in terms of the way forward. He said he believed more work had gone on “behind the scenes” by the Kent County Council project team on working out how to make the new hall/theatre space in the Southborough Hub viable.
Meanwhile, over the past fortnight, support for the option of refurbishment of the Royal Victoria Hall has continued to pour in from many of the Hall’s former users, such as the amateur theatre group, LAMPS, which first performed at the Royal Victoria Hall in 1955.
In an earlier submission to the planning website, the Chairman of the LAMPS, Andrew Swann, declared of the Royal Victoria Hall: “It’s a wonderful venue, both in terms of its social history, location and its size. I speak on behalf of a huge number of people that have performed there as part of LAMPS, who would not have met one another and had such fabulous memories of such a wonderful venue.”
Mr Swann concluded: “I must write that I cannot really describe how strongly I disagree with the destruction of the RVH – I feel it is short sighted and selfish of you all to rob your society of such a unique place, and I thoroughly hope that when you foolishly push through this course of action, that one day you will look back and regret every decision you make here today. Sadly it will be too late then, as we now stare down the barrel of a pen striking the order to demolish our cultural heritage”.
And in a comment added on Thursday to the Tunbridge Wells planning portal, the former Southborough pantomime producer of 30 years, Tony Egan rejected the Trinity Theatre Executive Director’s arguments. Tony Egan said: “Will the new theatre in the Hub which he is supporting have the facilities of the existing hall, a raked stage? a fly tower? backstage space with entrances to both sides of the stage for performers? back stage toilet facilities for both male & female performers? dressing room facilities for principals? dressing rooms and separate toilet facilities for juvenile performer? front of house curtains? Large vehicular access to a scene dock door? None of these items are on the current proposal for the Hub designated theatre/performing space. But they are all at the Royal Victoria Hall which is to be demolished! The RVH is flexible and can be used for other than theatre events as it has in the past with good and enthusiastic management”.