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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Plot twist for historic theatre
Dumfries Theatre Royal (Picture courtesy of Theatre Royal)
It could be curtains for Scotland's oldest working playhouse
Scotland's oldest working theatre may yet be thrown a financial lifeline after councillors ripped up the script prepared for them by officials.

Owners of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries warned that it could close if they had to abandon a 6m renovation plan.

Dumfries and Galloway Council funding is vital to the project, but officials said it should receive no more cash.

However, councillors approved funding to continue planning work and deferred a decision on a request for 2.6m.

The playhouse, in Shakespeare Street, was built in 1792 and was saved from demolition in 1959 when it was bought by the Guild of Players.

'Very tired'

Robert Burns was a patron and JM Barrie was inspired at the theatre to write plays including Peter Pan. Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin were visitors.

However, Guild of Players secretary Carol Godridge said the building was "very tired".

"The outside walls need a lot of work on them and are very shabby," she said.

Frank Ryan
The idea is to turn this valuable asset into a vibrant area for drama and other activities
Frank Ryan
Trust spokesman
"Inside it is a dear little theatre, it is lovely but it is very old-fashioned."

She said it was very inflexible and predicted that a lot of money would have to be spent on the fabric of the building.

A trust was formed four years ago and has spent 125,000 coming up with a plan for the future.

Spokesman Frank Ryan said: "The idea is to turn this valuable asset into a vibrant area for drama and other activities.

"It would have a 300-seater auditorium, a 100-seat studio, a media centre, a bar, a cafe and a lot of other facilities that would be very useful to the community."

The trust is hoping to receive 2.6m from the council towards the 6m cost of the project.

Feasibility study

"We have been promised 1.7m from the Scottish Arts Council, but that is conditional on us raising the rest of the money ourselves and the contribution from the council is vital," said Mr Ryan.

The council had previously given 20,000 towards a feasibility study into the plans.

Ms Godridge said that losing the council's support would also lead to the loss of European funding and lottery cash, making it likely that the theatre would close.

Officials at the council, which is planning new arts and cultural facilities elsewhere in Dumfries, said there was no spare cash for the historic theatre.

But when the education and community services committee met on Tuesday its members gave their backing to the Theatre Royal plans.

Visiting companies

They agreed to give the trust 105,000 to take the proposals to the next stage.

However, a decision on the application for 2.6m in capital funding from the council was deferred until a meeting of the authority's policy committee next month.

The company is paid for entirely by membership subscriptions and box office receipts.

The theatre does not at the moment receive any grant aid towards running costs.

It is the venue for the Guild of Players' own productions and for performances from visiting companies, including Scottish Opera.

The building is also used extensively as a venue for Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival, Dumfries Music Festival and the Dumfries Operatic Society.


SEE ALSO:
Schools threatened by council plan
18 Jun 01  |  Scotland


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