A wish is granted... panto will go ahead

STEPHEN PULLINGER For Norfolk's oldest operatic and dramatic society the script of their latest production appeared more like a tragedy than the fun-filled pantomime they were expecting.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

For Norfolk's oldest operatic and dramatic society the script of their latest production appeared more like a tragedy than the fun-filled pantomime they were expecting.

Five days before the curtain at Yarmouth's St George's Theatre was due to rise on its colourful production of Sleeping Beauty, structural engineers yesterday decided the state of the 18th century former church was too dangerous for it to go ahead.

After 105 years of entertaining people, Yarmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society was informed that that the discovery of rotten timbers in the tower meant, in the worst-case scenario, this might be the production that finally brought the house down.

However last night, society chairman Graham Turner defiantly said there would be a happy ending after accepting an offer from the borough council to use the 200-seat Assembly Room at the Town Hall instead.

Mr Turner, who plays the dame in the 40-strong cast, said: "The show must go on.

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"After more than a century we have never had to cancel one, and we don't intend to start now.

"We'll have to put the opening night back a few days from Saturday but there is no need for anyone who has already booked tickets to worry.

"They can ring me on 01493 748865 or contact Laura Goodman at the town hall to arrange a new performance."

Mr Turner appealed for anyone who could provide lighting and sound equipment or help to fashion false wings at the new venue to turn it into a stage.

David Frowde, head of architectural services at the borough council, which owns the grade one listed St George's Theatre, took the final decision to close the building to the public after an assessment yesterday by structural engineers.

He said they had put up scaffolding on the building earlier in the year and had been carrying out a thorough survey of its condition.

This had uncovered structural problems but the one of immediate concern was rotten timbers and corroded metal in the frame of the tower.

He said they regretted the impact on the pantomime but their risk assessment had led them to take the decision on the grounds of public safety.

He said: "We hope it will be possible to reopen the theatre relatively quickly after carrying out remedial repairs costing a few thousand pounds, but full restoration will cost more than £100,000."

David McDermott, chairman of the trust which runs the theatre, said they were "devastated" by the news and questioned whether the council could have taken a decision earlier so as not to have such a big impact on the pantomime, which was their biggest fundraiser.

He said: "We have turned this theatre around in the past five years and lots of local companies have come back here in the past three years."

He said while the council was responsible for the exterior, they had kept their side of the deal looking after the interior and keeping it secure.

Mr McDermott said it was possible that the tower could collapse and block King Street.