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Author joins outcry over theatre closure

PUBLISHED: 11:00 09 September 2006 | UPDATED: 11:36 22 October 2010

Leading author Louis de Bernières has backed a campaign to re-open a Lowestoft theatre which was forced to close its doors following savage council cutbacks.

Leading author Louis de Bernières has backed a campaign to re-open a Lowestoft theatre which was forced to close its doors following savage council cutbacks.

The Norfolk-based writer of, among other titles, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, was appalled by the county council's decision to axe its £60,000 a year funding for the community theatre as part of a package of cuts totalling £24m.

Obtaining his support has proved a major coup for campaigners, who are due to hold a protest outside the boarded-up theatre, in Morton Road, Pakefield, at noon today.

Mr de Bernières, who lives near Harleston, said: "Suffolk County Council should have set up a properly managed transfer of this wonderful little performance space into private hands, so that it could have a chance of becoming commercially successful and continue to serve the community to whom it could be of enormous value.

"There is nothing more depressing than when a local theatre closes down. It's like announcing our town is depressed and is in cultural and economic decline."

The campaign to save the theatre, which shut its doors for the last time at the end of July, has snowballed, with residents, theatre lovers and educationalists joining forces to fight for its future.

For almost 40 years, the Seagull, which was in need of £250,000-worth of repairs, introduced hundreds of young people to the arts, as well as providing a home for countless theatre groups, but it closed down after frantic efforts find new revenue failed.

Actor, producer and director John Hales, a leading member of the Save our Seagull (SOS) campaign, said: "Receiving the support of Louis is absolutely fantastic. It shows there are people interested from all walks of life.

"It's wonderful that someone like him recognising the important of a place like the Seagull and the ramifications of it not being there."

Mr Hales, 36, who said he was proud to be a product of the theatre, added: "The most important thing is the difference it has made to people's lives.

"Some people might think 'here go the luvvies again' but it's not like that. Future generations of people have been robbed and deprived of opportunities the theatre can give."

Today's protest will feature a series of sketches, performances and songs, and there will also be SOS campaign petitions to sign. Campaigners have also demanded that the county council delays any possible sale of the building to developers for at least a year while a solution is sought.

Jane Storey, the county council's portfolio holder for resources, said: "Faced with a massive £24m reduction in our budget this year, we had to make tough decisions."

A county council spokesman added: "We would be willing to talk to any local group who wants to come forward with ideas about how they could take on the site and cover costs."

Anyone with ideas about how to save the theatre can write to the Communications Team at Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House, 8 Russell Road, Ipswich, IP1 2BX.

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