Dame Judy joins Seagull Theatre battle

Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench has intervened in to the battle over the future of a north Suffolk community theatre by becoming its patron.

Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench has intervened in the battle over the future of a north Suffolk community theatre by becoming its patron.

The actress has pledged to support campaigners fighting to reopen the Seagull Theatre in Pakefield, near Lowestoft, saying she felt passionately about local rep.

Last night, the people behind the campaign said they were overwhelmed by the news and they could not thank the actress enough for raising the profile of the theatre.

The Seagull, which had been run as a community and youth theatre for 39 years, was closed in July after Suffolk County Council axed its funding.

Despite an outcry, which included Waveney MP Bob Blizzard calling on the council to reverse the decision, further plans for its sale were unveiled.

In a desperate bid to keep the Victorian theatre running, a group called the Save Our Seagull campaigners made an emergency appeal in the EDP for a benefactor to lend them the cash to buy the theatre. Two days later their prayers were answered and now as the final parts of the rescue deal are agreed, the group is working hard to set up a charity and advisory panel for the theatre.

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The group hopes three new patrons, Dame Judi, well-known Shakespearean actor Des Barrit, who is filming the ITV drama Midsomer Murders with John Nettles, and former Anglia TV broadcaster Helen McDermott, will act as ambassadors for the arts venue.

Speaking about her decision to represent the theatre, Dame Judi said: "Although I am currently involved in a fairly hectic schedule, performing in the RSC production of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Stratford-upon-Avon, I am delighted to become the patron of the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft. It is so important that small theatres should keep theatre alive and keep local rep going in the heart of the provinces and it is important that as many young (and not-so-young) people as possible can participate in theatrical events - on stage, backstage or in the audience."

She added: "I do hope that the campaign to 'Keep the Seagull Flying' is a resounding success - and incidentally I do a fabulous impression of a seagull if that is ever useful!"

Yesterday, a spokesman for Seagull campaigners said: "We are delighted to have found such wonderful patrons who care passionately about local theatre, and who are prepared to help save the much-loved Seagull Theatre.

"We look forward to welcoming them to Lowestoft in the near future."

Last night, Waveney MP Bob Blizzard said: "To have one of the greats of the British theatre behind us has given everyone a boost. With Dame Judi as patron it is now more important than ever that the people of Lowestoft get behind the campaign and support the fundraising for the community arts centre we all need," he said.

Last year, Dame Judi was voted the best British female actor of all time in a poll commissioned by the Old Vic Theatre in London, with Sir Anthony Hopkins scooping the top male actor.

In 1998, she received an Oscar for her depiction of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, one of her five Academy Award nominations.

Her latest film role as a teacher in Notes on a Scandal has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination and it is widely tipped that an Academy Award nomination will follow.

A public meeting on the theatre's future will be held on Friday February 2 (7.30pm) at the Hotel Victoria, Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft.