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Packed meeting hears vision for Norfolk theatre where Shakespeare performed

PUBLISHED: 19:33 27 January 2019 | UPDATED: 20:46 27 January 2019

The crowd at the King's Lynn Guildhall conferencec discussing it's historical significance and future vision. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The crowd at the King's Lynn Guildhall conferencec discussing it's historical significance and future vision. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Archant

A packed public meeting heard a vision to transform a Norfolk building that includes the only surviving theatre where Shakespeare is known to have performed

The Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust, a group formed to retain the St George’s Guildhall as a theatre and mixed arts space, launched its campaign at a standing room only meeting on Sunday.

The building, which is Britain’s oldest guildhall and has long associations with Elizabethan and Edwardian performers, as well links to the Royal family, has been a hall for hire since King’s Lynn Arts Centre closed two years ago. Lottery officials subsequently turned down an application for £2m to renovate the building, on King Street.

The trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall. Ffrom left to right: Nicholas Balaam, Veronica Sekules, Ivor Rowlands, Tim Fitzhigham, Adrian Parker and Michael Hankinson.  Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall. Ffrom left to right: Nicholas Balaam, Veronica Sekules, Ivor Rowlands, Tim Fitzhigham, Adrian Parker and Michael Hankinson. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Trustees of the new group hope that the building’s long history and Shakespearean links could see it transformed into a theatre with an international reputation as well as being a community arts hub. The group hopes to raise up to £100,000 over the next year to develop its vision further.

Built in 1410 the first recorded theatrical use of the building was in 1442, while research has found Shakespeare performed there in 1592.

The trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall, discussing it's historical significance and future vision. Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall, discussing it's historical significance and future vision. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Trustee Tim FitzHigham said the building was not well know as being Britain’s oldest theatre but that its links offered huge potential.

He said: “This is a totally unrivalled theatre anywhere in the UK. It is older than all the other spaces that have been used for theatre by 300 years.

William Shakespeare performed at the guildhall in King's Lynn in 1592. It is the oldest theatre in Britain. Picture: Wikimedia CommonsWilliam Shakespeare performed at the guildhall in King's Lynn in 1592. It is the oldest theatre in Britain. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

“It really is the only space that can claim to have hosted Shakespeare, but it is not just about Shakespeare, you have also got the three big Shakespeare comedians, Richard Tarlton, Will Kemp and Robert Armin, who was born right here in King’s Lynn.

“It is simply not recognised on the Shakespeare trail. The Globe is a Shakespeare hub and the Royal Shakespeare Company. There is no reason why King’s Lynn can’t be the same.”

The Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn. Picture: Chris BishopThe Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn. Picture: Chris Bishop

The building is owned by the National Trust but leased to the borough council who have held talks with an anonymous benefactor who has offered to fund turning the complex into an art gallery.

Mr FitzHigham said: “It’s quite clear that this anonymous benefactor, if his aims are aligned with ours, would be a great person to start talking to. But all the efforts to contact him have as yet been unrewarded.”

The trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall. Front (from left to right): Michael Hankinson, Adrian Parker, Tim Fitzhigham. Back (left to right): Nicholas Balaam, Veronica Sekules, Ivor Rowlands. Picture: Ella WilkinsonThe trustees of the Shakespeare Guildhall Trust on stage at the King's Lynn Guildhall. Front (from left to right): Michael Hankinson, Adrian Parker, Tim Fitzhigham. Back (left to right): Nicholas Balaam, Veronica Sekules, Ivor Rowlands. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Fellow trustee Ivor Rowlands said the packed meeting showed the strength of feeling about the future of the building.

“This is something people really care about,” he said. “We wanted to set out to people our vision and I think we did that. It was an opportunity for people to see us face to face and learn who the trust and trustees are and hear about our objectives.”



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