Vision for Yarmouth theatre

STEPHEN PULLINGER As builders race against time to carry out emergency repairs to Yarmouth's St George's Theatre, work has started on long-term plans to transform the listed building into a "premier league arts venue".

STEPHEN PULLINGER

As builders race against time to carry out emergency repairs to Yarmouth's St George's Theatre, work has started on long-term plans to transform the listed building into a "premier league arts venue".

Borough conservation officer Stephen Earl yesterday unveiled his vision for putting the 18th century former church at the centre of a revolution in the town's cultural sector.

He said over the summer they would be seeking partnership funding, centred on a substantial Lottery bid, for a £2m revamp of the landmark King Street venue, involving repairs to the tower and a complete refurbishment of the interior.

"Just as our high quality transformation of an old fish curing works into the Time and Tide museum led to a revolution in the town's heritage partnership, the same needs to happen to the cultural sector," he said.

"Work on Time and Tide followed very detailed consultation work with local focus groups, and the same needs to happen to find out what sort of theatre it needs to be."

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A council-appointed consultant had already begun work on a survey looking at all venues in the borough to see how St George's might fit into the big picture. Discussions had also taken place with local arts group the Seachange Trust.

Mr Earl said: "We will be developing a business plan to maximise the community use of the building during the day and evening."

He said there was no reason they could not develop a "premier league" venue capable of broadening the town's range of arts provision and even staging high quality professional productions. "The setting of St George's is equally important so we will be looking at uses for the space outside, perhaps creating a performance area," he said.

Mr Earl said it could take two or more years to clinch the required funding package, and in the meantime the council was carrying out a £60,000 programme of emergency repairs, including upgrading electrics and repairing brickwork and windows, so the theatre could reopen for productions.

St George's has been closed since December because of health and safety fears but it is hoped to have it re-opened for the start of its summer season on July 4. It is due to open on that day with the Las Vegas Experience, a professional show touring the country. On Tuesday and Thursdays, the Brundall-based Jo Prescott Showstoppers will perform their mix of songs from West End shows.

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