Portsmouth's Georgian theatre added to At Risk register

The Groundlings Theatre in Portsmouth, where the writer Charles Dickens was almost born, as been placed on the Theatre At Risk Register by the Theatre Trust.

The Grade II listed building at Portsea in Portsmouth was built in 1784 as the city’s first free school, with the upper floor used as a theatre and concert hall where, in 1812, Elizabeth Dickens was attending a dance when she went into labour. In 2010 it was renamed the Groundlings, with many original features retained, but in a break-in last year damage was a caused to fabric, putting the theatre in a financially vulnerable situation.

The Grade II listed Groundlings Theatre in Portsmouth (main image and below) has been added to the Register this year. Built in 1784, it was the first free school in the city, with the upper floor used as a theatre and for concerts. The building has a fascinating history; in 1812, while attending a dance, Elizabeth Dickens went into labour with Charles Dickens. Renamed as the Groundlings in 2010, the building retains many of its original features. But in 2019,a break-in caused damage to the building fabric, a safe with £800 cash was stolen and computers containing scripts and marketing material were smashed placing the theatre in a financially vulnerable position, and a “harmful” redevelopment proposal put it at further risk, said the trust’s architectural adviser Clare Appleby.


“It is a fantastic building, and we would encourage anyone who cares about community projects, theatre, or architecture to show your support” she said.

The Groundlings is the only theatre to be added to the list of 30, with two theatres whose futures now look assured removed.

The 1930 Bradford, built as the largest ciné-variety theatre outside London, is being restored and will reopen in 2020-2021 with the NEC Group on board as operating partner. Bradford Odeon will host an expected 300,000 visitors each year with a programme of more than 200 events.

Peterborough New Theatre, a former Odeon cinema with beautifully restored interiors, is now under the management of Selladoor Worldwide and re-opened in September 2019 .

Theatres can be at risk for a variety of reasons, from loss of funding, to lack of maintenance, to threat from development. All those on the Register have strong architectural or cultural significance with the potential to be revitalised and become real assets to the local community again.

The actor and musician Gary Kemp is a trustee, and launched the 2020 list today. “Having access to live performance venues around the country is vital – for audiences to have a good night out but also to provide places for performers starting out to learn their craft and for communities to come together” he said. “I have been fortunate enough to perform in amazing theatres throughout my career. There are some truly stunning and unique buildings on the Theatres at Risk Register, but importantly none of them are lost causes. With the right level of support and the expertise provided by the Theatres Trust all have the potential to be restored and enjoyed by their communities for generations to come”.

A full list of the theatres on the Theatres at Risk Register can be found here: http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/how-we-help/theatres-at-risk


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