Saturday 15 April saw the farewell party at the exchange theatre in North Shields. While I was glad I could make it, I was also sad at the reason for the event. A sad day, but tinged with so many happy memories.

Situated in the stunning Grade II listed building, the charity took over its running in 2016. Two founding members on the board of trustees, Karen Knox and Mike Fletham, worked so hard in creating the venue it has become, a true community facility, offering a wide variety of performance at affordable prices.

The general manager appointed a year ago, Christine Lee, said they have been overwhelmed by the messages of support. The closure is due to a change of lease. North Tyneside Council, which owns the Saville Exchange, gave the new long-term lease to Stonebank Investments. North Shields-born Paul Stonebank OBE’s business owns 12 companies in 12 countries across the world, generating over £50 million in revenue. He plans to improve and update the venue to provide many more facilities, the exact details, as yet, not being, available. The advertised auction on Monday 17th which was planning to sell off all technical equipment, costumes furniture etc. was cancelled, so one hopes this may indicate performance of some kind is going to feature in the planning.

It was wonderful to see the venue packed inside and out in their wonderful courtyard. The atmosphere was buzzing with everyone greeting each other chatting, catching up and talking about the profession. This friendly, informal, communal atmosphere is typical of the theatre, of what it has become known for. Apart from the performers, many regulars came to express their sorrow at losing the facility the venue gave them, from seeing shows, listening to live music, seeing art exhibitions, or just popping in to have a coffee, scone or drink.

A call went out previously to artists who had performed there offering them a spot to do ‘their thing’ and many responded. Lee compiled a full, continuous programme running from 3PM till late, covering numerous aspects of performance, from singing, comedy, poetry, music, drama and more going on in the auditorium and performance area in the bar. Seeing lots of familiar faces brought back many a memory which we all relived and shared.

Stalwarts were there like Peter Mortimer of Cloud Nine performing some rehearsed readings of new sketches, writer and actor Neil Armstrong, who has directed numerous plays there, actor Chris Strain, a familiar friendly face behind the bar, and countless others. Apart from seeing shows there, I was lucky enough to have been involved with productions as well, in fact as part of the CIC Hands On, I was part of one of the first plays, indeed possibly the first, to be staged there: Signals by David Farn—great days.

I was not sure I could go so did not book a spot, but on discovering I could make it at lunchtime I sat down and composed a few lines expressing my feelings about the space. A friend asked what are you going to do: sing, joke? “Sing?" I said, “many would consider that a joke, no just get up there and twitter on for a couple of minutes.” I have written what I said, so hopefully you will indulge me in this mini tribute to the theatre.

Great to know I haven’t got a long ditty. No that’s not a euphemism!
As often there’re a bit hittie missie.
…Don’t you all think this is a right to do?
It’s just not fair to close down this venue
Karen and Mike who did such real, great work
There was never a task that they would shirk
Ever hard-working, as all of the staff,
Always keen to help or just have a laugh
Some of you may see a tear in my eye
I don’t need to explain the reason why
Hope you now know why I am standing here,
On a stage that I hold very dear.
Needed to say something about this place
For all performers it’s such a great base.
There has always been a big welcome here
And it’s helped so many in their career…
So what the future holds no one can tell
We can only hope that it all goes well…
I am off to raise a toast at the bar
Not to say farewell, instead au revoir.

There is to be an open Q&A at the exchange on Friday 28 April from 2PM, with Paul Stonebank and others in attendance, so if you have any thoughts please attend and maybe help keep live performance alive.