Theatre Buildings at Risk

Every year since 2007, the Theatres Trust has published a list of those theatres in Britain it considers at risk of being lost. This year, for the first time, they are assigning a “Risk Value” in a range from 1 to 6, with 6 for those in most danger.

The Risk Register 2013 was made public this morning at a presentation at the Coronet Theatre in Level 3, threatened by redevelopment plans. A nineteenth century theatre, rebuilt after a fire by Frank Matcham and then adapted for cinema use in the 1930s, it does not have listed status and its large auditorium and stage, now largely used as an extremely popular music venue, could well disappear.

In launching this year’s report, the Trust brought good news and bad. The good news is that seven theatres previously on the list have been saved. The bad news is that four have been lost forever and that ten new theatres have been added to the risk list, which now features 48 theatres.

At the top of the list as most endangered is Brighton Hippodrome. As Theatres Trust Trustee, actress Penelope Keith declared at the presentation of the list today, “plans for its conversion into a cinema come close to heritage destruction of this Grade II* listed building—and there will be little chance of Brighton’s wonderful theatre ever being used again for live performance.”

Also in this top category are Derby Hippodrome (Grade II), Dudley Hippodrome, Theatre Royal Hyde (Grade II), Alexandra Palace Theatre (Grade II), Hulme Hippodrome (Grade II), Plymouth Palace (Grade II*), the Futurist in Scarborough and Swansea Palace (Grade II). All these theatres are either in a critical physical condition or will be irrevocably altered or demolished.

There are 7 theatres at risk level 5. They are Tameside Hippodrome (Grade II), RAF Brampton Little Theatre, Hulme Playhouse (Grade II), Burnley Empire, Darlington Arts Centre, Morecambe Winter Gardens (Grade II*) and Victoria Theatre in Salford (Grade II).

As Theatres Trust Director Mhora Samuel declared, “these top theatres at risk include those with special heritage status, but this is not protecting them. Brighton Hippodrome, Plymouth Palace, Hulme Hippodrome and Swansea Palace are beautiful theatres that could be reborn in ways that would enable us to continue to appreciate their full splendour. They deserve to be treated better."

New additions on the list this year include the Coronet, Elephant and Castle, London, the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe, and the former Theatre Royal in Manchester (Grade II), all of which are on sites earmarked for redevelopment. A further seven have also come onto the Register, the Curzon/Redstack Playhouse in Bexhill-on-Sea, the Forest Theatre in Berry Hill near Coleford, the Odeon/Victoria in Bradford, Theatrebarn in Bretforton, Westovian Theatre Pier Pavilion in South Shields, The Brewhouse in Taunton and Conwy Civic Hall.

Lost forever are the St Peters Theatre Southsea, the Cochrane Theatre, and the Mermaid Theatre in London as their local authorities have determined that they are no longer to be classed as theatres in the planning system and the land they occupy will be redeveloped. The site of the Precinct Theatre in Islington, London has also gone for redevelopment, despite the valiant efforts of campaigners.

Ms Samuel emphasised, "we are at risk of losing really important and historic theatre buildings as a result of neglect, development and demolition. It’s so sad to see theatres treated in this way. Some have been left to rot and are being destroyed by water damage and rampant Buddleia; others are at the mercy of developers.”

It is not all bad news however. The Theatres Trust has removed seven theatre buildings from the Register and is pleased to report that their future is secure. These include the Category A Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, which received funding for repairs, and two in Edinburgh: New Victoria / Odeon and Leith Theatre.

In England, Margate's Grade II* Theatre Royal has plans for a capital redevelopment and the others are Stanford Hall Theatre in Stanford-on-Soar, the New Bradford Playhouse, and the Floral Hall in Hornsea. The Floral Hall is an excellent example of what can be achieved when a community comes together to campaign to save their local theatre. The campaigners who formed The Floral Hall Community Centre and have now secured ownership of the building’s freehold.