Local drama and arts groups have been left fearing for their futures after it was announced that Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre will be closed until the New Year following further delays to refurbishment works
Last year Monmouthshire County Council announced that £1million funding had been assured to provide vital refurbishment works on the town’s iconic theatre venue, which once hosted the Beatles and is home to a thriving amateur theatre community.
As part of the refurbishment works, Abergavenny Town Council partnered with Monmouthshire County Council in a deal, providing £50,000 over five years to support and develop the 152-year-old grade-II listed theatre building.
Having been closed since February 2020, the Borough Theatre was due to reopen this autumn but will now not be reopening until 2023, with upcoming shows planned for November and December having to be cancelled.
In a statement announcing the news, Monmouthshire County Council said: “Due to delays to the refurbishment of the Borough Theatre, performances in November and December cannot go ahead.”
The delayed opening is the latest setback for local community theatre companies, which have been forced to find alternative venues during the past year and now fear that price hikes at the theatre may mean they can no longer afford to perform there.
A spokesman for A4B, the umbrella organisation representing the Borough Theatre’s amateur companies said that the future of the Borough’s community companies was hanging in the balance.
“At least two of our companies have said that they can no longer afford to perform at the theatre, with others calculating that they have enough in the coffers for one or maybe two productions,” she said.
“While we warmly welcome the refurbishment and have always supported the theatre, the increased hire costs combined with reduced seating capacity and issues surrounding the orchestra pit, means that the future of larger shows such as those staged by AAODS and Abergavenny Pantomime Company is far from secure.”
She added that despite repeated requests A4B members have yet to receive a final list of charges for hire of the theatre, although draft charges show an increase is more than 360 per cent for one company.
Speaking at a recent A4B meeting Abergavenny Pantomime Company suggested that it will have to consider doubling the cost of its tickets if it wants to continue to perform at the the Borough Theatre.
“We repeatedly highlighted these concerns to the previous administration at MCC and also had a meeting with MS Peter Fox to let him know about the risk to local theatre companies, but had little success,” said A4B chairman Liz Davies.
“In the past few weeks we have met the new cabinet member with responsibilty for the Borough Theatre to express these concerns to her, because it really would be a huge shame if Abergavenny groups could no longer afford to perform in Abergavenny,” she added.
Speaking on social media, Jill Murray, of Abergavenny Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, which this month saw its planned production of Shrek fall foul of the latest delays in opening, said that developments at the theatre were ‘very worrying’.
“Unsuprisingly there have been issues at each stage of the refurbishment, which should have been expected in an old building.
“But the amateur groups are most concerned they’re being priced out of using it as the plans reduce the seating capacity and hike the hire charges which is very worrying.”
A spokesman for MCC saud, “Delays have been caused by supply chain issues and skilled labour shortages which have been compounded by the complexity of the site.
The council also announced that they were “exploring options” for rescheduling cancelled shows for next year, with customers being offered a full refund immediately or the chance to hold their original booking for any rescheduled date.
They added: “We offer our sincere apologies for this and look forward to seeing you in the theatre soon.”
Refurbishment work on the theatre included replacing old seating, updating heating and air conditioning, improving the foyer, providing more toilets, moving the box office and refreshing the backstage area and dressing rooms, as part of plans to create a theatre that is fit for purpose and able to serve the local community for many years to come.
The theatre is the base for Abergavenny Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society, and regularly attracts stars such as comedians Rhod Gilbert, Andy Parsons and Mark Steel.
County Councillor Sara Burch represents the Cantref ward of Abergavenny, and is Cabinet Member for Inclusive and Active Communities including theatres and attractions.
Speaking to the Chronicle following the announcement regarding the Borough Theatre, Cllr Burch - who also sits as an Abergavenny Town Councillor - said: “I am very disappointed that we will now not be able to open the theatre on time. The Borough Theatre is such an important resource, vital to cultural life in our town.
“Like so many other people, I am looking forward to going to the theatre for the first time since the pandemic. Unfortunately, as anyone who has had building work done in an old building can understand, this major refurbishment has taken longer than expected.”