Stage is set for £5m revamp of Norwich Playhouse 🎭

Get set for your midweek round up

Stage is set for £5m revamp of Norwich Playhouse 🎭
Norwich Playhouse is in line for a £5m upgrade. Photo: Tabby Dryhurst

Greetings Seekers!

It's Shaun here with another Wednesday round-up.

Firstly a big welcome to the 20 Seekers who have signed up since Saturday - our Seeker community continues to grow and now stands at 1262.

I also wanted to say a huge thank you to the 12 of you who bought us 20 coffees over the weekend too. I was very touched by your comments 🥰.

Several of you gave us a very positive reaction to Ed Spencer's in-depth read on Surfers, storms and sewage - a day out at Mundesley beach, which is well worth catching up on if you haven't read it yet.

You also told us you liked the fact we were telling stories not just in the city but further afield too, and that's something we'd like to continue.

Today I'm delighted to say that our lead story is produced by another journalistic newcomer - Tabby Dryhurst. Tabby is studying broadcast journalism at the UEA (full disclosure I teach there from time to time as well as doing this). She managed to bag herself an exclusive about Norwich Playhouse while doing a mock press conference with CEO Stephen Crocker.

In fact, partnering with UEA is one of the ideas I'd like to take forward as part of our mission to create a sustainable model for independent journalism for our city -while at the same time helping to mentor them, too.

You'll see below that there is already some talented journalists emerging from the course - congratulations to them!

📰Today's edition

  • It's showtime!
  • Kaleidoscope politics
  • Anglia Square call-in
  • Trickle down
  • Bike trends
  • Communication challenges
  • Green deals
  • Kick em Out
  • Home gig
  • Out and About

Ok, let's get going!

It's Showtime!

It might be small in size but bosses at Norwich Playhouse have got big designs for the venue after unveiling ambitious plans for a £5m upgrade.

Norwich Theatre chief executive and creative director Stephen Crocker said plans were afoot to create more space at the venue both inside and out, writes Tabby Dryhurst.

Stephen Crocker, Norwich Theatre CEO and Creative Director. Photo: Jenny Kirk

This will include improving the visitor experience particularly for wheelchair users with step-free access to all areas – including the bar, garden, activities and shows.

They are also looking at heating and powering systems and innovative ways of making the venue more sustainable.

However, no changes are planned to the stage as part of this work as the venue was able to use funding from the Culture Recovery Fund to build a stage extension for the Playhouse that can be added when needed.

"It is much-loved, but it needs some tlc," Stephen explains. "It is such a special place. There is so much to cherish,"

Currently in its early stages, details are set to emerge next year, including how to fund the changes, though it is likely that a public appeal may be part of the mix as well as looking towards charitable trusts for donations.

Why it matters

Now in its 28th year, the move marks a vote of confidence for the Playhouse which has been recognised as one of the ‘best fringe venues’ in the country with its popular, cosy, fairy-lit bar and gardens.

A previous upgrade was due to be unveiled in March 2020, but was halted four days later when the first national Covid lockdown was introduced.

Bouncing back

Figures from the most recent Norwich Theatre accounts at Companies House show just how great the challenges were, with the theatre supported by a mixture of culture recovery grants and loans, and furlough cash.

In 2022, however, its total income rose to £9.3m though its total spend was £10.7m, however audience numbers are now back to pre-pandemic levels.

Booking patterns are also shifting with audiences going back to booking more in advance rather than leaving it very late. They can also spread the cost of buying theatre tickets rather than needing to secure lots at the same time which has worked well.

Stephen described the effect of Covid as ‘incredibly hard’ and a ‘dark time’ for the theatre, but said that they were able to ‘bounce back.’

And he had faith that they ‘wouldn’t just survive’ but they would ‘thrive.’

Norwich Theatre is also trying to help people during the cost-of-living crisis such as introducing a payment by instalments plan.

Stephen added that the theatre ‘didn’t want to be the thing that causes people financial difficulties’ and so the introduction of these new plans should help the arts to be accessible for a wide range of people.

The move comes as the theatre announced that Tom Sleigh, current chair of the Barbican Arts Centre, will succeed Michael Newey as Norwich Theatre chair when he completes his nine year tenure in March.

Christmas line-up

Meanwhile, today sees the start of Norwich Theatre's festive Tis the Season performances with The Snowsmith on Stage Two and Two Turtle Doves at the Playhouse with Dillie Keane and Barb Jungr. Other shows include Mat Ricardo's Christmas Cabaret, and Step into Christmas with the Joe Ringer Band.