Wolsey theatre facelift

FOUR years after its successful re-opening, the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich is making plans for a £2.2 million facelift to take it onto the next stage of its redevelopment.

FOUR years after its successful re-opening, the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich is making plans for a £2.2 million facelift to take it onto the next stage of its redevelopment.

The plan is the legacy of outgoing chairman Peter Phillips who is bequeathing the ambitious project as he retires from the hot seat.

He said that the three cornerstones of the New Wolsey philosophy – quality, accessibility and diversity – had seen the confidence in the theatre expand and audiences grow beyond their expectations.

He said: "Three years ago we were a fledgling company facing the difficult job of re-establishing itself in the wake of the previous company.

"It was not easy trying to convince some people and some suppliers that the old company's debts were not our debts, that we were an entirely new entity, and that was why we were very keen to promote ourselves as the New Wolsey, to establish our own identity, a new identity.

"We have now a robust business operating with strict budgetary control and I am glad to say that all the targets that have been set have not only been met, but exceeded, which is why we are now in the fortunate position of being able to contemplate this further development."

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He said that the development programme had been divided up into three phases: the work that needs to be done; the work that they would like to be done; and finally work that would add the trimmings.

Included in the three phases are repairs to the theatre roof, expanding the scenery dock and loading bay, remodelling backstage to comply with disability access regulations, replacing the seating, improving the heating and air conditioning, as well as adding an atrium to the foyer to contain a new restaurant.

"Although the restaurant development is the last part of the plan, it would be great for it to go ahead because it would provide another reason for visitors to come here," Mr Phillips said.

He said that although the New Wolsey was on a firm financial footing, cash flow from ticket sales and other day-to-day income could only finance the running of the theatre, not fund large capital projects. He said money for this would have to come from grants and fund-raising.

"We have spoken to all the major funding bodies and money is available for capital projects – providing that we are able to come up with matched funding, and this is something we are currently looking into. We have approached the Arts Council, our current funders and various trusts and negotiations are on-going."

He said with the luxury housing being built as part of the dock development, theatres and good restaurants would play a vital role in attracting people to the town.

Although the development of the Wolsey would be shaped by the current review of leisure and entertainment services by Ipswich Borough Council, he was confident that they would retain the support of the council.

He said the three phases of work were entirely self-contained and any section could go ahead without the others. The work would take place during the summer break and would not involve the closure of the theatre.

The New Wolsey opened in February 2001 amid much fanfare with an award-winning, crowd-pleasing production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd directed by the new Wolsey's artistic associate Peter Rowe.

The theatre had been dark since April 1999 when the old company had been forced to close with debts totalling £190,000. Funders including Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Borough Council and Arts Council East ring-fenced unawarded grant money to help the new company start up.