The Wokingham Paper

60-year-old Berkshire Theatre faces uncertain future

The Watermill Theatre has existed in Bagnor, Newbury since the early 1960s – but the site itself dates back to at least 1086, even making an appearance in the Doomsday Book.

 Now as then, it offers an essential service to the community – above and beyond those of us who enjoy watching plays.

 Each year, the organisation’s outreach team work with and support 19,000 people and over 50 local schools – providing opportunities to graduating actors, creative teams, backstage workers, and budding playwrights (many of whom have their work commissioned by the theatre). 

 Many of those involved have been able to tour the theatre’s productions, with plays such as Amelie, Burke and Hare, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream being seen by over 127,999 people around the UK. 

 Sadly its long-term future is now uncertain, according to a statement released to the press yesterday (https://www.watermill.org.uk/coronavirus_update).

 The theatre has tried hard to support the local community since the lockdown measures were implemented in March, offering a wide range of free online resources for Berkshire residents. 

 These included weekly wellbeing sessions and interactive activities for families, older teens and adults; writing workshops with playwrights such as Beth Flintoff; and  live Q&A sessions with theatre professionals such as the critically-acclaimed playwright Barney Norris (in which people had an opportunity to find out how the historic theatre mounts its productions).

 Unfortunately the financial implications of the pandemic have been severe, with 7 of its performances and events (including The Wicker Husband, which we reviewed in March – https://www.wokinghampaper.co.uk/its-time-to-keep-your-appointment-with-the-wicker-man/) having to be cancelled in order to protect the safety of the theatre community.

 This has been a significant blow given how much of a theatre’s revenue is dependent on ticket sales.

 Consequently (and despite the generosity of local residents, who have contributed to the theatre’s “Act now, to help us ACT tomorrow” appeal) the theatre has taken the tough decision to temporarily close down and place its remaining staff on furlough.

 Further details on the theatre, its appeal and the productions it hopes to mount in the Autumn (including an autumn/winter production of The Jungle Book) can be found at https://www.watermill.org.uk.

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