RENOWNED stage director David Turner has spoken of his anguish over the possible closure and demolition of the historic Connaught Theatre.
But as public anger mounted, he reluctantly admitted: “I don’t think the council has got any choice.”
Herald readers were stunned to discover the famous Union Place venue could close for good next January as the Town Hall sought to slash spending.
Secret council papers revealed the Assembly Hall, Stoke Abbott Road, might also be axed.
Council leader Paul Yallop believed the Connaught, which celebrated its 75th birthday last year, was “unsustainable as a business”.
He said the Connaught, Assembly Hall and the Pavilion Theatre cost taxpayers more than £1.2m a year to keep open – money Worthing could no longer afford.
If the first two venues were closed, the Pavilion Theatre would be upgraded to provide around 1,000 tiered seats, better acoustics and a fly-tower.
Mr Turner, who ran the Connaught as general manager and then director from 1980 to 1986, said none of the existing theatres were fully fit for purpose.
He believed the council should follow Eastbourne’s lead and plan for the construction of a modern, multi-purpose entertainments complex.
Mr Turner, who went on to become director of The Mousetrap in London, said: “Reading the Herald article, I felt this is it, it’s coming to an end.
“I don’t want that to be true, but I suppose it’s inevitable. The council is paying something ridiculous like £3,000 a day to support the arts and you cannot do that.
He added: “I had six of the happiest years of my life at the Connaught, and I would be very sad to see it go, but it does have limitations
“I think a town the size of Worthing has to have a civic hall like the Assembly Hall, but it has no atmosphere.
“Eastbourne got it right when it built the Congress Theatre. It’s a beautiful building, multi-purpose, and serves everybody’s wishes.
“I look at that site (the NCP car park) next to the Connaught. Here is a god-given area to build a really pukka theatre which would have many uses. The existing buildings leave you wanting.”
Stop the rot
“Worthing was a great centre of culture and I think people passionate about the arts have got to get together and say ‘how can we stop this rot?’”
Mr Yallop said the Connaught had been “a catalogue of financial disaster” culminating in the installation of a new box office ticket booking system which didn’t work.
He said: “It might be unpopular but we cannot spend what we don’t have, and we haven’t got a secret agenda to redevelop the site.”
In addition to backing the Herald’s campaign, protesters have set up a website – www.saveworthingtheatres.co.uk (see external link to the top right of this story) – where people can sign a petition and leave comments.
Why do you think the theatre should be saved?
Share your thoughts