Theatre Royal looks ‘to do less but do it better’ to regain lost confidence

Press conference at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.   Simon Daykin (Executive Director).
Press conference at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. Simon Daykin (Executive Director).
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Having decided against a management merger with The Apex, the Theatre Royal is now looking to regain the confidence it believes it has lost among many of its supporters.

So just how does it plan to do that? According to its chief executive Simon Daykin, the same way it always has, by concentrating on quality drama.

“In terms of money, it’s a challenge, it’s always going to be challenge, but the key thing for us now is to get that confidence back and it’s the quality of the work that will do that,” he said.

It was suggested that amalgamating the operations of the two Bury St Edmunds arts venues would provide increased financial stability for the Regency theatre, which receives limited subsidy from public funds.

But, last week, the Theatre Royal put an end to a year of uncertainty, announcing that it would not be going ahead with the merger.

Instead, it plans to create ‘a series of practical and dynamic partnerships’ which, among other things, could include shared marketing and a joint box office operation with The Apex.

Mr Daykin said: “The challenge was to find a model that worked for us. We’re absolutely focused on what’s right for the Theatre Royal moving forward. I believe that, by working in partnership with The Apex, we can 
grow.”

As part of its commitment to maintaining a dialogue with members of the public, a period of public consultation has been launched to find out what people think about the theatre’s future plans and the proposed working partnerships with The Apex.

Details of this and a public meeting, provisionally set for February 12, can be found at www.artsandminds-tr.org

Although unpopular with many theatre-goers, one thing discussions on the merger did reveal was just how passionately people felt about what happened to the theatre.

“We do feel that people absolutely care about what we do,” said Mr Daykin, who admits being quite taken back by people’s response.

He said: “I know that this organisation is cherished by the community. We’re entering our 50th year after the theatre was built up from the ashes of the barrel store and that only came from the community.”

And, judging by the theatre’s success over past 12 months, this could be some anniversary year.

Despite a difficult financial climate, its family pantomime produced record sales for the second year running.

As a National Trust supported project, Backstage Past Live Encounters proved such a hit, attracting more than 4,000 new visitors, that community actors are already being sought for this summer’s shows.

And the theatre’s very own Mansfield Park production enjoyed so much success on tour that it will be touring again this year.

“With Mansfield Park, we had the highest audience for a theatre production for many years,” said Mr Daykin, emphasising the importance of the show as a commercial venture.

The theatre relies heavily on the support of donations, with something like 800 people giving to the organisation on a regular basis.

But, it is with the success of shows like Mansfield Park that it could start generating a profit to reinvest in itself as a product.

Mr Daykin said: “We’ve turned a loss-making operation into a break-even operation and the challenge now is to turn a break-even operation into a profit-making operation.”

To do this, he plans to ‘do less but do it better’ and look for ‘a meeting of minds’ with other organisations that are willing to share risks.

Tackling rural isolation is one item on the agenda, with plans to take shows to Bury’s surrounding villages and to expand the theatrebus service.

“It’s like Richard Branson says, there’s no such thing as a bad business idea, as long as the risk is covered,” said Mr Daykin.

And with last week’s launch of the theatre’s spring season, one thing future audiences can be certain of is that there is much to look forward to.

From the Theatre Royal’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Irving Stage Company’s Footloose to Tomorrow I Will Be Happy, a show about a homophobic hate crime which was commissioned specifically for young people as part of the National Theatre Connections scheme.

Also in the programme is Dirty Great Love Story which, last year, won the Fringe First Award after a sell out show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will be travelling to New York for the Brits Off Broadway Festival, with the Theatre Royal as its co-production partner.

“We try to cover all bases in terms of innovation and excitement and something that is really going to entice people in,” said Mr Daykin, proud of the variety in this season’s programme.

For details of these and many other shows available, visit www.thetareroyal.org or call the box office on 01284 769505.