Theatre Royal throws a party for its creator

Panto dame Stephen Weller blows out William Wilkin's birthday candles
Panto dame Stephen Weller blows out William Wilkin's birthday candles
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THERE cannot be many people who get a 233rd birthday party thrown for them.

But architect William Wilkins was honoured with one last Wednesday at Bury St Edmund’s Theatre Royal. Mr Wilkins was born on August 31, 1778, and died on the same date in 1839.

An architect, classical scholar and archaeologist, he designed the theatre, which opened in 1819 and today is the last working Regency theatre in the country. It is a Grade One listed building owned by Greene King, which has its brewery across the road, and leased to the National Trust.

So it was little wonder the theatre and the Theatre Royal Friends wanted to mark his birthday, if not his death, with a party and a preview of events to come.

The theatre’s new panto dame Stephen Weller made his first appearance there as official birthday cake cutter. He will return for this year’s panto Dick Whittington and His Cat, written by Daniel O’Brien, directed by Colin Blumenau, which opens on November 25. Stephen plays Sarah the cook.

The gathering was also entertained by the cast of Dick Turpin’s Last Ride, which has its world premiere there on September 15. They played two original musical numbers from the show.

The theatre also launched its 1819 Society which is an exclusive club of those who have included a legacy for the Theatre Royal in their will.

The Theatre Royal’s head of external relations Chris Grady told the partygoers: “We are creating a society of close friends who have each chosen to support the theatre through their wills. Although we will show our immense thanks when any legacy comes to us, we thought you might prefer to get a bit of extra enjoyment now”.

He promised that funds raised through legacies will be held in a Revenue Endowment Fund to support the theatre’s art, not to pay its gas bills.

The Theatre Royal Friends Scheme gives members one week’s priority booking for all shows, plus £1.50 each off the cost of one or two full price tickets at certain shows. Gold Friends members also received a guaranteed return on tickets up to 24 hours before the performance. Membership is £35 a year, or £20 a year for under 25s.

For those who have nobody to share their enthusiasm for the theatre, it has also launched a new ‘club’. The Fox and Theatre Buddies scheme is run in conjunction with the Fox Inn, in Eastgate Street, and the idea is that the buddies meet up there for a drink or meal before going across to the theatre.

They get a personal welcome to the theatre plus their own private bar for the interval and after performance drink.

For information, email buddies@theatreroyal.org or call the Theatre Royal Box Office on 01284 769505.