By contrast with the travails of the Electric Palace cinema, the Stables Theatre in The Bourne – less than 400 yards up the road – seems to be surviving the pandemic with an eclectic programme of plays, musical performances and other events that have been pulling in good-size audiences. 

Staffed entirely by volunteers – “only the cleaners get paid”, according to chair Neil Sellman – the trust which runs it applied for, and received in full, a grant of £71,187 under Round 1 of the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund in October 2020. This sum was spent on redecoration of the building and upgrades of facilities which had already been planned for. A further application under Round 2 was rejected on the stated ground that it showed “no economic gain”, which seems to have meant that, having no staffing costs, the theatre was reckoned not to need any further funding help. That verdict has been not only accepted by its administration team but seems positively revelled in. 

Still from Stables’ forthcoming production of ‘Macbeth’
CREDIT: Stables Theatre

During periods of heavy restrictions on social gatherings which kept it closed to the public, the theatre was still able to host rehearsals and  workshops, and make films and music videos securing a continuing income stream. It reopened in May 2021, and has kept open continuously since then until the current month of January, which is traditionally set aside for renovations and administrative chores. 

Fortuitous timing

That planned hiatus turns out to have been timed fortuitously to coincide with the Omicron variant tide of infections. Whatever level this reaches in the next few weeks, it seems reasonable to hope that it will be ebbing by February, when the performance schedule will resume with a modern dress production of Macbeth, to be followed by an “absurdist drama” Hitler Pizzeria, written by well-known local dramatist John Knowles, and a range of other theatrical, music and dance events.

Initially, through the summer months of 2021, the Stables was bound by government guidelines to limit its audience by social distancing and mask-wearing conventions. However, from the end of August onwards, in accordance with official easing of restrictions, the theatre instituted a distinctly more liberal regime, returning to
100% capacity seating, normal bar provision, and a general relaxation of mask-wearing requirements, though theatre and bar staff retained them. The first performance of each in-house production was, by contrast, set aside as a socially distanced and mask-wearing event which those who did not wish to wear masks were asked not to book.

Mr Sellman reports this division of audiences an apparent success, with roughly equal capacities achieved for protected and non-protected performances.

He says that the theatre has around 1,500 members paying annual subscriptions, 100-120 amateur actors on its books, and 60 “very active” volunteers. However, they are always looking for fresh volunteers – “of whatever skills: many hands make light work” – particularly in younger age groups.

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